Osh, Kyrgyzstan

Osh Osh is the second largest city in Kyrgyzstan – reputedly 3000 years old. Archaeologists have found artifacts dating back to about the fifth century B.C. One claim that is often heard is that Osh is “Older than Rome ”. There are several legends about the origin of the city – including claims to having been founded by Solomon or Alexander the Great. Even if such a grand personage did not establish Osh , its position at a crossroads along the ancient trading routes that became known as the Silk Road almost guaranteed that it would become a major settlement.

OshOsh is mentioned in the greatest epic of the Kyrgyz People - Manas - where the wise man Oshpur was a tutor of Manas. In the period between the 10 th and the 12 th centuries it was the third city of the Ferghana Valley , and in 1762 it joined the Khanate of Kokand and became one of the six trading centres with the Khanate. Assimilated into Tsarist Russia, the city expanded onto the left bank of the river and European style houses started to appear.

In the center of the city is Sulaiman Too (“Solomon's mountain”), which dominates the city. Up until the sixteenth century it was known as “Bara Kuch” – or “ Nice Mountain ”. It was given it's new name because the Muslim prophet Suleyman Sheikh was buried at the foot of it, and since that time it assumed a Holy significance and many believers make a pilgrimage here. Also, some Muslims apparently think that Muhammad is supposed to have once prayed here.

Suleyman-Too, OshThere is a path walkway around the mountain, which makes an interesting walk. Along the way you will probably see pilgrims praying at a little cave. Inside the cave, water droplets drip from the roof, and it is said that these are the tears of Suleyman. Pilgrims come to pray to relief from illnesses and for help in solving problems. For some reason (apparently, in profile some people think it resembles a pregnant woman lying down – but you have to be some distance away and in the direction to see this), it is also revered by many women who have been unable to bear children. From X-XI centuries till the beginning of XX century, at the foothills, slopes, and even on the tops of Sulaiman-Too, there were erected many Muslim religious constructions, including Mazars, mosques, and etc. One of them was the mausoleum of Asaf ibn Burhia, named in honor of the vizier of King Solomon.

At the top of a short (30 minute climb) is a flagpole and a mosque built in 1497 by the 14 year old Babur who had been recently crowned the King of the Ferghana Valley – and later went on to become the founder of the Mogul dynasty in India – destroyed and rebuilt twice it is another center for pilgrimage. In later life Babur abdicated and wrote his memoires in which he mentions the Suleyman mount (and his building projects on it); the river, overlooked from both banks by gardens and a red and white stone which was used as handles for knoves. He also tells of a mosque built by a meadow with a wide wide stream flowing through it, and apparently it was a standing joke to carry people who fell asleep in the meadow across three streams to the other side.

Mosque on Sulayman-Too mount, Osh There is also a small archaeological-cultural museum here with many of the ancient artifacts discovered in the city environs. An historical-ethnographic museum called the Great Silk Road Museum , on Kurmanjan Datka, has well-done exhibitions which focus on South Kyrgyzstan and cover the Silk Road days; Kyrgyz immigration from South Siberia ; the Kokand khanate; Russian annexation in 1865 and the Bolshevik takeover after 1917. One interesting exhibit is a map dating from 1953 that shows the different Kyrgyz tribes and clans (still a very important factor in Kyrgyz society today).

In the city there is a statue of Kurmanjan Datka – the “Queen of the South” who opposed Russian expansion in the region and is featured on the 50-som note. There is also a statue of Lenin. Nearby is a war memorial that bears the inscription (in Russian and Kyrgyz) “No One is Forgotten – Nothing is Forgotten”.

Most guidebooks refer to the bazaar as one of the most picturesque in all of Asia, stretching for about a kilometer along the bank of the river. Near the bazaar is the largest mosque in Kyrgyzstan – The Shaid Tepa Mosque. The original wooden building was constructed between1908 and 1910, but was closed by the Soviets, when it served as a stables and blacksmiths. It was reopened in 1943 in a surprising act of religious tolerance by the then Soviet government. Recently it has been renovated with financial support from Saudi Arabia and has space for some 5000 worshippers.