Monuments in Central Asia reveal a lot about a region that is not a popular destination for Western travelers. The region's unique and rich heritage spans more than 3,000 years. In that time its inhabitants, religions and rulers have come and gone. Thankfully, the monuments in Central Asia remain, including mausoleums, temples, statues and shrines in Central Asian countries such as Kazakhstan, Uzbekistan, Kyrgystan, Azerbaijan and Mongolia.
The Atashgah Fire Temple
Also known as the Fire Temple of Baku, the Atashgah Temple is located in Surakhany, Azerbaijan. Although the site dates back to the third century, the Zoroastrian monument was constructed in the 17th and 18th centuries.
A central pillared building housed an altar awash with flame. On its roof, fires flickered at each of its four corners. Visitors traveling Central Asia's Silk Road flocked to the site, including the French author Alexander Dumas. He wrote: "Great tongues of flame soared in the air from the hundreds of tiny round fissures in the ground. The wind would scatter the flames, curve them and then straighten them, spreading them along the ground and then lifting them up to heavens again. But it was impossible for the wind to extinguish them."
The faithful thought these to be the eternal fires of Aspheron. However the discovery of subterranean gas fields led to the site's abandonment in 1883. Supplies ran out in the '60s, so the ancient site's current flame is fed by main gas lines.
The monument, which is perched atop a hill, was established as a museum in 1975. A 15-minute climb is required to access the site and nearby third-century Sassanid settlements.
The Fire Temple is open daily from 8:30 a.m. to 6 p.m.
In 1497, Zahridden Babur, the 14-year-old warlord and founder of the Mogul Dynasty,built a home and mosque atop Mount Suleiman in Osh, Southern Kyrgystan. The ancient site, which overlooks the Ferghana Valley, has long been associated with the prophet Solomon, making it popular with faithful pilgrims for more than 3,000 years.
Government officials demolished Babur's House in the '60s to deter Muslim visitors flocking from throughout the region. Rebuilt in the '90s, the site is believed to have healing properties. Every summer it is visited by those hoping to recover from maladies.
Mullahs at Babur's House pray over the faithful and the unwell. Donations are expected from visitors. Access to Babur's House is via a designated walkway. It takes approximately 30 minutes to hike to the top of the mountain. The base of the mountain features an abandoned, ancient cemetery, and a nearby cave is home to a museum.
Aisha Bibi Mausoleum
The Aishai-Bibi mausoleum is a UNESCO-protected monument located near the Kazakh city of Taraz. Located on a ridge, it gives a breathtaking view of Taraz and the nearby Tien-Shen mountain range.
This pre-Mongolian monument dates back to the 12th century and is one of Central Asia's few architectural examples of this age. Its intricately carved fretwork, which features 60 types of geometric patterns and stylized inscriptions, appears light, airy and feminine.
Legend tells of how a wealthy warlord commissioned this intricate mausoleum in honor of his fiancée, Aisha Bibi, the daughter of Khakim-Ata Suleiman Bakyrgani, an 11th century poet. At just 16, Aisha was bitten by a snake and died while traveling to meet her beloved emir.
Kalta Minor Minaret
Kalta Minor Minaret overlooks the oasis city of Khiva, Uzbekistan. Built in 1851 by Mohammed Amin Khan, construction was halted after just four years.
It was designed on a grand scale. Standing at 26 meters high, the minaret was once the highest in the Muslim East. It's said that Khan wanted to build a tower so tall that one could see to Bukhara, a 300-mile journey across the Kizil-Kum Desert.
Tiled in green and turquoise, the tower can be found in the central square of the Khiva's old city, Ichan-kala. It is just one of the 50 historic monuments and 250 18th- and 19th-century homes to be found at this World Heritage Site.
Kalta Minor Minaret