In the Republic of Tuva, near the border of Mongolia, at an altitude of 1300 meters, Lake Tere-Khol is hiding in the mountains. In the 17th century, Semyon Remezov, the famous compiler of maps of Siberia, discovered the ruins of a monumental fortress on an island in the center of the lake, about which he wrote in his papers: "The stone city is old, two walls are intact, two have been destroyed, but we do not know the city." … The locals call the fortress on the island "Por-Bazhyn", which in translation from the Tuvan language means "clay house".
The first mention of Por-Bazhyn is in the "Drawing Book of Siberia, compiled by the Tobolsk boyar son Semyon Remezov in 1701" (published in St. Petersburg in 1882). In 1891, the settlement was surveyed by the Russian ethnologist and archaeologist D.A. Klemenz, who removed his plan and first drew attention to the resemblance to the ruins of the city of Karabalgasun on the Orkhon River in Mongolia. He wrote that the builders of Por-Bazhyn were "not Mongols or Chinese and hardly Khidans or Dzhurdzheni, most likely the same people or a people related to the builders of the ancient Karakorum."
For a very long time, Por-Bazhyn did not attract the attention of researchers due to its inaccessibility. Nevertheless, archaeologists sometimes referred to it and even suggested that the settlement belonged to the period of the Uyghur Kaganate (744-840).
In 1957, the Soviet archaeologist S.I. Vainshtein began excavations of the settlement and continued with the Tuva expedition of the Institute of Ethnology of the Academy of Sciences of the USSR. The dating and attribution of the fortress was based on the typological similarity of the surviving end ornamented discs of the tile.
According to the description of the scientist, the remains of the Por-Bazhyn fortress were ruined walls arranged in the form of a rectangle consisting of walls oriented along the cardinal points. The height of the walls in some places reached 10 meters. In the middle of the eastern wall, the remains of a gate with well-fortified perverse towers have been preserved. Inside the fortress, archaeologists also found traces of dwellings and service buildings, on the site of which fragments of ceramic and stone dishes, iron nails and other artifacts were found in 1957 and 1963. In the central part of the fortress, two earthen hills up to 2 meters high were discovered, under which were the foundations of two buildings.
The purpose of the Por-Bazhyn fortress remains unclear. Initially, the idea was expressed that the settlement could be a monastery, but very soon scientists abandoned it. If we rely on the information of the Bayan-Chor inscription, on the basis of which the date of the fortress construction was determined, we can say that the fortress was built as a summer residence of the Uighur kagan. Here is how Bayan-chor tells about his campaign against the Chik tribe:
Then, in the Year of the Tiger (750), I went on a campaign against the Chicks. In the second month, on the 14th day, near [the river] with whom I broke them. In the same year, I ordered the establishment of the Kasar Kordan headquarters in the upper reaches of the Tez [river] (on the western slope of Otyuken). I ordered the walls to be erected there and spent the summer there. There I set the boundaries [of my domain]. There I ordered to inscribe my signs and my letters.
Russian Turkologist S.G. Klyashtorny, who clarified these lines, believed that Kasar Kordan (in the Terkhin inscription - Kasar Korug) was the western camp and the headquarters of Eletmish Bilge Kagan. He identified Kasar Kordan with the Por-Bazhyn fortress.
Many Tuvan legends are associated with the ruins of Por-Bazhyn.One of them tells about a khan who had big ears, for which he received the name Elchigen-kulak-khan - Donkey's ears. The khan hid his ears from others and killed anyone who saw them. Only one barber managed to see them and tell all people about it. According to another legend, the fortress was built by a certain khan in the valley of the Yenisei, where there was still no lake. The lake was formed from water gushing from a well built in the fortress. The Khan, running away from the water that flooded the surroundings of the fortress, looking at the valley, exclaimed in surprise in Mongolian: "Teri-nur bolchi!" (She became a lake!)
At present, researchers are attracted by the legend that Por-Bazhyn was a palace built by the Uyghur kagan for a Chinese princess. The Uyghur Eletmish Bilge Kagan actually married the Chinese princess Ningo in gratitude for the military assistance provided to them by the Tang dynasty in suppressing the An Lushan uprising (755-762). It is known from sources that Princess Ningo went to the Uyghur headquarters in September 758, but six months later the Uyghur kagan died. The Tang chronicles tell how the Uighurs wanted to bury the princess with their deceased husband, but, meeting strong objection, they left her alive. A few months after the death of the kagan, the princess returned to China.
The Tang princess was accompanied to the Uyghur headquarters by another representative of the imperial house - Xiao Ningguo (Younger Ningguo), the daughter of one of the Chinese princes. Xiao Ningguo remained with the Uighurs and was successively the wife of Bayanchor and his son Begyu Kagan (759-779). During a palace coup in 779, her two sons, born of the Begyu Kagan, were killed, and Xiao Ningguo herself "left and lived outside (the capital)." If the assumption is true that the Por-Bazhyn palace was built in 750-751, it could not have been built for the Chinese princess, who arrived at the Uyghur headquarters many years after the construction of Por-Bazhyn - in 758 and lived among the Uyghurs for only about one year.
Of course, palaces and cities for princesses were built by the Uyghurs. Among the Uyghur cities in Chinese sources, for example, "the city of the princess" is called "Gongzhu cheng". However, they were located much to the south of the Kagan headquarters. Thus, the legend that the Uyghur palace of Por-Bazhyn was built for a Chinese princess has no basis. The latter, however, does not exclude the possibility that Chinese craftsmen could have taken part in its construction.
For a long time, no one could understand why it was necessary to erect such a massive structure in an almost deserted area and from whom the inhabitants of the fortress were defending themselves there. Scientists are now skeptical about the version that the fortress used to be a guard post on the Great Silk Road from China to Europe, since the northernmost branches of the Silk Road passed about a thousand kilometers south of the place where the fortress stands. There were also no military bases, gold deposits or food warehouses near the fortress.
In addition, scientists could not understand for a long time how the ancient builders managed to build a fortress on an island in the middle of a lake. How were the building materials delivered, where were the brick-making workshops located, how could hundreds of builders fit on a small piece of land? The 1957-1963 expedition was also unable to establish the reason why people eventually left Por-Bazhyn.
And only comprehensive studies of 2007-2008, carried out under the auspices of the Russian Emergencies Ministry, were able to slightly reveal the secret of this place. As a result of the work, the appearance of the ancient city was completely restored, many items were found confirming the "Uyghur trace", and it was found out why Por-Bazhyn was destroyed.
So, what was Por-Bazhyn? The ruins of the fortress occupy almost the entire area of the island and represent a regular rectangle, oriented to the cardinal points, measuring 211 by 158 meters. The height of the fortress walls, even in a dilapidated state, reaches 10 meters.On the eastern side, a gate with perverse towers has been preserved; the remains of entrance ramps lead to the towers.
Inside the fortress walls there is a whole labyrinth of buildings and structures. Along the western, southern and northern walls there are 26 compartments separated by adobe walls up to one and a half meters high. In each of them, a room measuring 7 by 8 meters was built from raw bricks - apparently, the palace servants, artisans and the guards of the fortress lived in them. In the middle, two palace buildings were discovered, perhaps one of them was a temple.
Both "palaces" were located on a hill made of rammed earth and clay. Apparently, they were connected to each other by a 6-meter covered walkway. The first building measures 23 by 23 meters, and the second 15 by 15. Their roof was supported by wooden columns. It is believed that in the large room there were 36 of them, and in the small - only 8. The roofs were covered with cylindrical tiles. The thickness of the walls in the palaces, apparently, was more than a meter, which is not surprising, because the winters on Kungurtug are very severe, and the temperature of -45 ° C is the norm here. This thickness of clay and brick was covered with ornamental frescoes in orange and red colors.
Most of all, archaeologists were surprised by the extremely thin cultural layer of the settlement. In some places, bones of rams were found (this refuted the version of local residents that Por-Bazhyn was a Buddhist monastery, since Buddhist monks do not eat meat), several women's jewelry and blacksmiths - that's all that the inhabitants of this city lost in a few decades of existence of the fortress. In addition, only one burial was discovered in the vicinity of Por-Bazhyn, and there are none at all on the territory of the fortress.
All this suggests that Por-Bazhyn, most likely, was the summer residence of the Uighur kagans or large dignitaries. Apparently, no one lived permanently in this fortress, people appeared there only in the warm season. And it was very pleasant for the Uighur aristocrats to have a rest on Kungurtug - clean mountain air, an abundance of wild animals around, there are a lot of fish in the lake, and healing hydrogen sulfide springs are located a five-minute drive from the fortress. Was it not their presence that made the kagan decide to build a "sanatorium" in this very place?
We managed to find out why the fortress suddenly appeared on the island. Thanks to the research of a group of geomorphologists and soil scientists from Moscow State University. Lomonosov and the Institute of Geography of the Russian Academy of Sciences managed to establish that during its entire history of existence, Lake Tere-Khol disappeared almost completely several times. This happened as a result of the fact that earthquakes, which in the past quite often occurred in these places, from time to time led to the disappearance of underground springs feeding this reservoir. Apparently, in one of such periods of "drainage" of Tere-Khol, the fortress was built.
This is also evidenced by the traces of the road discovered by geologists, located at the bottom of the reservoir. But nobody builds roads under water, which means that when it was laid there was no lake. Later, during the next earthquake, the springs “opened” again and the Tere-Khol basin was filled with water.
The earthquakes eventually destroyed the fortress itself. Soil scientists on the island have discovered traces of characteristic displacements in the bedding of soil layers, which occurs as a result of vibrations of the earth's solid. According to the dates, these displacements coincide with the age of the traces of the fortress fire found earlier by archaeologists. But the remains of people who died from this natural disaster were not found. This refuted the earlier version of the death of the fortress as a result of the assault by enemy armies or during the uprising of local residents.
In reality, most likely, an earthquake destroyed the fortress in winter or autumn, when there was no one in it. Apparently, having arrived at the "sanatorium" next summer and found a pile of ruins in its place, the kagan did not want to restore the buildings, since he considered this place dangerous for rest.
Although, according to the stories of local residents, the kagan and his warriors still sometimes return to these places. According to them, on dark nights on the island, among the ruins, you can see ghosts on horseback, with weapons and in the clothes of the 8th century. It is quite possible that the rest in Por-Bazhyn was so popular with the Uyghur nobility that many of its representatives, even after death, continue to visit this wonderful "rest house".