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Mysterious Ancient Fortress in The Middle of a Siberian Lake Baffles Experts

Faye Williams

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Por-Bajin (which also goes by the name, “Por-Bazhyn”) is considered one of the most mysterious archaeological sites in Russia.

The ancient fortress — which scholars estimate must have been constructed around 757 AD — engulfs an island in the middle of Tere-Khol Lake. It’s 2,300 meters above sea level in the mountains of southern Siberia. It’s close to the Mongolian border.

It occupies 3.5 hectares.

Por-Bajin

The awesome site is likewise considered part of the Republic of Tuva under the Russian Federation. In fact, Por-Bajin means “clay house” in the Tuvan language.

Occupying 3.5-hectares, Por-Bajin is surrounded by walls that are 10 meters tall and 12 meters wide.

It was first explored in 1891, but excavations on the site only started in 1957.

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Por-Bajin’s origin has been linked to the Uyghurs, an ethnic group in  Eastern and Central Asia. However, the Uyghurs were said to be nomadic, so scholars are still trying to find out why they would build such a massive structure. Some have theorized that Por-Bajin could also have been a monastery, a summer palace, or an astronomical observatory.

The site seems to have been built using at least one other cultural influence.

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There are things that don't add up here.

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In a report published in The European Archaeologist in 2011, archaeologist Irina Arzhantseva noted that Por-Bajin layout was “characteristic of Chinese architecture from the T’ang Dynasty.”

Other scholars have remarked that Por-Bajin is like a scaled-down version of the imperial Forbidden City in China. However, these scholars can’t seem to explain why there are no provisions for heating systems in Por-Bajin despite the fact that temperatures there could drop dangerously low.

Buildings in the Por-Bajin complex had detailed roof tiles.

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But for all the debates that archaeologists have engaged in, there are still no sure answers to the questions surrounding Por-Bajin. Who built it? What is it really for? Why was it abandoned? For now, we all just have to wait until the excavations on the site yield more clues.

Were these walls designed to keep out enemies?

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Photo credit: Vera Salnitskaya

Perhaps, Russian president Vladimir Putin summed it up best when he said this about Por-Bajin: “I have been to many places, I have seen many things, but I have never seen anything of the kind.”

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