Shakpak-ata Mosque, Mangystau

Shakpak-ata Mosque, Mangystau

Shakpak-ata is a unique underground mosque in Mangystau, completely carved out of porous limestone rock. It boasts unusual interiors decorated with paintings, a rarity among other mosques in Mangystau. This significant religious monument, built between the 10th and 13th centuries, is located on the Tyub-Karagan Peninsula. Nearby, you'll find a cemetery and a guest house for pilgrims.

The exact age of the Shakpak-ata Mosque remains unknown. Some believe it was built in the 14th century, while others suggest it dates back to the 10th century. The most extensive theory posits that the cave was originally created by primitive people and later transformed into the mosque interiors we see today by skilled stone workers in the Middle Ages. Despite numerous archaeological studies over the past 50 years, the exact age remains undetermined.

The name Shakpak-ata means "father-flint" in Kazakh. One popular theory connects it to a Kazakh Sufi and warrior who earned the nickname because he could create fire by snapping his fingers or due to his sword that sparked during battles. According to legend, after achieving great feats and gaining wisdom, Shakpak-ata chose a life of solitude, living in a cave and helping people. His miracles attracted the poor and sick from far and wide, and even after his death, pilgrims continued to seek help at his mosque.

Sufi rituals and dances were later held in the mosque. Pilgrims left "autographs" on the walls, revealing that visitors came from places like Astrakhan, Bukhara, Khiva, and Andijan, mostly during the 18th and 19th centuries. Additionally, the walls of the Shakpak-ata Mosque feature images of horses and an outstretched palm, known in Islam as "hamsa" or "the hand of Fatima."

The interior of the Shakpak-ata Mosque is stunning. The long hall with two side niches forms a shape resembling a Christian cross. In the four corners are carved semi-columns, each with unique patterns representing the elements—water, wind, fire, and earth—suggesting Zoroastrian influences. At the intersection of the hall's lines, a round skylight illuminates the space.

Located 130 km north of Aktau, Shakpak-ata Mosque is accessible for a one-day tour. The trip can be combined with visits to other Mangystau attractions, such as the Zhygylgan fault 45 km to the west and the Torysh Valley of Balls 45 km to the east.