Underground and necropolis mosque of Shopan-Ata is very popular in West Kazakhstan. This place is not only ancient monument for residents, but it is also a spiritual center.
Shopan-ata cult complex is located 42 km from the Eskiozen town, Mangystau region. According to the area and quantity of monument (about 2 million), it is one of the largest complexes of ancient burial and religious buildings in Western Kazakhstan.
According to legends, the patron of shepherds Shopan Ata was a disciple of Turkestan Sheikh Khozha Ahmed Yassaui. After studying, Ahmed Yassaui gathered his followers in a yurt. He said that they should release the arrow through shanyrak (the roof of the yurt). Then they should find it and preach the ideas of Sufism. Shopan-ata found his arrow on the mountain near the village of wealthy cattleman Bayan, and he was hired as a shepherd of that man. However, the wealthy cattleman realized that his worker was not a simple man, and married his daughter to him. Later Shopan-Ata built underground mosque near the top of the mountain, where was dropped his arrow.
The necropolis is located on the hillside at the foot of hills, on flat landscape of the semidesert. Nearby were wells from kystau and modern complex for pilgrims, who come from one of the ancient routes of the Great Silk Road. Being on the ancient caravan route from Mangystau to Khorezm, the monument had always been an object of deep veneration of nations as Kazakhs, Turkmens and Karakalpaks.
Shopan-Ata is a necropolis, where is possible to meet all types of memorial monuments with cult characteristics of Mangystau and West Kazakhstan.
Complex Necropolis was divided into two parts: Kazakh (aday) and Turkmen. The core was underground mosque, which consisted of several rooms. Rooms were cut into the limestone rocks in a circle in order to make all entrance to be turned to the court, where the sacred mulberry tree and stone reservoir for ablutions. The main part of the mosque was a group of northeastern adjacent spaces, where located the mihrab, prayer chamber, rest and khujdras. Shopan Ata mosque (Shakpak Ata, Becket Ata mosques and others) should be better to call a cave mosque, as soon as floors of premises were located at the surface of "yard" of the mosque.
The entire area, to the west and northwest from the mosque, was occupied mainly by Turkmen medieval monuments. Among them are a huge number of stylized headstones like "koytas", archaic fences, boxes-sarcophagi, stelaes, roughly processed stone slabs and stelaes, stylized tombstones.
Composed slabs of sandstone fence and sarcophagi differentiated with expressive archaic appearance among other monuments.
The later ones were often marked by rough-machined stelaes on the western side with tamgas, among which were signs of Kazakhs tribe - tabyn. Fences were occasionally marked by the edges with anthropomorphic stelaes. The original feature of the western part of the necropolis is stylized headstones, which resembles the form of seal and contour image of the sturgeon.
A large number saganatams, domed mausoleums, kulpytases, kulpytases with koytasam, step gravestones as ushtases were located on the eastern part of the necropolis, where concentrated only Kazakh monuments. Tombstone facilities have different architectural forms, and differ with decoration (volume, flat-relief, contour carving, painting). Materials were sawn limestone blocks, sandstone. Among the major facilities were saganatams, which were oriented as mausoleums, main facade to the south.
Scientists have begun to investigate the Shopan-Ata necropolis in 1952, during the architectural expedition of Malbagar Mendikulov. In 1977-1978, the study of the necropolis was investigated by expedition of the Ministry of Culture of the Kazakh SSR, and an expedition of the National Society for Protection of Monuments of History and Culture in 1982.
The Shopan-ata Necropolis is under state protection since 1982. It is not just a historical monument of architecture, but also religious, sacred place, which attract a huge mass of tourists- pilgrims.