Shakpak-Ata undeground mosque
Excursion to Shakpak-Ata cave mosque –
One of the most unusual sights of Kazakhstan is located in the north-eastern part of the Tub-Karagan peninsula, along the slope of the majestic Ungazy mountain. The cave is not a natural formation, but the creation of human hands. It was carved from a solid stone slab. The form is more like a cross - the cave was hollowed out long before it entered the territory of Kazakhstan, and later converted into a mosque.
Entrance to the mosque is free. It is open to the public until sunset. Silence must be observed inside, especially if there are pilgrims in the cave. There is no dress code, but it is better not to stay in the mosque in short shorts and skirts, T-shirts and dresses with bare shoulders.
Legends of Shakpak-Ata mosque –
People with different faiths come to the cave for different purposes. Someone is waiting for healing, someone wants to talk with God.
According to local legends, a long time ago, a healer Shakpak-ata lived in a cave on the side of a mountain. From all the surrounding territories people came to him - for healing the soul and body. Centuries passed, the old man was gone, but people still come to the cave, so that the power of the ancient healer helped them.
According to another legend, a great warrior lived in a cave. He was called Shakpak-ata (translated as “Elder Flint”), because even at an advanced age he did not lose his powerful strength. Archaeologists have found traces of the activity of people of the Stone and Bronze Ages here. Later, followers of Zoroastrianism who came to the lands of Kazakhstan from Iran worshiped fire in the cave. And to this day, in the customs of the people of this area, along with Islamic traditions, fire worship has survived. Now the fire-worshiping pilgrims bring to the cave a special altar, a chirac, in it they kindle strips of fabric soaked in sheep’s fat and turn to the fire, as if washing themselves with this flame.
Interior of the Shakpak-Ata underground mosque –
The mosque appeared here in the X century. Then the existing underground temple was rebuilt in accordance with the new religion: in the western wing of the cave, a mihrab niche and cells for hermit monks were cut down; in niches on either side of the entrance portal, recesses were cut down for the burial of dervishes. The appearance close to the present, the mosque acquired in the XIII - XV centuries.
Panoramic view of the mosque and its surroundings on Google maps.
Light enters the cave in a natural way - through candles in the dome on the roof, wax candles and kerosene lamps are sometimes used as artificial lights. Therefore, after entering, the eyes need time to get used to the soft lighting. The center of the mosque is the middle of the “cross” in the form of a square hall with a dome above it. Four more rooms with arched openings and columns depart from it - this is just a decorative element, the columns do not support natural arches.
The floors in all rooms are covered with felt carpets, in places for rest and prayer there are pillows for sitting. In the main place of prayer, the Koran is suspended from the ceiling - Muslims reciting prayers should touch the holy book with their heads. From the upper platform, above the dome, you can see the whole panorama of the surroundings - the desert landscapes of the boundless steppe and the huge necropolis formed during the existence of the monastery.
The walls of the underground mosque are painted in the wild style of original artists - there are images of horses and riders, wild mountain rams and armed warriors. There are ancient inscriptions in Arabic script, and more modern lines written in Cyrillic. The main source of the mosque's construction date is the Sufi poem written on the walls, telling about the transience of our being. Researchers have found that the poem was written after the completion of the mosque's internal work. The image of an open palm above the entrance protects from unclean thoughts and the evil eye.
How to get to the Shakpak-Ata mosque –
The mosque is located in the northwestern part of Kazakhstan, near the shore of the Caspian Sea. The nearest village in the vicinity of the underground mosque is the village of Tauchik, 45 km away. You can get to the place only by car or as part of a tourist group, public transport does not go here. The coordinates of the underground mosque for motorists: N 44º26,278´; E51º 09.675 '. If you are moving from the side of Aktau, then you need to turn off the federal highway after passing the turn to Tauchik. If you are moving from the opposite side, then the desired turn will be between the settlements of Kiyakty and Tauchik. From the road leading to the mosque, you can also get to the coast of the Caspian Sea.