Turkestan is one of the few cities in Kazakhstan which comes from ancient times. This city has an almost 1600-year-old history. It was a trade route on the Great Silk Road and the capital of the Kazakh khanate. An important trade centre and pilgrimage site, which is a small city nowadays with around 150.000 population.
The city was also known as Yassy, Hasrat and Shavgar. The city also had the title “Hasrati Turkestan”, which means “the saint Turkestan. This is connected with Khoja Ahmed Yasawi- the Sufi Sheikh of Turkestan.
Turkestan is most famous for the mausoleum of Khoja Ahmed Yasawi, who was a poet and Sufi mystic. In the 12th century, he was the head of the regional school of Sufism. After his death, the mausoleum became a popular pilgrimage site among Muslim people. The mausoleum was built by the order of Timur in 1336-1405. This is the most important pilgrimage site in Kazakhstan. It was included in the UNESCO World Heritage Site in 2003 as an outstanding example of architecture from the Timurid period.
As already mentioned Turkestan is an important pilgrimage site for the Muslims of Kazakhstan and in the whole Central Asia. There were times that people considered that visiting this site three times was equal to a pilgrimage to Mecca.
Nowadays Turkestan is an industrial, educational and cultural city. You can visit the History Museum of Turkestan, which is located within the Yassawi Mausoleum complex. Most of the exhibits and artefacts are related to the Sufism and Islam from the teachings of Khoja Akhmet Yassawi. The labels are also available in English, so if you’re in the city it’s worth visiting.
Another valuable historical site is the bathhouse of Turkestan. It dates back to the 16th century. The eastern bathhouse was restored with the opening of the museum in the Ahmed Yasawi mausoleum. Later the bathhouse itself turned into a cultural and historical centre. It represents historical importance because it’s from the rare examples of medieval public buildings. As the city was considered sacred the Kazakh khans and noble people were buried here, so you can see many tombs.
Turkestan can be the perfect spot to organize day-trips to Sauran and Otran. It is also easier to do a day-tour here from Shymkent city. The transport is working well between the two cities. Turkestan should be a must-see on your list if you're interested in the rich cultural heritage of Central Asia.