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Introducing Özgön

Özgön (Uzgen), 55km northeast of Osh, is today best known as the centre of three nights of ferocious Kyrgyz-Uzbek fighting in 1990. Few outward scars are evident today. The town is nominally 85% Uzbek; locals say it was about two-thirds Uyghur in pre-Soviet days.

Özgön is claimed to be the site of a series of citadels dating back to the 1st century BC; there is also a story that the town began as an encampment for some of Alexander the Great’s troops. It was one of the multiple Karakhanid capitals in the 10th and 11th centuries.

All that remains of this history is a quartet of Karakhanid buildings – three joined 12th-century mausoleums and a stubby 11th-century minaret (whose top apparently fell down in an earthquake in the 17th century), faced with very fine ornamental brickwork, carved terracotta and inlays of stone. Each mausoleum is unlike the others, though all are in shades of red-brown clay (there were no glazed tiles at this point in Central Asian history). In the corner of the right-hand-side mausoleum, a small section has been deliberately left off to reveal older layers of the middle one (the Mausoleum of Nasr ibn Ali, founder of the Karakhanids). You can climb the minaret for 5som.

Apart from the architectural attractions Özgön’s bazaar is an interesting place to wander around, particularly if you haven’t seen much of Uzbekistan.

To get to the mausoleums turn right out of the main (new) bus station on Manas. The road curves to the right past the entrance to the bazaar, which is where shared taxis and minibuses will probably drop you off. From the bazaar it’s a 10-minute walk to the statue of Lenin (opposite the post office), from where you can see the minaret in the square behind.