The country’s second largest city – is situated in the north of Tajikistan, and is one of its most ancient cities, founded about 2,300 years ago during the time of Alexander the Great. According to Greek historians, in 329 B.C. Alexander the Great founded a fortress on the River Tanais or Yaksart (present-day Syr Darya River), which formed a natural border for his empire. He named it after himself and populated it with Greek warriors and local “barbarians” (i.e. the local population).
Of course, this fortress was not initially really a town. However, later, due to its strategic geographical location, it became densely populated and turned into a large town (by the standards of that time), known historically as Alexandria Eskhata (Outermost Alexandria). The issue of the exact location of this ancient town has interested scholars of various countries for many centuries. Only in the mid-20th century was it confirmed that 4th century B.C. Khujand and Alexandria Eskhata of 329 B.C were one and the same place. It was also assumed that Alexandria Eskhata was not just built on empty land but in the centre of an ancient town known as Khujand, which was already in existence on the left bank of the Syr Darya River when Alexander the Great’s troops arrived.
Occupying a favourable location in the Ferghana valley, Khujand prospered for a long time, becoming rich and building palaces, mosques, and citadels. In the 13th century it was conquered and destroyed by Genghis Khan’s troops. In the 9-12th centuries Khujand consisted of the town itself (Shahriston), an old fortress (kuhandiz) and a handicraft-trade suburb (rabad). All these parts of the town were fortified with defensive walls. Later the town was restored and began to play an important trade role as a Silk Road transit hub. In the late 14th — early 15th centuries Khujand and its surrounding region were a part of the State of Timur (Tamerlane). In the 18-19th centuries Khujand grew significantly, sprawling into one of the largest cities of Central Asia, comparable with Qoqand and Bukhara. The town also had its own ruler (beg). Late 19th — early 20th century Khujand was a typical Central Asian town, with crooked, narrow streets lined with adobe houses pressed close to each other, noisy bazaars, and rows of various handicraft workshops.
The town was divided into numerous small quarters (mahalla), each with a mandatory mosque, teahouse and pond (havz). The quarter’s mosques and teahouses were locations for a variety of community gatherings and to resolve issues of common interest. Each quarter developed predominance in its own type of craft. Khujand was situated on the border of the Bukhara Emirate and the Qoqand Khanate, and was a source of contention between them. In 1866 it was annexed to Russia, ending Bukhara and Qoqand’s destructive fighting over it. In 1929, a part of the territory of the Uzbek SSR, which then included Khujand region and the town itself, were given to the Tajik Autonomous Soviet Socialist Republic.
The population of the region at that time was slightly over 250,000. On January 9, 1936, Khujand was renamed Leninabad in honor of Lenin. The city kept this new name until 1990 when its ancient, historical name, Khujand, was restored. This city is currently a large industrial and cultural centre in Tajikistan. Present-day Khujand is a lush green city with many parks and squares. The Syr Darya River, which runs through the centre of the city, and its ample banks, form a wonderful place for recreation and swimming. Khujand is the only city in Tajikistan located on a large river. The famous Panjshanbe city market is one of the most interesting sights of Khujand. It is one of the largest covered markets in Central Asia, and attracts customers with its multiple colours, unusual sounds and flavours, and variety and abundance of fruit and vegetables. Panjshanbe in Tajik means “Thursday” and in former times Thursday was the main day for trade at this market.
Near the market is a mosque and the Sheikh Muslihiddin mausoleum (the mausoleum has not been preserved in its original form, only fragments remain of the 11-12th century building) /see page 22/. In the middle of the northern part of the city, not far from the Syr Darya River, near present-day KamolKhujandi City Park, there is a fortress that was built in approximately 7-8th century A.D. The fortress occupied an area of approximately 300 х 200m and was surrounded by a thick mud wall. Later it was destroyed, but at the beginning of the 13th century it was partially restored. The Museum of Archaeology and Fortification is now in the fortress area. It is known that in the 18th century Khujand was a walled city, and this wall has been partially preserved on the western and eastern sides of the present-day city. Once the city walls were about 6km in length but now there is only a little over 1km left of them.
The name of the Qayraqqum Reservoir (the “Tajik Sea”), situated to the east of the city, is derived from the word Qayraqqum, which means “stony desert”. The “Sea” was formed as a result of damming the Syr Darya River with an earth-fill dam and constructing the 130m long concrete dam of Qayraqqum Hydropower Station (HPS). The reservoir itself is about 65km in length and 8-20km in width. In summer the water level reaches 18m. There are several respectable sanitariums, recreation zones, and the The Tajik Sea Hotel on its shores. Since ancient times Khujand, along with Samarqand, Bukhara, Merv, Balkh and other towns has been a place where Tajik culture has developed; it was one of the largest economic centres of Central Asia. The city still preserves its renowned traditions.