According to an Uzbek proverb, “There are two roads in the world: in the sky the Milky Way, on earth the Silk Road.” When you leave this beautiful modern city and set out for Samarqand and Bukhara, two major stops on the Silk Road, be prepared to slip through time and into a dream. For you are going to plunge right into the treasures of a world cultural heritage going back 2500 years. You will feel your sense of time shaken and seek for something to hold on to. From its Siyab Market and old city square known as Registan to its observatory and religious colleges, Samarqand is the quintessential legendary city. Samarkand is the second largest city of Uzbekistan and is of the same age as Rome, Athens and Babylon. The history of Samarkand is about 2,500 years old and has witnessed a lot of upheavals during the times of Alexander the Great, the Arabic Conquest, Genghis-Khan Conquest and lastly Tamerlane’s. Europeans called it the “The Land of Scientists”. A majestic and beautiful city, Samarkand is the city of legends. The turquoise domes of Samarkand is among the world’s most evocative architectural symbols. The most magnificent landmark in this old city is “Registan Square” a traditional center of the city. Poets and historians of the past called it “Rome of the East, The beauty of sublunary countries, The pearl of the Eastern Moslem World”. Its advantageous geographical position in Zarafshan valley put Samarkand to the first place among cities of the Central Asia.
The Other Historical site is Mausoleum of Tamerlane, one of the imposing conquerors in history, who made Samarkand beloved by poets and travelers. The majesty of architectural forms and lines and colorful mosaic designs make this mausoleum a unique monument of medieval architecture.
Samarkand’s importance to the history and culture mankind is now being recognized by UN, UNESCO and WTO, which are helping to promote tourism to the region. As the government, who has made tourism a priority sector for development is continuing to invest hotels, airports, transportation and leisure facilities.
Historical monuments of Samarkand
Timur’s architectural colossus is the cathedral mosque Bibi Khanum, under construction from 1399, the year of Timur’s India campaign, until 1404. The mosque was to surpass by far all earlier buildings, consuming a whole block near the main city gate Akhanin in the northern section of Samarkand. The mosque is a marvel, whose impact upon the contemporaries could not be summed up better than by a line from the court historian, Sherefeddin Ali Yezdi: “The dome would be unique were not the dome of Heaven its equal, unique would be the archway were not the Milky Way its match.”
The cathedral mosque of Samarkand was named after the oldest wife of Amir Temur, Bibi-Khanym. She was Sarai Mulk-Khanym, a daughter of Kazan-khan.
The center of the mediaeval Samarkand is the Registan complex. The Registan complex consists of three madrassahs, which were mediaeval Moslem clergy academy Ulugh Beg madrasah (1417 – 1420), Shir-Dor madrassah (1619 – 1636), Tillya-Kori madrassah (1646 – 1660) – and is a unique example of town building and planning skills of the Central Asian architects of the 15-17c.
The madrassah of Ulugbeg was under construction from 1417-1420. Its huge portal has an arch of 15m in width. The mosaic panel above the arch shows a symbolic sky with five and ten pointed stars. The madrassah had a platform for astronomical observations before Ulugbeg’s observatory was built, and had fifty cells for one hundred students. Sheikh Khodja Akhrar and poet Djami were among the outstanding graduates of this madrassah.
Sher-Dor Madrassah was constructed from 1619-1636, in a style imitating Ulugbeg’s Madrassah. Ribbed domes on high towers soared over the two-storied facade on the sides of the front portal. Islamic inscriptions, geometrical and floral ornamentation decorate the interior. Especially interesting are the tympans of the portal arch. They are decorated with an anthropomorphic depiction of the sun and tiger attacking a fallow deer. Hence, the name of Sher-Dor – “having tigers”.
Yalangtush-biy ordered its construction on the Registan. The mosque was planned to operate as a madrassah as well. Construction lasted almost twenty years and was finished in 1660. The richest gilding on the dome, walls and mihrab surpassed all other famous buildings in Central Asia. For this reason, the madrassah was named Tillya-Kari, which means “coated with gold”.
Gur-Emir: tomb of Tamerlan
Gur-Emir means “grave of Emir”. The dynastic sepulcher of Timur and his male heirs in the south-western part of the city was erected in 1404. Mosaics, out of light- and dark-blue glazed bricks, decorate the walls and the drum, and the tiled geometrical designs of the cupola chine brightly in the sun. Restoration work was started in 1967; the exterior cupola and glazed decorations were restored before that, in the 1950s. The mausoleum holds tombstones made of marble and onyx, the tombstone of Timur is carved from a slab of nephrite. The burials proper are placed in a crypt under the mausoleum.
Gur-Emir Mausoleum consists of several parts: yard of Muhammed Sultan ensemble, to the right of mausoleum hanaka (the place where Muslims can pray), to the left is medresse and in the center the mausoleum itself decorated from each side with minarets.
Shahi-Zinda architectural ensemble
The genesis of the Shahi-Zinda necropolis on the slope of Afrasiab hill is connected with Kusam ibn Abbas, the cousin of the Prophet Muhammad. It consists of mausoleums and worship buildings. The Shakhi-Zinda ensemble was considered to be a holy place and once it was the largest religious and cultural center in Central Asia and pilgrimage to this place was of the same importance as the pilgrimage to Mecca.
Structures from the 11th century form the core of Kusam ibn Abbas Mausoleum. First of all is a small domed tomb. The ceramic stepped gravestone, which was installed by Amir Temur in the 1380s, occupies almost half of its area.
Observatory of Ulugbek
Among historical monuments of Samarkand observatory takes particular place, constructed by Ulugbek in 1428-1429 on one of the hills on height, at the bottom of Chupanat altitude. In the same way its builder, although famous as his grandfather, the mighty conqueror Tamerlane, was the most remarkable ruler of Samarkand. Ulugh Beg, a scholar, architect, thinker, artist, scientist and above all, master astronomer of Uzbekistan. Ulugh Beg presided over a period of tremendous progress in the arts and sciences in his kingdom. For his astronomical calculations and observations he gained world-wide renown. His observatory was extraordinary, 48 meters in diameter, 40 meters high, equipped with the most modern instruments of the period, decorated in the glazed tiles of the period. The main
instrument sextant was oriented with amazing exactness by line of meridian from south to north. From here Ulugbek himself made astronomical calculations that have withstood the test of time even better than these remaining foundations of his observatory. In the centuries since his death the site was lost and the observatory only rediscovered and restored in this century.
Exactness of observations of Samarkand astronomers is amazing because they were made without help of optical instruments, with unaided eye. Astronomic tables contents coordinates of 1018 stars. His catalog did not lose its value in our days. With amazing exactness made the calculation of the length of star year, which by Ulugbek’s calculation is equal to 365 days 6 hours 10 minutes 8 seconds. Actual length of star year by modern data is 365 days 6 hours 9 minutes 9,6 seconds. Thus the mistake is only less that one minute.
After Ulugbek’s death observatory was destroyed and robbed by religious fans. Only in 1908 archaeologist Vyatkin found first document where location of observatory was mentioned.