Suleyman – Too is a hill in the heart of the city, rising 175m from the floor of the valley of the Ak Buura River in which Osh is located to an altitude of 1175m. It is surrounded by the bustle of the busy city center surrounds.
The hill lies in an East-West orientation and is 1140m long and 560m wide (or 2000m long and 250m wide – depending on where you consider the foot of the hill to lie).
The hill has five "peaks" which give it a distinctive profile which is said by some to resemble the profile of a pregnant woman lying down. The peaks are called:
Made of limestone, the hill has many caves and grottos.
Suleyman-Too is sometimes referred to as Solomon’s Throne – and the name refers to a legend that the city of Osh was established by the Biblical king. It is said that he visited the area and prayed at the spot where Babur, the first of the Mogul emperors of India who was born in Andijan not far away in the Ferghana valley, built a hurja – or "rest house" and has become a major destination for pilgrims. Some people believe that Solomon was actually buried here. Having founded the city, he is said to have spiritual beings then cut a narrow canyon and thus redirect the flow of the river Ak Buura through the city. When they reached the mountain he is said to have cried "Hosh!" ("Enough!"), and hence the city received its name. However, there is no actual evidence that Solomon ever visited the area.
The name Suleyman-Too may, in fact, be a fairly recent acquisition. Babur refers to the mountain as Bara Kukh. It is not clear what Bara Kukh means – although Kukh means "hill" in Persian and various suggestions have been made about possible interpretations of Bara … referring to it’s size and distance from the nearest hills. Babur doesn’t mention anything about Solomon which seems an odd omission if it had been an already established tradition. It is known that these names were in use, however, in the late 19th century.
It has a long history as a holy site and some scholars think it was the site of an ancient Zoroastrian temple. There are suggestions that there was once a Fire Temple here (some indentations in the rock are suggested by some to be the marks made by the hands, knees and forehead made by Solomon whilst praying but some scholars claim that they are places where lamps were lit as part of Zoroastrian fire worship. One theory is that the most visited spot on the hill (Babur’s House) was once the spot where the bodies of the dead were left for the dogs and birds to pick at, before the boners were then taken away to be buried – a typical Zoroastrian practice.
During the Soviet period, when religious practice was frowned upon, there was a tendency to deliberately neglect sites that might have religious significance. Since Independence , however, there has been a significant effort to improve the appearance of the mountain: trees have been planted, and a walkway was laid around the base of the mountain with pathways to the museum and the main holy site of Ok Ui.
Although there are a number of Holy Sites on Suleyman Too which are visited by pilgrims, the whole mountain is venerated as Holy. The two most commonly visited sites are Chake Tamar and Ok Ui. Most of the sites are caves – in fact all the caves on Suleyman Too are considered sacred. One of the large caves is virtually inaccessible – needing special equipment – and is relatively unexplored.
Bash Koyo Turgan Jer: A depression in a rock near to Ok Ui is known as the "Head Hole" because it thought that it gives relief from headaches if the head is placed in it.
Bel Orik or Bel Tash: a sloping rock with a small gully cut into it, over 2 meters long, located just behind Ok Ui. Pilgrims come to pray at the rock and slide down it. It is said that someone with an infirmity slides down it three times, then they will be healed – and there are several stories of such healing.
Chake Tamar and Beshik Tash: Chake Tamar is a small cave about 100 to the west of Ok Ui, by the side of the newly constructed walkway. In fact there are two entrances to the cave, separated from each other by about 6m. It is very small and to explore it, it is necessary to crawl around on all fours. Apparently there is supposed to be water dripping from the ceiling which has healing properties which is especially effective for healing eye problems. It is also visited by childless couples wishing to have children. Legend has it that Solomon, nearing his death asked the angel of death for time to pray one more time. He visited the various holy sites on the mountain and went to the cave to pray. The Angel of death came to fetch him, but as was in the cave could not find him – and he turned to stone in the cave and the drops of water which seep from the ceiling are said to be his tears. There is another version of the legend that simply says that he slept in the cave.
Chiltan Gor: A small cave high up on the mountain is known as Chltan Gor. According to legend there are forty entities of superhuman strength who live amongst humans without being seen, called chilten . This cave is known as "the place of 41 chilten"). There are three entrances to the cave and the passages from them meet a fourth, closed, passage. Near the entrances are some petroglyphs and stone implements found here suggest that it was used as a form of habitation.
Eagle’s Cave: The largest and most frequented cave in the side of the mountain is known as the Eagle’s Cave and is now the site of a large museum. The conversion was controversial as some of the arches were filled with cement and a glass and metal shell was constructed over the entrance of the cave. It is linked with another cave, Ishen Unkur, in which there are examples of petroghlyphs depicting the sun and various animals. Legend has it that a devout shoemaker of the prophet Suleiman lived here.
Hur Kyz: Near the museum is a small cave (6m tall, 10m wide and 12m deep) called Hur Kyz. In Kyrgyz, kyz means girl and the cave is associated with both women and purity. There was a tradition that if someone who is pure calls to Hur Kyz in the cave, then she will answer …not just as an echo. However, because she saw unclean happenings in the cave, she has hidden herself but will return when piety returns to the population. There is another tradition concerning the name which suggests that it means Forty Girls – and links to the legend of the forty girls from which the Kyrgyz claim descent. Some people claim that is the home of beings – (close to "fairies" in Western cultural terms). One feature of the cave is an arch which is said by some to resemble "stone lace".
Kol Orik: a rock by the side of the path just below Bel Orik has a hole in it, at about knee level, just about the right size in which to fit an arm bent at the elbow, upto the armpit and it is claimed that putting the arm into it will cure a pain in the arm.
Kyl Kuprik: In some Islamic traditions there is a "bridge of hair" over which people must pass after death … those who have not sinned (or whose sins are balanced by the prayers during their lifetime) pass over the bridge to heaven, whilst the other fall into the fires below. Kyl Kuprik is the Uzbek name for this bridge -and is ascribed to a narrow ledge on the southern face of Suleyman Too, about a hundred meters west of Ok Ui.
Ok Ui: In his memoires, Babur describes how he built a hurja (or "rest house") on the mountain – saying that although another hurja, built by a Sultan, was located higher, the one that he built had a better location – with the whole city and surrounding towns spread out beneath it. Ok Ui means "White House" in Uzbek and is the site of the hurja built by Babur in the thirteenth century. The present structure is not the original. The structure had two rooms but was destroyed by the Soviet authorities in 1963. It was claimed that the building was unsound and dangerous – and the mountain was cordoned off one evening, and explosions were heard during the night – and by the next morning the buiding was gone. The present, (one roomed structure), was built in 1989, with a reported 25000 volunteers passing the bricks up the mountain by hand. The materials they used were apparently those from the original building, which had been kept in storage.
Tepenukur: An almost vertical cave found near the summit of the hill, close to Chiltan Gor. Archaeologists have discovered many stone-age implements in the cave.
The largest mosque in Osh , (the Jauza Mosque), used to stand at the base of the mountain to the Southeast. It is mentioned by Babur in his memoirs. Having survived for over 700 years, it was destroyed in the Soviet period and the site changed hands several times … at one being a dormitory for the Teacher Training Institute, another serving as part of a food processing plant, and as a school for photographers.
Near to the site of the mosque was a stream known as Jannat Orik, or "the stream of Paradise". The waters of the stream were held to have healing properties – especially for throat disorders. Although Babur mentions such a stream, he makes no mention of its healing qualities. Another sacred stream was the Jupas Orik – and until quite recently, water wheels were still being used on it to pump water in the channel.
Not far from Suleyman Too is the Rabat Abdullakhan Mosque. It was built by Abdullakhan II, the last of the Uzbek Shaibanid dynasty which ruled much of Central Asia in the latter half of the 16th century, as one of a series of mosques throughout his fiefdom. In the 1930’s it served as a dormitory, but as had always been the city’s main mosque it was returned to the faithful for prayer by the Soviet authorities in 1944. However, in 1963 it was turned into a museum – thus escaping demolition to make way for a sports stadium for the local Teacher Training Institute. Renovations started in 1988, and the mosque was returned to the faithful once more – and is now in active use and a center for orthodox Islam in the city.
Near to the South-eastern foot of the mountain is the mausoleum of Asaf ibn-Burkhia. According to tradition he was either the vizier of Solomon – or his uncle (on his mother’s side). When Soviet archaeologists excavated the tomb in 1983, no bones were found, only stones marked like dominoes. In fact there was a common custom in ancient times of burying someone near to where they died, but burying objects associated with the person in their mausoleum – wherever it was located. In fact, the structure is described by scholars as being fairly recent in style, similar to structures built between the 18th and 20th centuries. As with Ok Ui, however, this does not preclude a second structure having been built on the site of an earlier one – and there is some evidence of this. Renovation work was undertaken on the mausoleum in the 1980’s.
There are three cemeteries located on Suleyman Too: a large one at the base of the mountain on the southern side, and two smaller ones to the north.
Also, to the east of the foot of the mountain, archaeologists have excavated a medieval bathhouse, dating from somewhere between the 11th and 14th centuries.
Petroglyphs: The mountain is endowed with a number of early rock paintings. The earliest examples are circular in format – with spirals contained inside the circles. There is some suggestion that these are connected with sun worship. Others are clearly representations of animals – such as snakes. There also appears to be depictions of "houses" – square motifs divided into four parts.
THE UZGEN MINARET
The Uzgen Minaret is vertical and consists of three parts: the lower part is an octahedron – 5 m high; the middle part is in the form of a tapering cylinder; and the upper part is a lantern built in 1923-1924, with a cupola and arched windows. The Minaret is 27.5 m high. The diameter of the lower part is 8.5 m, and the upper part – 6.2 m. The Minaret was made of brick. One of the faces of the base has a lancet arched door leading to the spiral staircase, lit by two narrow windows. The cylindrical part is decorated with 11 ornamented belts – the narrow ones decorated with embossed patterns. Because the ornamentation are artistically and technically more diverse than those of the Burana Tower in the Chui oblast it is thought that the Uzgen minaret was built later than it’s northern relative.
Near the minaret are three mausoleums built in a line. These Mausoleums are called : Northern, Middle and Southern Mausoleum.
The Middle Mausoleum was the first to be built, in the early 11th century (1012 – 1013). According to some sources, it was built in honor of Karakhanid Nasr ibn Ali. It takes the form of a square, measuring 11.3 m by 11.4 m – the interior measures 8.5 m by 8.5 m – and is 13 m high. The Mausoleum is built of fired brick and it is richly decorated with figured brick work and carved ornaments in alabaster plaster. It is possible to count about 12 ornamental geometrical and vegetation motifs. There are columns in the corners and it has four doorways, three of which are actual doorways. The western facade is in the form of a portal with a door in a deep niche. The niche is topped with a lancet arch supported by columns. The niche is 3.8 m wide and about 7 m high, and is framed with decorative strips.
The Northern Mausoleum, was built in 1152/3. This date for the construction was determined in the 1920’s – from an analysis of the inscriptions found on the mausoleum. According to some sources, it is thought to have been built as the burial place of Klich-Burhan-Khan, with his father and mother, but according to the other data it is the burial of Ilchi-Mazi-Sultan. On the other hand – an inscription tells that the Mausoleum was built in honor of Jalal-ad-dinual-Husein. It is square in shape – measuring 10.2 m by 12.2 m, (the interior is 7.5 m by 7.5 m) and is built of brick. Inside there are two columns supporting the cornice on both sides of the portal, decorated with a rhombic pattern of brickwork. In addition to the decorative brickwork and alabaster carvings, there are also by terracotta tiles with various forms ornamentation and carved Arabic inscriptions.
The Southern Mausoleum, was built in 1186-1187,(the date being fixed from an analysis of the inscriptions), but it is not known to whom it is dedicated. It is much smaller than its neighbors – although it is also square in shape with the interior measuring 6.4 m by 6.4 m. The portal of Southern Mausoleum looks like that on the Northern Mausoleum, but the decor is different. Here different sizes of terracotta tiles were used – with inscriptions implemented in “kufi” and “nash” handwriting with arabesque “islimi”, ornaments of stars and crosses filled with winding rods of grapes.