Not far from Khiva, Uzbekistan, the desert oasis of Khwarezm offers a literal treasure trove of archeological and anthropological history. Dotting the vast desert of what was once ancient Khwarezm are the ruins of countless forts and towns collectively known as the Golden Ring.
Less officially but more descriptively, the area is known as Elliq-Qala, which translates literally to “Fifty Forts.” Though only 20 distinct ruin sites have been found to date, this nickname may prove prescient, as new ruins are being discovered (and rediscovered) all the time. And even though the ruins technically do not yet live up to the promise of their name, they still combine to make the area of Khwarezm one of the largest and most fascinating areas of ruin on the planet.
More than two millennia ago, people were drawn to Khwarezm for much the same reason they are today – it’s a natural oasis in a region of stark desert, feeding from the Aral Sea and providing a more temperate climate and robust vegetation patterns. For this reason, numerous competing tribes built cities and surrounded them with forts for protection in the area.
Visiting Khwarezm today, all that remains of many sites are the foundations of city walls and buildings, only hinting at the larger structures they once formed and protected. Ramparts, basements, and collapsed underground tunnels leading from city to city, or city to fort, are still being unearthed, meaning Elliq-Qala is one of the more exciting archeological sites of the current era. Although the Golden Ring of ruins are now deserted, with modern Khwarezm settlements located a fair distance away, one can only imagine how bustling the now-empty desert once was with trade and war, travelers and settlers, while examining their society’s dusty remnants.