One of the main attractions in Mangystau region is a unique monument of religious architecture - Underground mosque of "Shakpak-Ata". The mosque is located on Tub-Karagan peninsula, more than 20 kilometers to the northeast from Fort-Shevchenko. It is considered as the oldest monument of architecture in Western Kazakhstan.
Shakpak-Ata underground mosque was carved on rock chalk cliffs. It The Sufis, who were hidden in this cave, practiced medical magic. They helped people, who come to the cave in order to recover from their illness. To do this, they left a sick man in the cave for one night. It was believed that during the night gracious spirit descend on patient and patient would get better. Moreover, until the present day people come to this place with hope to be healed from their diseases. According to archaeologists, the mosque was built in the IХ-Х centuries. The name was given in honor of the Sufi Shakpak-Ata, who lived here with his disciples during enemy attacks. He was a recluse in the last years of his life and he never left his subterranean abode.
The word Shakpak-Ata means "elder-flint". According to one ancient tradition, Shakpak-Ata is not the name of the founder of the mosque. It is a nickname, which was given by his enemies during battles due to his arms, which sparked in battles. Some scholars argue that Shakpak-Ata was a leader of snakes and protector of dead in mythology, but as a historical figure - grandson of Shopan-ata. The name, as a creator of the mosque, was given on the assumption of many scientists – Shahmardan, because Shopan Ata had two sons: Shahrukh-ata (Shagyryk-Ata) and Isan-ata. Shahrukh-ata had two sons: Kapash-ata (Kapan-Ata) and Shahmardan, which nicknamed Shakpak-ata for ability to spew a fire from stone, and to incinerate enemies with fire. Researches had different opinions about the lifetime of Sufi: Academician Medoev argued that Shakpak-Ata lived in the IX century. Barthold's opinion was that Sufi lived during the reign of Uzbek Khan, who ruled from 1312 to1342 years (XIV century). It was undeniable that Shakpak-Ata was a follower of Khoja Ahmed Yassaui's teachings, and was one of the 360 saints, venerated in Mangystau.
The form plan of the mosque and other architectural details tell that structures belong to the IX-X centuries. The mosque was strictly oriented to cardinal, carved in limestone cliff, and consisted of four chambers. It was a kind of cross-domed church, which had four columns with capitals. Domed vault structure looks like a device of yurt, and round window was cut in the center.
The mosque is a bright manifestation of the nomadic stone-cutting art. The entrance to the cave was designed as a portal arch, near which were several spacious niches for burial of the dead preacher, cut by ancient masters. There were several rooms in the stone cave. Ancient masters cut down several spacious niches for burial of the dead preachers.
Massive columns topped the main hall by supporting the arch. Decorated light well was in the central part of the arch. Mikhrab niche and small cells for hermits were arranged in the west wing of the mosque. The walls of the mosque, portal and niches for burials were covered with inscriptions at different times, contour images of horses, riders, bulls, open palms, plant patterns. Among inscriptions was the Sufi poem about the impermanence of the world and the brevity of life. Unusual carvings palms.
The rock cave tombstones were on either side of the entrance to the mosque. There was suggestion that they belong to Shakpak-ata's disciples or his closer people. It is unknown where exactly buried the Sufi. It makes to treat with special attention and awe towards all the graves. Some scholars argue that the main purpose of this sanctuary - doctoring. It is possible that servants of this place made monastic order for the treating patients.
Shakpak-Ata Mosque is a unique monument of religious architecture, perfectly preserved until the present day. Currently, it is considered to add Shakpak-Ata to the list of UNESCO World Heritage.