Cities of the Dead: Kyrygyzstan by Margaret Morton
Islam, which became the predominant religion in the region in the 12th century, historically discourages tombstones or decorative markers for the deceased. The elaborate Kyrgyz tombs, however, combine earlier Shamanistic and Buddhist influences with Muslim architectural forms. Enamel portraits of the deceased, an Eastern European tradition, were integrated into Kyrgyz tomb design in the mid-1900s. During the seven decades of Soviet-led secularization and de-Islamization of Central Asia, most of the country’s mosques were destroyed or turned into public buildings. The Kyrgyz mausoleums, however, survived unscathed, exposed only to the elements. It is Kyrgyz custom that the carefully constructed monuments return to the earth by slowly disappearing with the passage of time. Kyrgyzstan’s dramatically sited cemeteries are architecturally unique and reveal the complex nature of the Kyrgyz people’s religious and cultural identity. A book of these extraordinary sites will contribute greatly to the architectural and cultural record of a region that is unfortunately known in the West more for its problematic political and economic status than for its nomadic heritage.