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Bobur and Clavijo on Ak-Saray in Shakhrisabz

Bobur and Clavijo on Ak-Saray in Shakhrisabz: a historical insight into the splendour of Timurid architecture

The Ak-Saray Palace was built in Shakhrisabz under Amir Temur, construction began in 1380, it was completed in 1386, and the final works were finished in 1404. The representation about the government palace of Amir Temur is given by Ak-Saray, in literal translation – the White Palace, but the term “ak” also has figurative meaning – “noble, splendid”. This palace was founded at the auspicious time predicted by the astrologers after Amir Temur’s return from his fourth campaign to Choresm, from where master builders were sent to Shakhrisabz along with rich booty. In addition to craftsmen from Khoresm, local masters and those brought by Amir Temur from other lands he had conquered also participated in the construction of the palace.

A brief description of Palace Ak-Saray by Bobur: “Temurbek built a majestic edifice in Kesh. He built a huge peshtaq for meetings of his dewan and to the right and left of it for meetings of the dewan of the tavajibeks with dewanbeks two smaller peshtaqs.

For the seating of the complainants they made a small arch on one side of this structure” and in the diary of Ruy González de Clavijo: “On another day, on Friday, emissaries were led to examine the great palace which was under construction by order of the king. And above the door in the middle was an image of a lion against the background of the sun and exactly the same images around the edges. It was the coat of arms of the ruler of Samarkand. The execution of this decoration is associated with the name of the master from Azerbaijan “Yusuf Tabrizi”.

The name of Yusuf Tabrizi, the master of the decorations, is repeated twice on the mosaic ware of the main portal. In the tympanums of the peshtak (arched portal), the sign of Amir Temur was depicted in the form of three furrows (“Temur’s coat of arms”).

The façade of the palace was decorated with numerous inscriptions. The story of the construction of Ak-Saray has been covered with legends. One of them tells of the architect who built it, but once, after attaching a long chain, the master left it in the palace and disappeared. Amir Temur was furious, but the architect was nowhere to be found and other craftsmen did not dare to undertake this difficult task.

Suddenly the architect himself appeared in front of Amir Temur and said: “You see, when I left, the chain reached my head and now it is under the shoulders. This means that the pillars have shrunk and I can now bring down the arch, otherwise it would crack and then collapse. Except for the pylons and the columns of the entrance portal, the palace had been almost completely destroyed over time.

Clavijo mentions a luxurious pavilion of this kind near the palace of Ak-Saray: “Then the emissaries were led into the hall intended for banquets to spend time with their wives…”.

The legend of the construction of Ak-Saray has been handed down: after the defeated campaign to Khoresm, Amir Temur wanted to build a majestic palace in Shakhrisabz. The most skilful architect set to work and indeed a beautiful palace was built.

Amir Temur, pleased with the construction of the palace, asked the architect if he could build a better one. The latter, flushed with glory and forgetting his caution, said that he could. Then Amir Temur ordered the builder to be taken to one of the towers of Ak-Saray and tied to two eagles.

A slave was tied with him; when the birds flew up, the slave cut the ropes and the architect fell down. Amir Temur aspired to turn Kesh – Shakhrisabz, where Ak-Saray was located, into the intellectual centre of Turan, the city is even called “Qubbat ul-Ilm val-Adab” (“Dome of Science and Education”).

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