On Sunday 31 July I decided to follow in the footsteps of William of Rubrouck on his way to Karakorum, the capital of Genghis Khan. William was of Flemish origin and he was a Franciscan friar ordered by King Louis IX to travel to the court of Möngke Khan, a grandson of Genghis Khan who had passed away in 1227, with the objective to deliver a message of peace but really to discover his true intents with regards to Europe. Catholic Europe was divided and fighting crusaders wars and hence in no position to defend itself from an invasion by Genghis Khan’s army. Hence the “ambassadorship” of William.
On his long journey from Constantinople, present day Istanbul, which started on 7 May 1253 and was completed with his arrival at Tripoli, in present–day Lebanon, on 15 August 1255, William passed, amongst others, through present day Kazakhstan. He describes extensively two of his resting places. First, on 8 November 1253, he enters Kinchat which must be near present day Taldykorgan where he only stays the night and has the opportunity to try wine as there are vineyards there. On 9 November they depart and reach Kaylak on 18 November. So it took him about 10 days to cover 200km by foot and ox cart. Today Kaylak is known as Koylyk or Antonovka. He rested there for 12 days.
I first learned of Kaylak from an article in the Air Astana in-flight magazine Tengri (issue 2 of 2009). The article was a well written and documented write-up on archeological surveys and digs that took place. These were undertaken by the Institute of Archeology of the Republic of Kazakhstan under the leadership of Prof. Karl Baypakov, the head of the department and the author of the article. This triggered my curiosity and I set out to research where the exact location could be and I decide to read the journal William of Rubrouck kept of his voyage.
Today not much is visible from what used to be Kaylak. The archeological excavations are completed. The research is done. As a result to protect the site the digs have been refilled. Some only partially possibly indicating that archeologists may want to return for more research. On site which is only partially covered is the old mosque that was unearthed. One can still very clearly see the what must have been the base for the pillars supporting the roof. It is recognizable as it is featured as an aerial photograph in the Air Astana in-flight article. Other digs were not recognizable.
It was clear when walking around that in some instances not a big effort was made to cover the digs. As a result I got lucky and stumbled what appears to be a round millstone, very smooth with a perfect opening in the middle. It was half covered by vegetation. The archeologists probably left not more than 2 years ago and already the site is being overgrown again. Clearly it is no surprise that hundreds of years later after a site has been abandoned by its people it’s very difficult to find it back when you see how well nature covers it in dust and vegetation in a mere two years.
Last Updated: 06-08-2011
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