The ruins of the city of Zamakshar are today frequently referred to as Izmukshir, the name of the small settlement that lies just to the east of the site. In the 19th century it was called Zmukshir or Zmukhshir.

The site is located in the Dashoguz welayat of Turkmenistan, roughly 81km south east of Kunya Urgench and 23km south west of Dashoguz, just 10km from the edge of the Qara Qum desert. It is about 66km north west of Khiva.

Interior of Zamakhshar
The modern entrance to Zamakhshar.

The medieval ruins were initially explored in 1934 by an expedition led by the Moscow based archaeologist M. V. Voevodskiy but he did not conduct excavations to explore the earlier levels of the city. Later studies have established that the site was first settled in the late 4th or 3rd century BC and was occupied until the 3rd century AD.

Interior of Zamakhshar

Interior of Zamakhshar

Interior of Zamakhshar
Various views over the interior of Zamakhshar.

There are clear signs that there was an economic depression in Khorezm between the 4th and the 6th centuries AD coupled with a decline in the irrigation system, and this seems to have been worse in the peripheral regions. The entire region on the western outskirts of Khorezm, including Zamakshar, was abandoned during that period and became consumed by the desert.

Zamakhshar was reoccupied in the 9th century AD and flourished to become one of the major urban centres of southern Khorezm. It was described by al-Muqadassi in about 985 as follows:

"Zamakhshar: small, a fortress over it, and with a moat, a prison, and gates braced with iron. The bridges are drawn up every night; the high road passes through the town. The mosque is very fine, beside the market."
Zamakhshar was the birthplace of the great Islamic theologian and Hanafite jurist Abu al-Qasim Mahmud b. Umar al-Zamakhshari. He was born in the city in 1075 and died in Gurganj in 1144. The town was finally conquered by the Mongols in 1221.

Interior of Zamakhshar
View over the interior of Zamakhshar.

Aerial photograph of Zamakhshar
Aerial photograph of Zamakhshar. Image courtesy of Google Earth.

The ruins of the walled city are of an irregular rectangular shape, with one straight side and three curved sides. It is roughly 560 metres from north to south and 470 metres from east to west. The walls were defended by numerous closely spaced half-round towers. The total circumference of the outer wall is roughly one and three quarter kilometres. For comparison, the circumference of the Ichan qala at Khiva is about two and a quarter kilometres. Little remains today apart from badly eroded sections of the outer wall and the outer defensive ditch or moat. The city was supposedly entered by means of four separate gates, each defended by a drawbridge over the outer defensive ditch. Today there is evidence of entrances on the north and south facing walls, both defended by barbicans, and of a wider entrance on the east-facing wall. There was no fortified citadel within the city walls. Today the interior is empty with patches of undulating bare mud, some from the remains of ancient dwellings. Some areas are overgrown with tamarisk and other desert vegetation.

Despite its featureless interior Zamakhshar is still a hugely impressive site to see, if only for its breathtaking scale.

Google Earth Coordinates

The following reference point (in degrees and digital minutes) will enable you to locate Zamakhshar on Google Earth.

  Google Earth Coordinates
Place Latitude North      Longitude East     
    Zamakhshar     41º 43.900 59º 43.100

Note that these are not GPS measurements taken on the ground.

Visit our sister site, which uses the correct transliteration, Qaraqalpaq, rather than the Russian transliteration, Karakalpak.

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