Monday, 23 February 2015

Por-Bajin, the lost Uighur palace

Por-Bajin, the Por-Bajin Cultural Foundation
Despite their fundamentally nomadic way of life, most of the nomadic empires founded at least a capital city to strengthen the central imperial authority and sustain the necessary administration, as well as small forts to maintain a presence at the edges of the Empire or on strategic routes -and probably also to keep an eye on the turbulent local tribes. So the Uighurs, who assimilated many settled cultural traits from their neighbours, without becoming sinicized like their successors. It is said that they built up to 7 towns during their 100-year empire. But what archeologists excavated in central Siberia in the Tuva country (Russian Federation) in 2007 presents a few oddities and a number of mysteries, which could be exploited for a role playing game.

Extract from the Por-Bajin official site:
“Por-Bajin is an ancient fortress the ruins of which are preserved on an island in the middle of Tere-Khol Lake in a distant, almost not affected by civilization corner of the Republic of [Tuva], not far from the Mongolian border.
Por-Bajin is legally treated as one of the most mysterious archaeological monuments of Russia. Apparently, it was built at the period of the Uighur Khaganate (744-840). But it is not clear what did they build a fortress for in such a solitary place – far from big settlements and trade routes.
It is also unclear whether Por-Bajin was a defensive structure, a Buddhist or Manichaean temple or a summer residence of Khagan. There is even a version that there was an ancient observatory in it. The architecture of the fortress also produces many questions; it reminds a model of an ideal Chinese city-palace.
Finally, it has been unknown for long whether the structure was built on the island or the lake was formed later, around the already built fortress.”

At the time Por-Bajin had been built, in the last 3rd of the 8th Century, it was located close to the Kyrgyz territory. Several small forts have been built in this region along the border, but Por-Bajin is the only one of this kind. Why and what for they built it in the middle of nowhere is still unknown. The typical Chinese building techniques involved in the construction suggest the employment of Chinese workers and engineers.
The palace has been very little in use. It has no heating systems, which suggests a seasonal occupation in the summer only. As the Empire eventually collapsed and the Uighur were driven away by the local tribes in the 9th century, the place was abandoned.
The area had to suffer from two earthquakes, during the construction and shortly after the abandonment. GMs may imagine any supernatural or mystic explanation to this.

The Por-Bajin "palace" could be a good place for WotS games, possibly combined with The Celestial Empire:

-        -  PCs convoy Chinese workers sent there to build the palace and to guard the construction site. Or if you usually play with TCE, the PCs are the Chinese themselves, lost in this unknown hostile World.
-        -  The place is the sacred ground of a local Tuvan clan, of a Peri or of Almas living in the nearby mounts (or all together): they  try to prevent its desecration. Shamans summon ancestor spirits, evil üör or local nature spirits to discourage the foreigners to stay, while warriors sneak to abduct or kill workers and Uighur guards and officials. Could be played as Tuvan or Uighur, or even as Kyrgyz helping the Tuvans. Of course, Tuvan PCs have to remain anonymous, since the Uighur are supposed to be their masters. They may even be hired as guards of the site and engage in double dealing.
-       -   Earthquakes: An Alp dedicates himself to the local mountain Ezi spirit and starts a quest to acquire powers (e.g. rock slide) to destroy the palace before it is built. The goal of the quest may even be to have the mountain spirit, or Ätügen herself, shaking the earth. Tuvan PCs will help in the quest. Uighur or Chinese PCs will try to prevent it
-        -  The PCs may go there to prepare the coming of some manichaeist sages for the summer: what will they find in the palace, empty during winter time? Wild beasts, plundering Nomads, a griffin family?
 -      -   PCs escort a manichaeist priest through the clans to convert the local Nomads to Manichaeism, which is a way to strengthen their fidelity to the Qaghan
-        -  Many dangers lurk outside the walls: hostile clans, marauding Kyrgyz, wild animals, strange spirits, may be even demons or fantastic creatures (Pitsen, Shurale, Almas, Gwainu, Peri…). Nobody can go outside or escape without risking for one’s health or life, which may drive someone crazy. Who will dare looking for help, hunting for supply for men or take the horses to the nearby grazing?
-        -  PCs escort supply wagons to the palace: when they come closer to the palace, they notice the dozens of flying vultures and crows above it… Üör decimated the place, PCs have to seek the help of a powerful shaman.
-        -  Around the end of the Uighur Empire, warriors are sent to rescue the last sages and the small garrison holding the place and surrounded by Kyrgyz enemy tribes. They have first to reach the place and then to organize the escape. They may try to seek help among some rare allied Tuvan clans, most of them being probably on the Kyrgyz’ side.

Since the first mentions of this archeological site from westerners date from 1891, it could be used as a nice set for Chtuluh adventures.
Other nice photos (incl. the one illustrating this post) can be found on The Siberian Times web site or on this page of the site.

1 comment:

  1. The Siberian Times often features articles about the Siberian past... It's a great online resource.