Tuesday, March 15, 2016

Por-Bazhyn from the air (looking northwest) before excavation in 2007.

3-D reconstruction drawing of Por-Bazhyn based on excavation results 2007/8 (by R.A. Vafeev)

 Vajnstejn's plan of the site (updated 2007 for the Por-Bajin Fortress Foundation)

Por-Bazhyn (Por-Bajin, Por-Bazhyng,) is the name of a ruined structure on a lake island high in the mountains of southern Tuva (Russian Federation). The name Por-Bazhyn translates from the Tuvan language as "clay house". Excavations suggest that it was built as an Uyghur palace in the 8th century AD, converted into a Manichaean monastery soon after, abandoned after a short occupation, and finally destroyed by an earthquake and subsequent fire. Its construction methods show that Por-Bazhyn was built within the Tang Chinese architectural tradition.

Por-Bazhyn is a 1,300-year-old structure of 7 acres that takes up most of the small island on which it sits. Containing a maze of over 30 buildings, its high outer walls sit only 30 kilometers (20 mi) from the border with Mongolia. But over a century since its discovery, archaeologists are no closer to understanding who built this structure or why.

At first, researchers thought Por-Bazhyn was an ancient fortress of the Uighur Empire, nomads who ruled southern Siberia and Mongolia from 742–848. It’s constructed with a Chinese architectural style from that time. However, it’s so out of the way of trade routes and other settlements that competing theories eventually arose. Maybe it was a monastery, a summer palace, a memorial for a ruler, or an observatory for the stars. Evidence is accumulating that a Buddhist monastery was at the center of the complex, although only a few artifacts have been unearthed.

The complex does not appear to have been inhabited for long. Archaeologists found indications of earthquakes that may have caused a fire that burned some of the original site. However, the fire appears to have occurred after the island was abandoned for reasons unknown.


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