Among the cities of the world one of the most ancient is Samarkand, which goes back 2,500 years. In its time the city was conquered by the warriors of Alexander the Great, the Army of the Arab Caliphate, and the Mongol hordes of Genghiz-khan. Each time after the bloody battles, destruction and fires it was reborn, once again became an important city, and at times the capital of the major Central Asian State.
Originally Samarkand occupied part of Mount Afrasiab, which rises to the north of modern Samarkand. The city grew, expanded its borders, and by the ninth century it occupied the entire hill. By the tenth century its numerous suburbs to the south of the hil! were built up with bazaars, caravanserais, baths and mosques. This part of the city was well irrigated. In contrast, Afrasiab presented difficulties in water supply, and an intricate arrangement of lead water pipes along an aqueduct was required. When Samarkand was captured by the Mongols the ancient water supply system was destroyed, and life on Afrasiab ended. Today it is a lifeless hill concealing priceless treasures of the artistic culture of the past. The Mongol invasion destroyed the buildings of the previous period; it took a whole century to recover from the after-effects of the Mongol invasion.
The plundered and destroyed Samarkand was rebuilt on the site of one of its former suburbs. The restoration of the Shakhi-Zindah necropolis, a religious relic, the supposed grave of Kusam ibn-Abbas, was begun on Afrasiab. The building of the necropolis reached its height in the last quarter of the fourteenth century, at the time when the mausoleums for the members of the Timur family, his military leaders and his courtiers, were built. Some of the structures of the Shakhi-Zindah ensemble date back to the second half of the fifteenth century, the Ulug Beg period. They are: the restrainedly decorated portals (1434 -1435) by the foot of Mount Afrasiab, and the mausoleum higher up the slope, with two elevated turquoise domes, presumably over the grave of the astronomer Kazy-zade-Rumi, Ulug Beg's teacher.
Towards the end of the fourteenth century Samarkand became the capital of the huge Empire of Timur. The Bibi-khanum mosque was built in great haste in the five years, 1399—1404. The walls of the mosque are faced with polished brick which serve as a background for the blue enamelled bricks used for a large geometrical decorative pattern. Such monumental orna¬mentation is characteristic of the buildings constructed for Timur. One of the last of Timur's structures in Samarkand was the mausoleum of Gur-Emir (1403—1404), which served as the tomb for his sons, his grandson Ulug Beg, and for himself. The mausoleum was added to the existing complex of two build¬ings, that of the madrasah and khana-gah forming as it did the third side of a courtyard. The fourth side was formed by the entrance portals decorated with glazed tile mosaics.
In the fifteenth century, in the time of Ulug Beg, structures were less grandiose but were distinguished by nobility of form and great harmony of coloured enamelled revetment: the entry portals, the mausoleums of Kazy-zade-Rumi, the octagonal one in the Shakhi-Zindah, and the madrasah in Reghistan, the big square in the busiest part of the city (1420). Ulug Beg's observatory outside Samarkand was a unique structure. After Ulug Beg was murdered it was abandoned and by the sixteenth century it was in ruins.
Beside the monumental fifteenth century buildings, smaller architectural ensembles were erected. Such is the ensemble Khoja Abdi-Darun.
When Bukhara once again became the capital in the sixteenth century there was less building in Samarkand, and many structures suffered neglect. In the seventeenth century the madrasah Sher-Dor (1619—1636) was built where once stood now non-existent khana-gah of Ulug Beg. The building stands on the same axis as the Ulug Beg madrasah and repeats its facade not only in size but in its overall composition. The third side of Rcghistan Square was occupied with Tilla-kari madrasah (1646—1660). As Timur's Bibi-khanum mosque was in ruins by that time, a Friday mosque was added to the complex of structures comprising the Tillah-kari madrasah. After the seventeenth century the situation in the country changed. Never did architecture in Samarkand reach such heights again. But the ancient city continued to exist, and now it is once more a thriving, developing city, one of the industrial and cultural centers in Uzbekistan.
Sightseeing of Samarkand
The Shakhi Zinda Necropolis
The Shakhi-Zinda ensemble is one of the highlights of Samarkand. All the structures of 11 mausoleums, that had been built during the 14-th – 15th centuries, are arranged along a downward path, displaying different facets from different angles. This unique and mysterious ensemble was located nearby Afrosiab ruins. Blue cupolas of mausoleums, rushed out as a small chain and from the bird’s eye resemble elegant necklace. All these square-shaped cupola constructions were variants of the customary design: a square with a heavily ornamented portal and interior. Decorations usually consisted of glazed brick, carved terracotta, majolica tiles and intricately carved mosaics.
Its development began as early as the 14-th century when the first mausoleums were built. This particular sight was held sacred because it was believed to be the burial site of prophet Mukhammad’s cousin, Kusam ibn Abbas. The entrance portal of Shakhi Zinda completes the whole ensemble and appears the latest construction. The inscription on the entrance portal reads: ”This magnificent building was constructed by Abdulazizkhan, the son of Ulugbek – grandson of Amir Temur in 1434”. Passing by 36 stairs of the old ladder the visitors finally finds himself in the spare gallery. On the both sides of the gallery the mausoleums of Temur’s close relatives are located. The gallery ends with the round courtyard and the arch with the old carved door on the right. It leads us to the oldest ensemble building – mausoleum of Kusam ibn Abbas. His tomb is decorated with Arabic inscribed tiles. Kusam ibn Abbas was called “Shakhi-Zinda” - “The alive emperor” by translation. He preached Islam there, so this complex had become the place of pilgrimage, considered to be the public relic.
Bibi Khanym Mosque
The grandeurs monument of ancient architecture is a great cathedral mosque “Bibi-Khanym (Bibi Khanum)” “the saint mistress” by translation - one of the biggest in the Muslim world. It was erected in 1399-1404. According to the legend, Amir Temur built the mosque for his beloved wife Bibi Khanym (Bibi Khanum). Right after the successful India invasion Temur made up his mind to construct the biggest monument of the East. Shining walls, significant minarets, dignified portal, ornamented with patterns of carved marble, glorified Temur and his wife. One of the most outstanding features of that time architectural ensembles was massive constructions of enormous size and proportion of the composition. Hundreds of experts from famous architects to large number of qualified construction workers and craftsmen from Azerbaijan, Fars, Khorana and Hindustan had constructed the mosque for 5 years. To facilitate hard labor of the craftsmen elephants from India were used. Only entrance portal, minaret, big mosque and small mosques remnants have been preserved by now. The area of this great construction takes 167х109 meters. Luxurious blue cupolas of the mosque are the mysterious sight. The courtyard of the mosque was surrounded by richly ornamented galleries with the arches placed on more than three hundred marble columns, harmonious minarets towered above in the corners. At the time of liturgies the building gradually came to ruins because of the great amount of people overcrowded it. It was impossible completely realize such an architectural project. The monumental arch of the entrance portal collapsed within the first years after the construction works were finished.
Guri Emir Masoleum
This unique monument of architecture has been fascinating people from all over the world for centuries. It is considered to be Timurids dynastic burial vault-a place where tombs of Amir Temur, his sons and grandsons, including a great scientist Mirzo Ulugbek are located.
The Guri Amir mausoleum was built for the sudden death of Temur’s beloved grandson Mukhammad Sultan who was intended to be his successor and died in his bloomy youth in 1403. That is why at first the mausoleum was destined only for Mukhammad Sultan. The mausoleum erection began in 1403 and was completed by glorious Ulugbek - the grandson of Tamerlan. During the reign of Ulugbek the mausoleum had become a family crypt of temurids. Guri-Amir mausoleum is the memorial of a new stylistic trend. It was formed in Samarkand with the help of common creative aspiration of masters from Central Asia and other eastern countries by the end of 14 th century.
Guri-Amir mausoleum takes on a traditional style. It is a one-cupola building with a crypt. Octagonal - shaped construction raises up on cylindrical drum covered with a big blue spherical cupola. The external side of the wall is ornamented with blue and white bricks. They are combined into geometrical and epigraphical pattern. The mausoleum dome is very significant, it is deep blue with white patterns. The cupola is divided into planes that slightly go down to the drum. During Ulugbek reign the gravestone of Temur’s tomb was covered with black and green nephritis. The gravestone tells: ”Everyone who disturbs me in his life or beyond it, will get into trouble and die”. Next to the tomb of Temur there are two graves of his sons Miranshah and Shakhruh, the graves of his grandsons Mukhammad Sultan and Ulugbek are also here. Besides, there is one more tomb in mausoleum-the tomb of Temur’s confessor. The coffin of Temur was made of arch wood. Embalming method was used in funeral ceremonies. In 1951 the mausoleum restoration works began and in nineties they were continued according to Amir Temur anniversary. During the works onyx panelling, gildies and ornaments were reconstructed and completed. The ceiling as well as many centuries ago is still decorated with a magnificent chandelier. The buried timurids are still inside the stingy decorated crypt. Nowadays only madrassah and khanaka basements, portal arch and one of four minarets partially remained.
The Pearl of Central Asia and one of the most magnificent and beautiful squares of the world - Registan “sandy area” by translation. “Registan” a unique complex, is still considered to be one of the main architectural remarkable sights in Central Asia. It was a trade and public center of Samarkand since a long time. Besides, it was also considered as the center of wisdom and culture. Ulugbek worked here and lots of students were educated here. Registan composed of three medrassahs: ”Ulugbek” (1417-1420), “Sher-Dor” (1619-1636), “Tilla-Kori” (1647-1660).
Ulugbek Medrassah was built first. It included 50 rooms-khudjras, where more than hundred students lived. The famous poet Jami was educated there, mathematics and astronomy was taught by Ulugbek himself. Due to some facts there was even a big studying sundial on the campus of medrassah.”Ulugbek” medrassah was not spared by time and earthquakes. That is why, in thirties there was a range of works on straightening of bent minaret. In the 17th century two more medrassahs “Sher-Dor” and “Tilla-Kori” were built here. They stand out with their size and wealth of external decoration.”Sher-Dor” stands for “having lions”. It had been erected for almost 17 years according to the special project of Emir Yalangtush. It surpassed all other constructions with the beauty of its design.
In 10 years time still during Yalangtush medrassah “Tilla-Kori” was constructed. “Tilla-Kori” means “decorated with gold”. It takes on rich interior decorations with golden relief paintings. Students were educated in “Tilla-Kori”, but on the other hand, it was used as a mosque. According to its architectural splendor “Ulugbek”medrassah surpassed “Sher-Dor” and “Tilla-Kori”.
These three medrassahs are directed with their portals to the center of the square and compose a conformed ensemble composition. Every building differs with its unusual design-walls and portals ornamented with patterns made out of glazed brick. Blue cupolas of medrassahs made of burnt brick while external side is ornamented with glazed brick.
Hazrati Hizr Mosque
Hazrati Hizr mosque was built in Samarkand during the 8th century. It settled down on a height at entry into the city, near an ensemble of mausoleums which were constructed later Shakhi-Zinda and the Siab bazaar. Hazrati Hizr is a known Islamic sacred, he was worshipped during pre-Islamic times. It was considered that Hazrati Hizr grants to people wealth and success in distant wanderings and trade. According to one legend, Hazrati Hizr helped the patron of Samarkand Kusama bin Abbas not to die and receive eternal life. Mosque was repeatedly reconstructed. Today it consists of a portal entrance, a door room, a lobby which is blocked by a ridge dome on a many-sided drum, also is terry and columned ayvan. In registration of a building it was applied sharp ganch and a ceiling list.
Hazrati Hizr mosque is a bright example of national architecture of the Samarkand school. Present mosque was constructed in 1854 on the basis of an ancient mosque. Earlier in this territory there was a pagan temple. It was destroyed in the first years of acceptance of Islam, at this time idols were also broken. Mosque restored in the XIX century. It opens a view of other architectural monuments of Samarkand.
Hodja Doniyor (St. Daniel) Masoleum
Khodja Daniyar (St. Daniel) tomb is settled in north side of Afrosiab, next to a medical spring which is according to a legend was a missionary of Islam in this part of the world. Three different religious sources tell us about prophet Daniyar. The book of its prophecies consists of 14 heads. According to one of the legends Amir Timur delivered a hand of dead Khodja Daniyar to Central Asia, and when he was passing Samarkand his horse stopped on a place where was founded the basis of a prophet Daniyar`s tomb.
Reconstruction of the mausoleum was made in the 20th century. Water from a medical spring, which flows near the mausoleum, was shined in 1996 by Patriarch of Moscow and all Russia Alexis II. Next to the tomb there is a dried-up pistachio tree which suddenly revived again. Usually people fasten ribbons on its branches, and I think of desires which surely come true. The mausoleum of Khodja Daniyar (Saint Daniel) is the crypt which length is about 18 meters. One of the legends tells that the crypt constantly increases. To this mausoleum always there come pilgrims from all over the world. This mausoleum is object of pilgrimage both locals and foreigners. Water in a spring is very tasty. According to the tradition everyone who heads to the mausoleum, drinks water from a sacred spring, and washes open places of a body. People say that water cures not only a body but also a soul. People from all Central Asia come to this place for water. The district where the mausoleum of Hojda Daniyar is placed attracts with the tranquility and beauty. In spring and in summer everything blossoms, and down the River Siab which is in several meters from a medical spring.
The most significant construction in Samarkand is the medieval observatory - Ulugbek Observatory, which had big sizes and mingled grand marble sextant for measuring the coordinates of the sun, moon and planets. Ulugbek was a great patron of science, education and particularly astronomy. He, along with other leading astronomers from the area, built the unique and ingenious observatory just outside Samarkand, at the foot of Chupan-Ota hill range in 1428-1429. From his observatory Ulugbek was able to map the stars and planets accurately, information that has scientific significance even today.
Explorers consider Observatory the most outstanding architectural construction of the 15th century. It is the bright confirmation of considerable science, culture and handicrafts development in Central Asia during the 14th-15th centuries. The building of observatory had to be stable to permanent earthquakes in Samarkand.
According to the archeological remnants, Ulugbek’s observatory was one of the largest in the East. Ulugbek was the founder of both observatory and astronomic school in Samarkand. All scientific works of Ulugbek were based on observatory investigations. Much of the observatory has decayed through the ages. Archeological excavations have uncovered the remnants of its foundations and some instruments. In observatory there were the best and perfect instruments for that time. The main stationary instrument here was the huge quadrant. It was located inside the cylindrical building by 48 meters in diameter. The upper part of its meridian of 40,2 meters rose up to the flat roof of the building, its lower part (11 meters) in the rock trench has been preserved by nowadays. The spinning quadrant and the azimuth sphere were located on the roof of the building. There were also sundials inside. After the murder of Ulugbek in 1449 his observatory was ruined down. The real location of observatory had been unknown for a long time, when finally in 1908 V.L. Vyatkin - the famous archeologist, found its remnants, owing to the document of the 17-th century, where several directions, pointed to its location, were mentioned. During the observatory excavations of 1908-1909, the remnants of one brick round wall were discovered. In 1914 explorers excavated the area of about 50 meters in diameter.
The round wall was the remains of the external wall of cylindrical three-storied building of observatory. The building had a flat roof and a range of certain astronomical instruments beneath. The plan of the building was rather complex. It included huge halls, corridors, passages and etc. In the center of observatory the basic instrument - sextant was located.
Imam Al Bukhariy Masoleum
The mausoleum of Imam Al Bukhariy is a very impressive and holy sight. It is a masterpiece of modern Uzbekistan architecture based on traditional oriental style. When you enter through a huge gate, you will immediately step into the courtyard laden with lavish lawns, tall trees and colourful flowers and on the left is the ablution area and the mosque.
The mausoleum of Imam al-Bukhariy lies straight ahead. Inside the mausoleum there is a marble tomb, but the real burial site of Imam al-Bukhariy is actually below that tomb. The mausoleum is topped by a small dome that is raised upon marble columns shining in the effective light. The rectangular tomb is cased in polished marble of many colours, and before it is the gravestone, the lines of Arabic written upon it briefly summarizing the Imam’s life.
Afrosiyob museum and ruins
The Museum of Afrosyob is devoted to the millenia of history that this ancient city has seen. The museum itself is located at the site of archaelogocial excavations, where remarkable remnants of the Sogda Kingdom were found. As the legend goes, Afrosiab was a name of a Turanian Ruler who was in control of the huge country called “Turan”, encompassing a vast territory covering nearly the entire territory of the modern Central Asia.
The city has seen conquest of Alexander the Great during his raid to the Central Asia. After the 8th century Islam came to the region brought by the Arabs. The rich exhibits of the Museum track outstanding developments of the city up to the time when the hordes of Chengis Khan and his mongols obliterated the city. One of the displays at the museum is the ancient fresco which was discovered during excavations on a wall of a building buried for centuries in soil. The fresco was carefully dismantled and transferred to the museum, where it is now kept in special temperature, humidity and light conditions. At the picture you can see various episodes from the life of people who lived millenia ago, including hunting, elephant cavalcades, reception of foreign ambassadors etc.