Places of interest
Places of interest
Only four of the great buildings of that time have been preserved: the remains of the Ak-Saray Palace and the tomb of Amir Temur, the mausoleum of the Dorusiadat complex in Shakhrisabz, the mystical mausoleum of the Sufi-hoja Ahmad Yassawi in Turkestan and the ruins of a cathedral mosque in the capital Samarkand, known as the Bibi Khanum Mosque, which was to become the most magnificent mosque in the Muslim Orient.
From the Afrosiab Hill the traveller can enjoy the panorama of an ancient city with a huge bazaar, behind which is the building of the XIV-XV century – the Bibi Khanym Mosque. The Jome Mosque occupied a special place in the life of the medieval town. It was a building of great public importance, embodying the feudal power of state and religion.
The Bibi-Khanym Mosque (translated as “Elder Wife”, according to one of the legends it was built by Temur’s eldest wife, Saray-Mulk-Khanum) had a different name – Friday Mosque of Samarkand, where thousands of male Muslims came. Actually, the mosque was built in 1399-1404 by order of Amir Temur after his return from the Indian invasion. It was a time when the architecture of Central Asia developed a monumental style of façade construction, the directions of which correspond to the famous statement of Amir Temur: “If you doubt our power, look at our buildings”. The mosque was built in a short period of time – five years – by talented local masters and stonemasons from Azerbaijan, Persia, Khorasan and India. To ease the heavy work, 99 elephants from India were used.
To date 5 structures have been preserved: a portal; on the opposite side, in the depth of a courtyard, there are large mosques; on the sides – small mosques; a minaret. The enormous work of historians, archaeologists and art historians gives us the opportunity to present the original appearance of the mosque. One of the characteristic features of the architectural ensembles of this period is the enormous size and proportionality, the proportionality of the compositional parts of the ensemble, a beautiful example of which is Bibi-Khanum.
It is a grandiose building, located on the area of a 167 x 109 m high slender portal 36 m high and 46 m wide, a spacious courtyard 54 x 76 m, a monumental main mosque, which stands on the central axis of the complex. The height and width of the main hall of the mosque is 41 m. With a portal span of 18 m. The inner courtyard was bordered by a gallery with 480 marble columns and pillars and bright small mosques. The buildings were constructed of 27x27x5 cm bricks on a gangway. The entrance to the mosque was decorated with two wing gates made of seven-alloy, carved marble slabs and the richest decoration.
In the middle of the courtyard there is still a marble desk, which was made for the Holy Quran in gigantic sizes by Ulugbek. On the edges of the court there were minarets about which one of the Temur historians wrote: “The minaret raised its capitol to heaven and wept: ‘Verily, our deeds point to us’. About the dome of the mosque it was written even then: “Its dome would be the only one if the Milky Way was not a pair with it”.
It is remarkable that the dome of the mosque, which could be seen for many kilometres from the main entrance when approaching Samarkand, is not visible, as the height of the dome corresponded to the height of the portal.
The construction of the large mosque is executed in mayolica technique in combination with non-rigid bricks and carved, framed mosaic, decorated with the finest plant, geometric and epigraphic ornaments. The interior of the mosque was decorated with plaster paintings on the walls and gilded papier-mâché on the inside of the dome. The external decoration of the small mosques is inferior to that of the large mosque. This is an architectural technique whose purpose is to emphasise the dominant importance of the main building.
The decoration of the building has concentrated all the best that the masters achieved until the beginning of the XV century: Mayolica and carved mosaics, carved marble, carved wood, painting on the plaster and decoration in papier-mâché. This was a new stage in the development of traditional medieval mosques. The innovation of the master builders is also reflected in the pursuit of maximum aesthetics of form. Amazingly many things – double, raised on the drums of the domes, sharp points of the minarets, high portals, towers, elegant marble columns of the gallery with a vaulted ceiling. There is an introduction of the vertical as the most important element of architecture.
The mosque was built on a large scale, but without taking into account earthquakes with such increase in size. In spite of the deep foundations of the broken stone, huge masses of brick masonry in the walls, the thickness of which reaches five metres, began to fall down stones from the cracked dome already during Timur’s lifetime.
East of the mosque, on the opposite side of the street, there is an original monument – an octahedral, columnar mausoleum Bibi Khanum with a crypt. This building has no main façade; it was probably added to Bibi Khanum Madrasa.
The decoration of the mausoleum shows that it was built simultaneously with the mosque. In a spacious crypt on the floor there are marble sarcophagi. When it was opened in 1941, the remains of two other middle-aged women in rich clothing were found. It is possible that one of them was the Saray Mulk Khanim. A poetic legend about the construction of the Bibi Khanum mosque has been preserved until today.
The beautiful Bibi-Khanum, wife of Timur, was to surprise and delight her husband. When the ruler was absent during one of the numerous military campaigns, she called the best builders and masters of Samarkand to the palace and offered them to build the structure. The work started immediately. The walls grew quickly.
Meanwhile, Samarkand received news of Timur’s imminent return. Bibi Khanum constantly overreacted. Then the master builder made the condition: “The mosque will be built on time, but… you, Her Majesty, will give me a kiss”.
The Ruler was outraged: “I will give you any of my slaves of your choice. Why do you only look at me? Look at the painted eggs, they are of different colours and do not resemble each other at all, but when you break them, do they differ in any way? That is how we women are”.
But the architect insisted: “I want to answer you. Here are two identical glasses. One of them I fill with clear water, the other with white wine. And now they resemble each other, but when I touch them with my lips, one of them burns me with liquid fire and the other one I will not feel. It is love.”
Temur approached in Samarkand. The anger of Bibi Khanum had no limits. For so long the treasured surprise was in danger for the ruler. Besides, as legend has it, the master builder was young and handsome. And she agrees. At the last moment she tried to cover herself with her palm. But the kiss was so passionate that its heat penetrated the hand of beauty and left a fiery red stain on her cheek.
Only a few days later Temur had come to town. Domes and minarets rose before his eyes and amazed with their splendour. But his joy was overshadowed. When he saw the sign of the kiss on Bibi Khanum’s face, he went into a rage. Bibi Khanum confessed everything. By order of the “Iron Lame” the guards hurried to find the architect. Fleeing from persecution, he and his pupil climbed up the minaret of the mosque.
And when the guards ran up the countless steps behind them, they found only one student. “Where is the master builder?” – they asked – “The teacher made wings and flew to Meshhed,” he replied. That is a legend.
At the beginning of the XX century, the Bibi Khanum mosque was a destruction and majestic ruin, time was hard on the Friday mosque. But even these ruins leave an indelible impression. From the 1960s to the present day, as a result of restoration and grandiose works, the inner and outer domes were built, the vault of the portal and the base of the walls were reinforced, the interiors of small mosques were restored and minarets were rebuilt. The works are in progress. The Bibi Khanum Mosque is an immortal masterpiece of architecture in the Muslim Orient.
The inscription at the entrance to the Gur Emir mausoleum.
“The gracious and almighty Allah said: “Whoever enters here will find salvation!
“This is the paradise that was promised to us – enter it and stay in it forever!
Allah said: “Blessed and Allah Almighty, lead the righteous to Paradise and the rivers of Paradise, safe and secure. May the truth be above Almighty Allah!”
“The Prophet said peace be upon him: Death is the bridge that unites friends with friends.
“The Prophet said peace be upon him: Happy is he who lets go of the world before the world lets go of him; prepare his own grave before he enters it; please his Lord before he goes to him”.
Gur Emir means “tomb of the king” in Tajik. This architectural complex with its blue dome contains the tombs of Amir Temur (Tamerlan), his sons Shokhrukh and Miranshah, the grandsons Ulugbek and Sultan Muhammad.
Gur Emir is the mausoleum of the famous commander, ruler and founder of the Timurid dynasty – Amir Temur (Tamerlan) in Samarkand (Uzbekistan)
This mausoleum occupies an important place in the history of Islamic architecture, as it is a prototype of later mausoleums of the Grand Moguls (the Grand Mughal Empire in India), in particular the Humayun mausoleum in Delhi and the Taj Mahal in Agra, built by the descendants of Temur, who ruled in Northern India for several centuries.
Part of the complex was built in the late 14th century by order of Sultan Muhammad. Only the foundations of the madrasa and khanaka, the entrance door and part of one of the four minarets have been preserved to this day.
Construction of the mausoleum itself began in 1403 after the sudden death of Sultan Muhammad, the direct heir of Amir Temur (Tamerlan) and his beloved grandson. In fact only Amir Temur’s (Tamerlan) other grandson, Ulugbek, completed the mausoleum.
During his reign the mausoleum became the family tomb of the Timurid dynasty. The entrance of the ensemble of Sultan Muhammad is richly decorated with carved bricks and various mosaics. The door was artistically decorated by an experienced master (ustad) Muhammad bin Mahmud Isfahani.
Externally the mausoleum of Gur Emir is a single-domed building. It is known for its simple forms and monumental appearance. It is an octagonal building, which is crowned by a blue fluted dome.
The external decoration of the walls is made up of blue and blue and white tiles arranged in such a way that the geometric and epigraphic ornamentation on the background of terracotta tiles can be seen from afar.
The dome, 15 metres in diameter and 12.5 metres high, is painted with deep rosettes and white tiles in bright blue. The ribbed decorations give the dome an amazing expressiveness.
During the reign of Ulugbek, the passageway was created to provide an entrance to the mausoleum. Inside the mausoleum there is a high and spacious chamber with deep niches on the sides and a variety of decorations. The lower part of the walls is covered with onyx panels.
Each of these panels is decorated with paintings. Above the brick group there is a marble cornice in the shape of a stalactite. Large areas of the walls are decorated with various motifs; the arches and the inner dome are decorated with boxes made of papier-mâché, gilded and decorated with various motifs.
The decorative carved tombstones in the inner room of the mausoleum only indicate the location of the actual tombs in the crypt directly under the main hall.
Amir Temur also built a tomb for himself in Shakhrisabz, but when Amir Temur died in 1405 during his campaign to conquer China, the roads to Shakhrisabz were covered with snow and so he was buried in Samarkand.
During the reign of Ulugbek a dark green nephrite stone was laid over Amir Temur’s grave. This stone was formerly used in the temple of the palace of the Chinese emperor, then as the throne of Khan Kabek (descendant of Genghis Khan) in Karshi.
In 1740 the King of Persia – Nadir Shah – stole the stone, and it is believed that from that moment on it brought failure to his succeeding masters. His advisers convinced him to return the stone to its rightful place.
The second time the stone was stolen happened in 1941 when Soviet archaeologists discovered the burial chamber. During this research the sculptor Gerasimov restored the features of Amir Temur on the basis of his skull and it was also confirmed that he was a giant for his time, more than 1.80 m tall and paralysed.
The murder of Ulugbek and the authenticity of other graves were also confirmed. Next to Amir Temur’s grave are the marble gravestones of his sons, Shokhrukh and Miran Shoh and his grandsons, Sultan Muhammad and Ulugbek.
The remains of Mir Said Baraka, the spiritual teacher of Amir Temur, are also found in this mausoleum. Some architects see the Gur Emir Mausoleum, the Rukhabad Mausoleum and the Aksaray Mausoleum as a unified ensemble of mausoleums because of their proximity to each other.
Registan Square is the meaning of ” Sand court”. Registan Square is an administrative, commercial and craft centre of the city in the Orient. Registan Square in Samarkand is one of the outstanding examples of urban planning in Central Asia, which was built between XV – XVII centuries and consists of three Koran schools – Ulugbek Madrasah (1417-1420), Sher-Dor Madrasah (1619-1636) and Tilla-Kari Madrasah (1647-1660). With Registan Square you can “turn the pages” of Samarkand’s several thousand years of history. The entire history of the medieval town is also reflected here. On the north-eastern side there is the Chorsu market place, built in the XVIII century. It is said that all roads go to Rome. There is no doubt that all roads lead from Samarkand to Registan. Six radial roads converged to the square, at the crossing of which the Telpak-Furushon bazaar was built at the beginning of the XVth century. On the northern side of the square Ulugbek built a caravanserai with his name. All streets bordering it were filled with small workshops and benches. Four years after the caravansary was built, Ulugbek built a khanaka on the site where Sher-Dor Medresse now stands. Therefore the market place had to be dismantled. Everyone who enters this square is in a special mood: it seems that centuries later the cries of the craftsmen, the murmur of the Oriental bazaar, the voices of the heralds announcing the decrees of the rulers come here… In the time of Amir Timur, Registan was the most important market place of the city. During the reign of Mirzo Ulugbek it takes on a festive and official character. However, Registan has not lost its importance as a centre of public life, trade and craft activities. Outstanding achievements of the artistic thinking of the XV century are architectural ensembles. The most important urban planning task at present is the architectural design of Registan Square.
Behind the Madrasa Sher Dor is the historical Domed Bazaar Chorsu. In the meantime the bazaar has been restored. Chorsu (Chorsu – the covered market, literally – four corners) is a building that is situated next to the Sher Dor Madrasa. The domed bazaar Chorsu is located in the historical centre of Samarkand and is part of the architectural ensemble of Registan Square.
The historical sights such as the Shaybanid tomb stone complex, the Sher Dor Madrasa, the Tilla Kori Madrasa and the Ulugbek Madrasa are in the immediate vicinity.
In translation “Chorsu” also means “crossroads”. It is the common name of the historical bazaars in Central Asia, which has also been preserved from one of the historical bazaars in Tashkent. The building is a hexagonal pavilion crowned by a large dome in the centre and six smaller domes in the centre line of each of the wall surfaces. The chorsu was built in the 15th century at the crossroads connecting Samarkand with Shakhrisabz, Bukhara and Tashkent.
At the beginning of the XVIII century. At the beginning of the XVIII century the building was rebuilt and turned into a headwear shop. The building served as a business and trade centre. Not only various goods were sold here, but also deals and agreements were made.
In the XVIII. In the XVIII century the building was used as a centre for selling headwear. In 2005 the domed bazaar was restored and in order to restore the full height of the building a three meter thick layer of earth was uncovered from the surface.
Today, the Domed Bazaar Chorsu houses a Gallery of Fine Arts which displays works of Uzbek artists and sculptures as well as priceless works from the past. In 2005 the building was handed over to the local Academy of Arts as an exhibition gallery.
Nowadays you can also see the works of contemporary Uzbek authors.
The Medrese Sherdor was built on the site of the Ulugbek-Khanaka, which was created in 1424 in the eastern part of the square opposite the Ulugbek Medrese. At the beginning of the XVII century the Khanaka, together with other buildings of the square, was dilapidated and dilapidated. By order of the ruler of Samarkand Jalangtush Bahadur the construction of Sherdor and Tilla-Kari addresses was started. The Medrese Sherdor (Medrese “with tigers”, ” home of the lions”) was built by an architect named Abdul-Jabbar, the master decorator Muhammad Abbas.
The Sherdor Medrese almost mirrors the Ulugbek Medrese standing in front of it, albeit in reverse proportions. It is characterised by its oversized dome, which may have caused the gradual destruction of the building a few decades after its construction. The walls of the madrasah are covered with quotations from the Koran, the entrance portal shows the coat of arms of Samarkand – leopards with the sun on their backs, in the centre of the arch there is a swastika, and above it there is a special Arabic script on which is written ” The God is Almighty”. The outer and inner facades are decorated with glazed bricks, mosaics and paintings with rich gilding. The decoration of Medrese Sherdor is clearly inferior to the refinement of the Medrese Ulugbek built in the XVth century, which fell into the “golden age” of Samarkand architecture. Nevertheless, harmony of large and small forms, graceful mosaic pattern, monumentality, sharpness of symmetry – all this puts the Medrese in a row with the best architectural monuments of the city.
The Shahi Zinda Ensemble – a complete city that can compete in beauty with such world famous tombs as the Egyptian pyramids, the Taj Mahal in India. It is a pilgrimage place of the world, where people are attracted by a special spirit, a magical power.
“The venerable and humble women and sisters of Amir Temur wanted to be buried on the threshold of this place, protected by the angels, – writes Abu Tahir Khoja, – and built such buildings here that the azure sky averted the eye of time – they did not see such beautiful and elegant buildings, so the turquoise dome of the sky opened their eyes – the moon and the sun – he did not admire such colour tiles.
A series of elegant, shining blue tomb vaults stretched along the ancient slopes of Afrasiab. Shahi-Zinda – one of the sanctuaries of the Muslim Orient – is a monumental complex of tombs, which was built in the X – XI centuries and today comprises forty-four tombs in more than twenty mausoleums.
The most important sanctuary on the top of the hill is the Mazar, attributed to Kusam, son of Abbas, cousin of the Prophet Muhammad, according to legends and sagas. The ritual of worshipping his tomb was introduced in the past.
There is a legend about him as the Shahi-Zinda, the “living king”. This appearance has been known in Central Asia for a long time and is associated with the image of Siyavush, the “suffering deity”. The roots of this story go back to an ancient cult of suffering and dying deities.
This image has been most popular among women since ancient times. Obviously it is thanks to the worship of “disappeared saints” that this famous necropolis became the women’s burial place for Amir Temur.
According to archaeological excavations, the area of the necropolis was a residential area of the ancient city until the XI century. The foundations and crypts of the first buildings of the ensemble date back to the XII century. century. In the XIII century, after the conquest by the Mongols, the inhabitants left the old fortress and Shahi-Zinda was in desolation for a long time.
At the beginning of the XIV century colourful buildings of mausoleums appeared one after another on the site of the dead city. At the time of Temur’s death, the buildings in Shah-i-Zinda were only within the walls of old Samarkand. Behind the back of the fortress wall, there was a large moat and a precipice.
In the course of time the detached walls were razed to the ground and the buildings of the lower group were erected at the foot of Afrasiab during the rule of Ulugbek. At first a detached mausoleum with two domes and a portal to the south appeared.
For the ascent to Afrasiab a wide staircase was built. The buildings of the lower group were completed between 1434 and 1435. The inscription on the entrance portal informs: “This majestic structure was founded in 838 AD (1434-1435 AD) by Abdulaziz-khan, son of Ulugbek Guragan, son of Shahrukh, son of Amir Temur Guragan.
Mazarishah is very popular among the population. Eyewitnesses reported that the dervishes of the cadmium order passed by here every Thursday of the 1920s. The Jahriya ritual, developed by the great Sufi Ahmad Yassavi (loud Radia), began in the upper mosque, then the participants, without stopping to say “ho” or “huh”, walked down the numerous steps of the stairs to the lower mosque in circular movements.
Before the end of the ceremony, the participants sang religious verses (hoviz). It was believed that the performance of Ziarat on the Mazars of St. Kusam had an amazing influence on the aesthetic mood of the “people of the heart” (mystics).
In 2005, Shahi Zinda Ensemble underwent extensive restoration, during which the fence of the mausoleum streets, which rose on the right side of the path, was removed to open the space where the mosque, early medieval (11th century) madrassas and traces of earlier mausoleums were found.
East of the Madrasa Tilla-Kari is the Shaybanid Mausoleum, a stack of tombstones, the oldest of which dates from the XVI century. The founder of the Shaybanid Dynasty was Abul Khair’s grandson, Muhammad Shaybani, who settled in Tashkent in 1500 with the support of the Chagatai Khanate, conquered Samarkand and Bukhara and overthrew the last rulers of the Timurid Dynasty who ruled there. Shaybani then turned against his supporters and conquered Tashkent in 1503. In 1506 he took Khiva and in 1507 he attacked Merv (Turkmenistan), Eastern Persia and Western Afghanistan. The Shaybanids prevented the attack of the Safavids, who conquered Akkoyunlu (Iran) in 1502. The Persian Shah Ismail I of the Safavid Dynasty was alarmed at the success of the Shaybani Khan. He was confronted not only with political interests, but also with religious politics. The fact is that Shah Ismail declared Shiism to be the state ideology and Shaybani-Khan defended the Sunni. In December 1510 at the Battle of Merv, where 30,000 men were waiting for reinforcements, Muhammad Shaybani-Khan came out of the city with the 5,000-man Army and was ambushed. It was surrounded by Shah Ismail’s 17,000-strong army and was defeated despite the stubborn resistance. The decapitated body of Shaybani-Khan was buried in Samarkand, the capital of his empire. Today, Shaybani-Khan’s gravestone is displayed in the Ermitage Museum in St. Petersburg. The Shaybanid Mausoleum was destroyed in the 1870s by the occupying forces (of Tsarist Russia).
After Shaybani-Khan’s death his only son, Muhammad Temur Sultan (died 1514) remained. From the sister (Khanzad) of the Founder of the great Mughal Empire Babur, Shaybani Khan had a son, Khurram, who died some time after his father’s death. In spring 1511 his uncle, Kuchkundzhi-Khan (1511-1530) was elected Khan of all Uzbeks. He was the son of Abulkhayir-Khan (1428-1468) and the daughter of Mirzo Ulugbek (1409-1449) Rabiya Sultan Begim (died 1485, buried in Turkestan). It should be noted, however, that the real power in the country belonged to Ubaidullah Khan, who succeeded in defeating the Safavids and maintaining independence from Iran. Thanks to this, the population retained its Sunni faith. Under the rule of Kuchkundzhi Khan, Samarkand remained the capital of the Shaybanid Empire. The Uzbek invasion in the 16th century was the last stage in the folk history of the modern Uzbek nation.
The Ulugbek Medrese is the oldest Medrese on Registan Square and was built between 1417-1420 by the Temurid ruler and astronomer Ulugbek. The construction of this structure and later the observatory brought Samarkand fame as one of the most important scientific centres of the medieval Orient.
Ulugbek Medrese was built in the western part of Registan Square, some years later Ulugbek Khanaka was built in front of it and the northern side was occupied by a caravanserai. The last two buildings existed for about two centuries and then at the beginning of the XVII century the Medrese Sherdor and the Medrese Tilla-Kari appeared in their place.
The rectangular Medrese had four aywan and a square courtyard with deep niches around its perimeter leading to the rooms where the students lived. The back of the courtyard was occupied by a mosque and above the corner classrooms of the medresse there were four domes and four minarets at the corners of the building. The building faces the square with a majestic oriental portal with a high pointed arch, above which there is a mosaic panel with geometric ornamentation of coloured bricks, irrigation and carved ceramics.
The Ulugbek Medrese was one of the best spiritual universities of the Muslim Orient in the XV century. According to the legend the famous poet, scientist and philosopher Abdurakhman Jami studied there. Lectures on mathematics, geometry, logic, natural sciences, teachings on man and world view and theology were given by famous scientists of that time: Kazizade ar-Rumi, Jemshid Giyas ad-Din al-Kashi, al-Kushchi and Ulugbek himself.
The Tilla Kori Madrasa was built in the northern part of the square ten years after the Sherdor madrasa on the site of the 1420 caravanserai. The main façade of the square in relation to the building is symmetrical and consists of a central portal and two-storey front wings with arched niches and corner towers. The spacious courtyard is built around the perimeter with small living cells, hudjras. On the western side of the courtyard there is a mosque-domed building with two adjoining galleries on columns.
The Madrasa building is richly decorated with mosaics and majolica with geometric and plant ornaments. The interior decoration is richly gilded, which gave the Madrasa its name, meaning “decorated with gold”. In the gilded mihrab and minbar of the mosque, the surface of the walls and vaults with painted kundal is covered with rich gold.
Throughout its history, the Tilla Kori Madrasa has not only been a training centre for students, but also served as a Jome Mosque.