Surkh Kotal

The French archaeologist D. Schlumberger, with his excavations on the Surkh-Kotal hill in the Kunduzob river valley, 12 km from the city of Baghlana (Northern Afghanistan), discovered the remains of the temple complex, which became the subject of research since 1951.

The inscriptions found here made it possible to date it to the time of King Kanishka – the heyday of the Kushan kingdom.

A comparative analysis of the plans of the fire temples of the Achaemenid and Sassanid eras and the temple in Surkh-Kotal, as well as the presence of a two-meter layer of ash in the premises of tower 8, convinces D. Schlumberger that the monument he discovered is nothing but the remains of a fire temple.

The temple is located on a hill dominating the adjacent plain, within the boundaries of the city of Baghlan, the remains of the walls of which border the western side of the temple. The eastern slope of the hill, 75 m high, forms four platforms connected by stairs leading to the temple.

The temple (peripter) is placed on the stylobate and the main facade is facing east. The square sanctuary (5 X 5 m) is surrounded by a bypass corridor, its walls are made of mud, up to 3 m thick.

The courtyard on the southern, northern and western sides is fenced with thick U-shaped walls, along the walls from the inside there was a colonnade, where painted clay statues were found.

The courtyard wall was the architectural background for the temple, which is in the center of the composition. The southern part of the courtyard is built up with a small temple complex that develops outside the wall, organically connected with the main one through an arched opening in the wall.

On closer examination of the plan of the monument, some questions arise.

  1. What was the functional purpose of the U-shaped wall in the plan, extremely thick (from 4 to 6 m), with eleven towers?
  2. Why are there rooms in nine of the eleven towers, but there are none in the towers at the ends of the southern and northern walls?

The rulers of the Kushan kingdom, being Buddhists, were quite loyal to other religions; It is not excluded that Kanishka and his entourage even supported the priestly estates of fire and star-worshipers, and the temple in Surkh-Kotal could be the pantheon of the gods of the astral cult and sacred fire.

The architecture of the temple in Surkh-Kotal is a fusion of the architectural art of the East and West, represented by Eastern Hellenism. If the building of the temple, surrounded by a colonnade, was a peripter reminiscent of the architecture of ancient Greece, then the architectural symbolism could probably reflect the Eastern tradition.

Most likely the temple was:

  1. The architectural monument on Surkh-Kotal was probably a pantheon temple of astral cult and fire worshipers.
  2. The need for constant astronomical observations, which became a tradition for the temple servants of the classical East since the time of the Sumerian civilization, was just as urgent in the Kanishka era: at that time they also used astrology and the calendar service. For astronomical observations, a special platform was created on top of a thick wall of a U-shaped configuration, towering over the temple complex.
  3. The proportions of the structure are represented by simple relationships of small quantities and geometric constructions.
  4. The priests – the architects of the temple in Surkh-Kotal belonged to the people of science, versed in mathematics and astronomy.
  5. The temple in Surkh-Kotal is a wonderful example of cult monumental architecture, the expressiveness of which was enhanced by the location of the complex on a 75-meter-high hill that dominated the city.