At Turkistan, 165km northwest of Shymkent (an easy day-trip), stands Kazakhstan’s greatest architectural monument and most important pilgrimage site. The mausoleum of the first great Turkic Muslim holy man, Kozha Akhmed Yasaui, was built by Timur in the late 14th century on a grand scale comparable with his magnificent creations in Samarkand, and has no rivals in Kazakhstan for man-made beauty.
Turkistan was already an important trade and religious centre (under the name Yasy) when the revered Sufi teacher and mystical poet Kozha Akhmed Yasaui came to live here in the 12th century. Yasaui was born at Sayram, probably in 1103, underwent ascetic Sufi training in Bukhara, then lived much of the rest of his life in Turkistan, dying here about 1166. He founded the Yasauia Sufi order and had the gift of communicating his understanding to ordinary people through poems and sermons in a Turkic vernacular, a major reason for his enduring popularity.
Yasaui’s original small tomb was already a place of pilgrimage before Timur ordered a far grander mausoleum built here in the 1390s. Timur died before it was completed and the main facade was left unfinished – today it remains bare of the beautiful tilework that adorns the rest of the building, with scaffolding poles still protruding. From the 16th to 18th centuries Turkistan was the capital of the Kazakh khans.
Coming by road from Shymkent, you can disembark your minibus when the mausoleum looms into view on your left as you enter Turkistan.