Long a center of pilgrimage in the Ferghana Valley, in recent times Osh's Sulaiman Too mountain has been subject to both Soviet revisionist history and picnickers keen to leave their mark.
Now, the spot -- where pre-Islamic rituals are blended with formal Muslim worship -- has been declared Kyrgyzstan's first UNESCO World Heritage Site. The 295-hectare complex, including the mountain, surrounding cemeteries and old residential districts, was chosen at a meeting on June 26 in Seville, Spain, for its historical and cultural significance to the Ferghana Valley.
First appearing in the region in the 17th Century, the name refers to the prophet Sulaiman of the Old Testament. Some say Sulaiman -- better known in the West as King Solomon, builder of Jerusalem's first temple -- is buried on the mountain. 'Too' means mountain in Kyrgyz.
Sulaiman Too "dominates the Ferghana Valley and forms the backdrop to the city of Osh, at the crossroads of important routes on the Central Asian Silk Roads," reads a UNESCO statement.
Home to 101 "sites with petroglyphs representing humans and animals as well as geometrical forms . . . The site numbers 17 places of worship, which are still in use, and many that are not."
"Cult sites" on Sulaiman Too "are believed to provide cures for barrenness, headaches, and back pain and give the blessing of longevity. Veneration for the mountain blends pre-Islamic and Islamic beliefs. The site is believed to represent the most complete example of a sacred mountain anywhere in Central Asia, worshipped over several millennia," the statement continues.
Visitors are active participants in old superstitions, whether for conviction or fun. At one spot on the smooth stone edifice, guests reach inside a cave the width and length of a human arm in order to heal all sorts of aliments; at another, women are encouraged to slide down a magic stone worn smooth by centuries of female visitors seeking to conceive.
Stairs lead to the higher of the two peaks where a small mosque is said to have been built by the Emperor Babur -- founder of the Moghul Dynasty -- in the 16th Century. It was mostly destroyed in Soviet times and reconstructed during the Perestroika era.
Below, a Soviet-era museum carved out of the rock houses local artifacts.
UNESCO has twice before considered adding Sulaiman Too to its list of sites with universal cultural and natural value. The list now includes 890 properties throughout the world.
At a press conference announcing the listing on July 1, Culture Minister Sultan Raev said he hoped Osh's increased fame would draw tourists and suggested a direct flight from Istanbul to Osh could soon commence.
David Trilling is the Central Asia news editor for EurasiaNet.
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