Christian Monastery Unearthed Near Samarkand

by Nathan Hamm on 7/10/2006

UzReport reports on the chance discovery of a Christian monastery near Samarkand.

The monastery has survived intact. It appears that the structure has suffered neither fires nor attacks. The monument is in ideal shape: if it is dug out and restored, it will be good to stay in. The monastery is located at the top of the hill, on the mountain terrace with the area of 25 by 100 meters. A river runs by the two sides of the hill. The monks dug a tunnel 150 meters long and took water directly from the river through ceramic water pipe to the monastery wells 13-15 meters deep. The walls of the monastery are built with double brickwork from adobe bricks. The walls are four meters high. This monumental structure was a good protection against mudflows and landslides. All the common futures of monastery architecture that has its roots in Mesopotamia and Syria are evident. The most interesting is the fact that the structure is built from the adobe brick, although originally such structures were made of stone.

The monastery was actually discovered two years ago while a road was being cut at (near?) Urgut. A Zoroastrian and a pagan temple are also located near the monastery, which is believed to have been in operation between the 9th and 13th centuries.

While looking for background on Christian monasteries in Central Asia, I found this paper by Mark Dickens titled “Nestorian Christianity in Central Asia” which contains some interesting information on the importance of Samarkand to Nestorian Christians. (Dickens points out that other Christians were present in Samarkand as well.)

Since Samarkand was accorded higher status than other bishoprics from its inception, it is not exactly clear when the city received its first metropolitan. Different authorities give different dates, although it was certainly in existence by the patriarchate of Theodosius (852-858) and probably by the time of Saliba-Zakha (712-728). Various historical documents, both Christian and Muslim, give evidence of the continuing status of Christianity in Samarkand from the time of the Arab invasion up to the establishment of Mongol power in the area. Bukhara was also elevated to a metropolitan see city by the eighth century.

Alexei Savchenko has more on his search for the Urgut monastery and the artifacts in the region.

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Nathan is the founder and Principal Analyst for Registan, which he launched in 2003. He was a Peace Corps Volunteer in Uzbekistan 2000-2001 and received his MA in Central Asian Studies from the University of Washington in 2007. Since 2007, he has worked full-time as an analyst, consulting with private and government clients on Central Asian affairs, specializing in how socio-cultural and political factors shape risks and opportunities and how organizations can adjust their strategic and operational plans to account for these variables. More information on Registan's services can be found here, and Nathan can be contacted via Twitter or email.

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