Today, Shakhrisabz has outgrown its medieval boundaries, but it is still immersed in the emerald green of the gardens and above them, as if emerging from the depths of the sea, rise the majestic creations of the XIV-XV century architects, including Ak-Saray Palace.
It is well known that a country, city or village gains popularity and general recognition through a historical landmark, event or other feature that becomes its unique calling card.
Shakhrisabz is particularly associated with the Ak-Saray Palace. There are many amazing legends associated with the history of the palace direction. One of them tells that Temur, having conceived the plan to erect a majestic building, called the architect to him and set his goal.
After listening to the ruler, the architect asked for permission to enter the treasury. After receiving permission, the master began to make blocks for the foundation from clay mixed with gold in front of Temur.
Seeing the governor’s steadfastness, he broke the blocks and returned the gold to the treasury. When Temur asked, “Why did you do that?” – The architect replied, “To ensure the ruler’s determination to proceed with the construction of a building that requires enormous expenditure.”
The second legend says: after the completion of the main construction work, Temur began to hurry the masters to execute the decorative furnishings of the palace. However, the latter did not hurry to cover the building with majolica and mosaics.
When the furious ruler ordered the chief builder to be brought in, it turned out that he had disappeared and a chain was hanging in the middle of the main arch of the palace. As no master equal to him could be found, the building remained unfinished.
Some time later, the architect suddenly reappeared and, after ensuring that the chain at the entrance arch was lowered considerably, set about decorating the palace. At Temur’s stern request to explain his strange flight and sudden reappearance, the architect said, “I dared not disobey the Lord’s command, but neither could I, and in any case a severe punishment awaited me, for such a magnificent building must settle and stand firm in the ground, or all the ornamentation would be destroyed”.
The great ruler appreciated the wisdom and genius of the master. “If you doubt our power, look at our buildings”. This inscription adorns the portal of the majestic Ak-Saray Palace, built by the great military leader Amir Temur in the XIV century.
Unfortunately, only part of the palace’s entrance portal has reached our days, but even the remains of this portal help to imagine the unprecedented beauty and grandeur of this building. Temur built it on a bare field after bringing 50 thousand captive builders and master craftsmen here from all over his empire: from Khorezm, Iran, Iraq and northern India.
There is a legend that golden sand was added when preparing the first bricks for the royal construction!
According to the ruler’s plan, the building was to be unsurpassed in its magnificence. The scale of the construction was truly royal. The great ruler spared no expense. He desperately wanted his structure to be the biggest and best in the entire world.
Researchers reconstructed the layout and design of the palace from the descriptions of contemporaries and from the material of archaeological investigations. Although Ak-Saray translates from Uzbek as “White Palace”, the name of the palace means “noble, aristocratic”.
Amazing, especially the size of the building. Only the front courtyard, the plan of which was restored, occupied 250 metres in length and 125 metres in width. And the height of the main portal, crowned with arched battlements, reached 70 metres. That is the size of a twenty-storey house.
The corner towers were at least 80 metres high and the entrance arch had a span of more than 22 metres. In August 1404, the ambassador of the Castilian king Gonzalez de Clavijo visited the Ak-Saray Palace in Shakhrisabz. He described the palace as follows: “The palace has a very long entrance and very high gates, and here at the entrance there were brick arches on the right and left, covered with tiles in different patterns.
And under these arches were like small rooms without doors, that is, hollow spaces with a floor covered with tiles, and this was done so that people could sit there when the ruler was in the palace.
Immediately behind this gate was another gate, and behind it a large courtyard paved with white slabs and surrounded with richly decorated galleries, and in the middle of the courtyard a large pond, and this courtyard was about three hundred paces wide; and through it they entered the largest room of the palace, through which there was a very large and high door, decorated with gold, azure and tiles, all very elaborately done.
And above the door, in the middle, was an image of a lion facing the sun, and exactly the same images around the edges. They were the emblem of the ruler of Samarqand”.
The palace was used for recreation and entertainment, but also for the administration of state affairs. In the axis of the courtyard was a domed room for meetings of the divan, the council of state. It had small halls on two sides for meetings of the councillors – tavajibeks and divanbeks.
Under the palace buildings was a harem, richly decorated and lavishly furnished. In front was a shady garden with ponds lined with patterned tiles. The real wonder for those years was a hauz arranged on the roof, from which flowed a picturesque cascade of streams.
The water flowed into the house from the Takhtakaracha mountain pass through a lead gutter. The arch of the Ak-Saray entrance portal, which collapsed about 200 years ago, was the largest in Central Asia. The span of the portal was 22.5 m. Two unconnected pylons remain of this majestic structure.
The height of these pylons reaches 38 metres even in its present dilapidated state. Much work is underway to restore and strengthen the pylons of the palace portal. The mosaic of filigree works, composed in a complex colour palette, amazes with bright, intricate ornaments and paintings.
The preserved portion of the pylons and monumental arch is astonishingly large, 18 storeys high and about 20 metres wide. The Ak-Saray Palace is the largest complex of civic architecture not only in Shakhrisabz and Central Asia.
Historical tradition attributes the destruction of the majestic building to the Emir of Bukhara, Abdullakhan II, who, during another siege of the recalcitrant Shakhrisabz, allegedly ordered the magnificent buildings of Temur and his descendants to be destroyed.
He wanted to erase the memory of his illustrious predecessor, but try as he might, he could not completely destroy the palace. By the end of the nineteenth century, only the pylons and part of the arch of the main portal remained of the once magnificent royal palace.
The construction of Ak-Saray Palace embodied Sahibkiran’s idea of turning Shakhrisabz into a second national capital, and the creation of the Dorus-Saodat and Dorut-Tilovat memorial complexes reflected his ambition to make his hometown the spiritual centre of Mawara’unnahr.
In the years of Uzbekistan’s independence, restoration work was carried out on the preserved parts of the palace. Together with other monuments of Kesh from the Temurid period, the palace is on the UNESCO World Heritage List.