Ancient Penjikent was one of the easternmost cities of the state of Sogdiana, an Iranian civilization that controlled vast territories in Central Asia more than a thousand years ago. Zoroastrianism was the dominant religion of the empire, whose sacred books refer to Sogdiana as "the second best land" created by the god.
The history of Sogdiana dates back to the Bronze Age and has been associated with such famous historical figures as Cyrus the Great, Darius I, Xerxes and Alexander the Great. The heyday of the empire falls on the beginning of the 400s AD, when extensive trade developed along the Silk Road.
Along the famous ancient trade route, countless Sogdian settlements of all sizes can be found, with larger ones acting as de facto city-states. Penjikent was one such place, and its importance was reinforced by the fact that anyone who traveled between Samarkand and Kuhiston passed through this city.
Archaeologists have found evidence that Panjakent was founded around 400 AD. and abandoned by the end of the 8th century. In 722, the fort was conquered by the Arabs, which led to the abandonment of the city and the strengthening of the Islamic religion in the region. Unlike most other ancient settlements in Central Asia, Ancient Penjikent was abandoned once and for all and was never rebuilt by subsequent residents.
Excavations of the ancient city began in 1946 and continue to this day. To date, archaeologists have unearthed residential and suburban areas in which two Zoroastrian temples, modest dwellings and workshops have been found; the central citadel, which includes a large palace and fortress walls; necropolis with ossuaries and fire altars typical of Zoroastrian civilizations. These buildings are separated by a network of streets and lanes, which were often vaulted. The predominant building material was mud and clay bricks, which are still used to make handles and stables.
One of the most remarkable discoveries in Ancient Penjikent was the discovery of ancient frescoes, some of which are well preserved and shed light on the life and religious beliefs of that era. Some of these frescoes are now in the Rudaki Museum, located in the center of Penjikent.
Sogdian settlements were located along the entire Great Silk Road - from the borders of Byzantium and to China. In the 6th-8th centuries, the Sogdians mediated trade between China and Europe, between the hunting tribes of the Northern Urals and the subjects of the great empires of Iran and Byzantium. Sogdian mercenary warriors served in the troops of foreign sovereigns. They could see the whole world of that time, they were well acquainted with civilization, but they themselves did not create a single and powerful state. Their country was a conglomeration of small city-states, one of which was Penjikent, the last one on the way from Samarkand to the mountains of Kuhistan. The ruler of the city and the region subject to him was in a very advantageous position, since not a single caravan, not a single beast of burden, descending from the mountains to Samarkand and returning back, could bypass Penjikent.
The name of the city of Penjikent is often found among Arab and Arabic-speaking historians in reports about the conquest of Central Asia by the Arabs. The name of Divashtich is associated with the departure of the Penjikent people to the mountains, where a decisive battle with the Arabs took place near the castle on the Mug hill. The people of Penjikent were defeated, Divashtich was captured and subsequently crucified on a grave structure. The city itself did not long outlive its last ruler. Consisting of a fortified castle of the ruler (kuhendiz, or citadel), the city itself (shahristan), surrounded by a fortress wall with numerous towers, a suburban settlement (rabad) and a large necropolis, with separate small crypts - nauses, in which there were assuaries (small clay boxes) with the remains of the dead, Penjikent ceased to exist after the death of Divashtich, and the inhabitants left it. The Arabs brought Islam to Sogd. In the VIII-X centuries, the Muslim religion and the Farsi-Dari (Tajik) language spread throughout the territory of Sogd.
A significant place among the total number of art monuments found in Ancient Penjikent belongs to painting. The walls of Penjikent buildings, both temple and secular, were covered with colorful paintings. It is noteworthy that despite more than 1300 years of being in the rubble, some fragments of painting have been preserved on the walls made of raw brick. Penjikent painting is made mainly with glue paints with mineral dyes. Vegetable paints (indigo and madder) were rarely used.
Over the past years, more than fifty rooms have been discovered, the walls of which were once decorated with numerous paintings. The plots of the ancient Penjikent artists are diverse: cult and epic, folklore and genre. In particular, it is the personification of heavenly bodies (the sun, moon, other planets of the solar system), a reflection of ancestor cults (mortuary rites), the water element (veneration of the Zeravshan River), Hindu deities (Shiva).