Samarkand is one of the oldest cities of the world and its history stretches back nearly 2,500 year. The city is located 275 km to south-west of Tashkent at slopes of Turkestan ridge at the altitude of 700 meters. Samarkand was mentioned for the first time in 700 BC as Marakanda. It was capital of Sogdiana. Markanda was key city along Great Silk Road. In 2001, Samarkand was included to UNESCO World Heritage List due to its unique look. The city is famous with its architectural monuments, belonging to epoch of ruling of Temurids dynasty.
Local people honor Amir Temur and his grandson – astronomer Ulugbek, under their rule Samarkand gained the power. In the city, one can see monuments of these rulers. Samarkand architecture of the Middle Ages is known throughout the world: the unique exterior with glazed and gilded tiles of the ancient buildings are the hallmark of the city.
By choosing the Tour to Samarkand you will see the whole architectural grandeur of one of the most ancient cities in the world, which is also called the “City of Great Shadows”. The Samarkand monuments like shabby pages of history, by “skimming” of which, you can learn the history of the great city. Structures, built mainly under Amir Timur, his grandson Ulugbek and other rulers from the Temurid dynasty have survived in Samarkand up to date. For one sightseeing day you will see the best-known sights of Samarkand: Registan Square, the Gur-Emir Mausoleum, Shakhi-Zinda complex, Ulugbek Observatory and Bibi-Khanum Mosque.
Each city has its visiting card, which is proudly presented to the guests. Registan square is such a place in Samarkand. Great architectural complex was included to the UNESCO Heritage List in 2001.
Along the perimeter of the square, there are portals of three madrasahs: Ulugbek, Sher Dor and Tilla Kari. Each building has its own decor as they were erected by different rulers (XV – XVII century.).
Ulugbek Madrasah was constructed first in 1417-1420. Famous scholars of that time, including beloved grandson of Amir Temur – astronomer Ulugbek gave lessons in the madrasah. Along with religious subjects, the students studied mathematics, logic and natural science.
Sher Dor and Tilla Kari stand opposite to each other. On the walls of the Sher Dor, people can read the words from the Quran. Flaunt leopards with sun on their back can be seen at the entrance portal. This emblem of Samarkand is also used on the 200 soum banknotes.
Tilla Kari means “covered with gold”. It received such name as its interior was richly decorated with gold leaf. You can see lot of mosaics and majolica on its facade. In addition to the educational institution, Tilla-Kari also served as a cathedral mosque.
Initially Muhammed Sultan, a grandson and heir of Amir Temur, planned to construct the center of Islamic Education. But due to all of a sudden death of Muhammed Sultan, it was turned into burial complex.
Muhammed Sultan was buried at the complex first. All of a sudden, he died in 1403. Later, Amir Temur was buried here, who died during China campaign. Later, Ulugbek, who completed construction of the complex, was killed. On his tombstone, you can read the wise words “Everyone swims up till time, allocated to him”. So, the complex became the burial place of the Timurids.
In June 1941, despite protests and warning of elder people, archeologists opened the tomb of Gur-Emir. People say that citizens of Samarkand saw spirit of Amir Temur on his beloved horse. In the morning, German Fascist attacked Brest Fortress and the World War II started.
Anthropologists created sculptural portraits of the Timurids based on the skulls. It is worth to mention that the visitors can see exact copies of tombs in the dome hall. The graves are located in the basement with a low ceiling in the same order.
Portal entrance to the territory of Gur Emir is decorated with mosaics. The medresah and khanoqo is behind it. Square four-aivan yard was surrounded with high walls and four corner minarets. Currently, the walls were reconstructed up to height of people, while only two minarets remained.
The most attractive part of the Gur Emir is turquoise dome. It brightly shimmers in the background of Samarkand sky. The facade of the mausoleum is richly decorated with colorful mosaics, while internal walls are decorated with painted decorative cover.
Gur Emir is one of the best examples of the Central Asian architecture with filigree beauty of patterns.
Memorial ensemble Shahi Zind is located near Afrasiab ancient city. The complex welcomes its visitors with the words: “This magnificent building was created by Abdulazizhan – son of Ulugbek-Kuragon, son of Shahrukh, son of Amir Timur-Kuragon in 838” (1434/35 CE).
About 36 broad steps lead people to up. If their numbers coincide during the ascent and descent, then your wish will certainly come true. Next you will see narrow medieval streets and eleven elegant mausoleums. They were built in sequence in the XIV – XV centuries. Members of Tamirlan family were buried in the necropolis. Military and religious leaders also received such high honor.
The ensemble received its name in honour of cousin of Prophet Muhammad – Kusama ibn Abbas. He was named as Shahi Zinda, which means Alive King in Persian. In the Middle Ages, the pilgrimage to his grave was equal to Hajj pilgrimage in Mecca. From 640, he preached Islam to people of Samarkand Islam.
About 13 years later he was killed by Zoroastrians. Subsequently, healing spring started to run near the tomb of the saint.
Burial-vaults of Shahi Zinda are mainly square one room buildings with domes, decorated with turquoise or blue tiles. The entrances to them are highlighted with portico. The walls of the mausoleums decorated with variety of majolica, carved mosaic and colored glazed bricks. Doors, neatly carved from wood, also pay special attention.
All buildings of necropolis are divided into three groups: lower, middle and upper. They connected by four-arched domed passages locally called chartak.
The main architectural monument of Shahi Zinda is the complex Kusam ibn Abbas. It consists of several buildings. Its entry door, dated to 1404-1405, is masterpiece work, inlaid with ivory.
In 2001, the memorial complex Shahi Zinda was included to UNESCO World Heritage List.
Not so many people know that real name of Ulugbek was Muhammad Taragay. He initiated construction of observatory in Samarkand.
Ulugbek means Great ruler. He was born on 22 March 1394. During his childhood, he was keen on exact sciences. Amir Temur hired the best teachers for his beloved grandson. For example, philosopher and writer Arif Azari and mathematician-astronomer Kazi-zade Rumi were his teachers. Amir Temur frequently took Muhammad Taragay to military campaigns. Once in Sultaniya he saw very strange building. He saw the observatory, which was constructed by Azerbaijani scholar Nasir ad-Din Tusi. Apparently, at that time, Ulugbek realized his mission.
He started to rule Samarkand when he was young. But he devoted time to researches and the elite did not like it.
Construction of the observatory was started in 1420 in the charge of astronomers, not architects. It lasted three years. It took some more years to install and tune up the tools. It is noteworthy that the building looks like an astronomical instrument for observing the stars and other celestial bodies.
After the murder of Ulugbek in 1449, the observatory worked for another 20 years. After it was abandoned and by 16th century it was partially dismantled. Soviet scientists have unearthed the part of the sextant (quadrant). The device was oriented north-south and had a radius of 40.2 m. It was used to measure the height of the stars above the horizon when they pass through the celestial meridian.
Currently there is a museum named after Ulugbek in front of the observatory. The museum stores photos from archeological works, part of frescos and various tools. But the main valuable exhibit in the museum is fragment from Ziji jadidi Kuragoni or New Kuragoni star table.
Scientific work of Muhammad Taragay remained unique up to the XVII century. During this time, the Europeans managed to make similar calculations.
The majestic blue domes of the Bibi-Khanym Mosque are the unusual sight. It takes one’s breath even from understanding the scale of construction of this monument, impressing with its size and beauty. In antiquity the dome of this mosque was compared with the dome of heaven and the arch of portal – with the Milky Way.
As well as all Samarkand monuments the Bibi Khanym Mosque also has the beautiful legend. According to it, the formidable ruler built the mosque in honor of his favorite wife Bibi Khanym. After successful campaign to India Temur decided to build the biggest building of the East – the mosque – which should have exceeded all mosques of the world by its size. Sparkling walls, high minarets, wide portal of the mosque, decorated with carved marble, must have praised for centuries the name of Temur and his favorite wife.
Hundreds of architects, painters and builders were taken to Samarkand. The construction lasted for 5 years (1399-1404) and when Temur came back from another campaign it was ready-built. The yard of the mosque was surrounded by luxurious galleries, the arches of which lied on more than three hundred marble columns, minarets towered on each side of it.
Unfortunately soon after the completion of the construction, when the mosque became the place of ceremonial acts of worships, the building began collapsing. The idea of the creator to build such magnificent building was too bold for that period. The majestic arch of the portal, which according to Tamerlane’s plan should have repeated the Milky Way, could not withstand the test of time and had collapsed in the very first years after the construction.