Burana Tower is on the site of the former Karakhanid city of Balasagyn, founded in the mid-10th century. Balasagyn was contemporaneous with Kashgar and shared equal administrative importance with it as one of the two capitals of the Eastern Khanate.
Balasagyn was the birthplace of Jusup Balasagyn, born in the city either in 1015 or 1016. In 1069, Jusup wrote Kutadgu Bilig (translated as Blessing Knowledge in English). The book, which Jusup wrote in his native Turkic language using Arab script, was an outstanding work of Central Asia’s culture. Today, Jusup’s opus is still popular with Kyrgyz readers.
Balasagyn was spared by the onslaught of the Mongols, who renamed it Gobalyk. However, the city gradually lost its importance afterwards and was abandoned by the 15th century. All that remains of the once glorious Burana is its 24-meter high minaret, or tower, and other artifacts on the museum territory.
The ruins of the minaret were discovered in the late 1800s by Russian archeologists. Restoration was completed by the Soviets in 1974.
The top of the minaret is accessed by interior steps that steeply wind up the narrow dark passageway On the roof, your historical imagination is given inspiration by the view of the surrounding valley and the not-too distant mountains.
To the northwest of the minaret is the
eroded and grass-covered citadel. The stone park to the north of the tower is an open-air museum displaying stone figures dating from the 6th-10th centuries around the Chui Valley near the rivers of Chui, Issyk-Kul and Talas. Some of the figures have a benign, even charming, visage.
Also on view are petroglyphs (pictures and script on rock), some of which date back to 2 BC; stone tools found near Burana; and stone steles with Arab writing dating from the 14th century.
The two edifices on the right after you enter the gate of the tower complex are the foundations of mausoleums used to inter the bones of the ruling elite. A small museum on the grounds describes the history of the area.
All in all, for the historically-minded, the Burana environs evoke images of a distant and forgotten past, in which Silk Road caravans, laden with cargo of East Asian luxury, descend from the mountains to the plains to stop briefly in Burana before continuing their journey — still so far to go — to the west.