Samarkand monuments

Observatory of Ulugbek

 

The astronomical miracle of medieval Uzbekistan.

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 Chupanata altitude.

By Babur’s words, which saw the observatory, it was three-storied covered with beautiful glazed titles building of round form 46 meters in diameter, 30 meters in height. In the main hall huge instrument was placed for observations of Moon, Sun, and other stars of the vault of heaven.

Observatory was unique construction for its time. The basis of observatory was giant goniometer vertical circle), radius of circle was equal 40,212 meters, and the length of arc was 63 meters. The main instrument-sextant was oriented with amazing exactness by line of meridian from south to north. Test establishments of modern astronomers Kastalsk and Sheglov are the evidence to it. Sizes of the main instrument, lucky construction, scientific knowledge of Ulugbek and his companion-in-arms provided amazing exactness of astronomic observations. "Experience had known about planets movement, is delivered for keeping to this book" - Ulugbek was writing. In this work basics of astronomic observations are summarized, made by east scientists.

Exactness of observations of Samarkand astronomers is amazing because they were made without help of optical instruments, with unaided eye. Astronomic tables’ content 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. Unfortunately only underground part of sextant and basis of the building were saved. By found documents scientists made the model of the observatory.

Remarkable scientific center was destroyed, valuable library was plundered, and scientists were chased away. Sheikhs announced the hill as the place of grave “Forty virgins” and built here mausoleum, place of pilgrimage, bringing big profits to hypocrites. Like this Samarkand priesthood was trying to suppress in people member of torch of science - Ulugbek and his observatory.

Siab Bazaar, Samarkand

Subtlety of the Oriental market

Visiting Samarkand and not paying a visit to Siab market means missing one of the most interesting adventures. The oriental market is a special place where you can feel a live atmosphere of the ancient city. Many years ago, bazaars served as the main strategic points on the Great Silk Road trade development. Siab Bazaar in Samarkand is one of the most interesting and ancient must see sights.

Peculiarities of the Siab Bazaar

Siab market is conveniently located, with the great mosque of Bibi-Khanim in only few minutes’ walk away. There is another landmark not far from the bazaar – Hazrat Khizir Mosque. The area of the market impresses with its 5 trade rows. The main entrance is done in the form of a lofty three-fold arch adorned with blue mosaic. Trading rows are under tents that protect the bazaar from a burning sun in summer and from wind and rain in winter.

When crossing the threshold of the arch, you will find yourself in a different, rather magic atmosphere with lots of bright colors around you, hubbub of voices of customers and merchants, and certainly abundance of fruits and vegetables. Siab Bazaar practically never sleeps. There buy and sell starts before the sunrise and ends late in the evening.

Siab Bazaar is a dekhkan (agricultural) market; there you will mainly find vegetables and fruits grown in Uzbekistan, as well as local hand-made products. Trading rows are conditionally divided according to types of goods. Local sellers say that Siab dried fruits, sweets and nuts are so tasty that make residents of the capital city travel there for their portion. It is also possible to meet huge number and kinds of spices at the bazaar, even the rare ones. Apart from the edible products, you can buy pieces from local artisans and masters.

Special attention should be given to a bread row, as Samarkand bread is a special sort of local flour product. You can see more than 17 kinds of bread at the Siab market. What is an oriental market without tasting? There, as in any other bazaar, kind-hearted vendors will not only allow you to taste the product before purchasing, but will also insist on it. Surely, the main subtlety of the oriental bazaar is a bargaining tradition. Each buyer has a duty to trade with the seller before a purchase. The point is not about reducing the price, rather a habit that Asian dwellers have formed from the childhood. The one who shows the talent will gain in the end.

Except fresh and various goods, Siab market in Samarkand has another feature – this is the place where you can find out the latest news and events happening in the city. Uzbek people are very sociable and people get involved in conversations even with strangers.

After visiting this bazaar, you will dive into the atmosphere of Samarkand festivity, mystery and will be able to understand the historical city on the Great Silk road. Along with ripen fruits and hot bread; you will take with yourself a piece of oriental atmosphere that will stay with you forever.

Rukhabad Mausoleum

Rukhabad – “Resident spirit” of Burhaneddin Sagaradzhi

The Rukhabad Mausoleum, built by order of Amir Timur in 1380, was erected over the grave of Islamic mystic Sheikh Burhaneddin Sagaradzhi, much esteemed by Timur’s contemporaries.

Burhaneddin Sagaradzhi significantly contributed to make Islam widespread among the nomads of Eastern Turkestan. The Islamic scholar, who was married to a Chinese princess, enjoyed great influence at the court of the Yuan dynasty in China. The exact date of his death has not been established, but it is known that he died in China. After the death, according to the Sagaradzhi’s will, his son Abu Said brought his remains to Samarkand.

The Sheikh’s name, surrounded by a halo of sanctity, was given to the mausoleum - Rukhabad – “Resident spirit”. Non-typical for that time, this one-dome construction without entrance portal is built of brick and looks very modest in comparison with Gur-Emir and Ak-Saray, located near it.

The arched octahedron with windows along the principal axes is supported by a cubic basis, and crowned by a sphere-conical dome structure. According to a legend, the dome has an immured box with seven Prophet Muhammad’s beard hairs, which belonged to saint Sheikh.

The mausoleum has three entrances from north, west and south. The interior decoration of the mausoleum is also very modest - perhaps its only decoration is a two-meter ceramic plate in the wall foundation with inserts of glazed bricks laid in a form of a narrow band. There are simple tombstones of Sagaradzhi, his wife and 9 children.

Registan Square in Samarkand

Monument of medieval architecture

The Registan Square is a real gem located in the very heart of the ancient city of Samarkand. It has gained its worldwide fame thanks to the great architectural ensemble that has become a monument of the oriental architecture. From three sides, the square is surrounded with grand madrassah, portals of which are facing the center of the space. All three erections have their own unique décor. It is by virtue of these buildings, preserved on the territory of the city, Samarkand was included in the UNESCO World Heritage List in 2001.

The history of the Registan Square

Translated from Uzbek, “Registan” means a sand place. In the ancient times, this central square was covered by sand. The territory was not initially surrounded by madrassah; those great erections appeared rather later. In that period, authorities of the city were gathering people on the square to announce khan’s orders, held celebrations and public executions, and collected the army leaving to war.In the past, one could see many trade rows around the square, where artisans and farmers were selling their goods. All main roads of Samarkand led to Registan where it was always noisy and lively.Various rulers during their reign would change the main significance of the square, but since those times and up to now,

There are three madrassahs on the square: Ulughbek, Sherdor and Tilla-Kori, that are the main sights of the city. They were erected by two rulers at different times. Registan has always been the center of the city social life. It is a valuable gift that we had inherited from our ancestors, embodying the entire charm of the eastern architecture.

 

Ulughbek Madrassah

The heir of the great state of the Temurids, a well-known mathematician and astronomer Ulughbek, assumed the authority in 1409. In year 1417, he gave an order to build the madrassah that would later be renamed in his honor. It was the first erection on the Registan Square. The word “madrassah” stems from Arabic and literally means “teaching and learning place”.

In 1420, the construction of madrassah ended. On the outside, the building, located on the western part of the square, was done in the form of a rectangle; inside there is a square yard with entrances to the student cells (approximately for 100 people) and learning rooms. The façade of the madrassah looks out on the square, completed with two tall minarets in the corners. Special attention should be given to an exquisite interior of the building. Glazed bricks create beautiful ornaments on the yellowish laying of the walls. The madrassah portal is adorned with patterns of ten-pointed stars symbolizing the sky, and astronomy.

At that time, it was the largest scientific-educational establishment in Samarkand. Here students were taught philosophy, astronomy, mathematics, theology. Along with the madrassah, caravan-sarai and hanaqa of Ulughbek were constructed as well. Two centuries later, they would build two other madrassah on the place of the vendors’ shelter and hanaqah, and they would complete the architectural ensemble that we can all see today.

Sher-Dor Madrassah

Sher-Dor Madrassah was built on the Registan Square, Samarkand in 1619-1636. The name is translated as “Madrassah with Lions”. It is the distorted and exaggerated reflection of the Ulugbek Madrasah, which is located just opposite, on the western side of the Registan Square. The difference in age between them is 200 years. Sher-Dor has larger area and sizes, but it yields to its “elder brother” by the quality of finishing works.

On the outside and inside this Madrasah is decorated with bright ornaments of glazed brick, walls and towers are covered with majolica of various patterns of climber flowers and quotations from Koran on Arabic. But some part of finishing is irretrievably lost, though scientists, historians and restorers try to recover the initial appearance of Sher-Dor Madrasah.

By architecture the Sher-Dor Madrasah almost repeats the Ulugbek Madrasah, i.e. it is the square building with inner yard, khudjras (cells) for students and two rooms for classes. The Madrasah was considered as the modern building of that time, because the latest architectural innovations were used at the construction. Moreover, such grand building has a set of constructive peculiarities, which make it one of the best architectural monuments in Samarkand.

In addition the Madrasah of Sher-Dor has some features. In the center of the arch above the entrance there is the image of swastika, which from ancient times was the symbol of abundance and fertility. Also there are images of tigers with the sun on their backs on each side of the arch.

For the whole period of existence the Madrasah of Sher-Dor has been restored many times. The largest works were conducted in the beginning of XX century by Soviet architect, out of them the most famous was V.G. Shukhov. Today this monument of Samarkand architecture is one of the main sights of the city. In 2001 the Madrasah of Sher-Dor entered the UNESCO World Heritage List.

In 1612, Yalangtush Bahadur was appointed the emir of Samarkand. He was the governor-general of the Bukhara khans and by that time, he was already ruling feudal principalities, was known as a skillful politician and an educated commander.

Being a ruler of the city, he decided to construct another madrassah on the Square of Registan opposite the building erected by Ulughbek. According to the project of architects, the new madrassah was supposed to be located on the eastern side of the square and be a mirroring reflection of existing building on Registan. However, the exact mirroring concurrence did not work as the architect did not take one peculiarity into consideration – 200 years have passed since the construction of the Ulughbek madrassah, and the building had shrunk into the ground and the level of the square itself had risen to 2 meters. In the result, the new madrassah turned out to be taller. However, it is rather difficult to notice this different visually.

There was Ulughbek’s hanaqa located on the site of the territory planned for construction that had noticeably dilapidated by that time. It was taken to pieces and the main part of the material was used for erection of the new building.

Construction lasted until 1636. Emir Yalangtush Bahadur wished his creation not to give in either in pomposity or space to the Ulughbek madrassah. Despite the fact that the façade of the building was completely resembling the first madrassah, they had used new technology in construction, not common in the 14th century. Workers applied rather progressive techniques that speeded the process.

Upon construction, the madrassah was named in honor of the ordering party. However, the name did not find its usage among people, and the building was renamed to Sher-Dor. The name comes from the images on the portal: two big golden tigers carrying a sun on their backs and heading after white fallow-deer were adoring the entrance. Sher means tiger (lion) and the name is translated as “adorned with tigers”. It was this plot that later became a national symbol of Uzbekistan.

Tilla-Kori Madrassah

The construction of the Tilla-Kori Madrassah was commenced in 1646 by the order of the Samarkand ruler Yalangtush Bakhadur and was finished only in 1660. It is the final building in the Registan architectural Ensemble. It was built on the site of caravan-sarai, which had existed for over two centuries. The name of the Madrassah is derived from the rich golden decoration on the façade. “Tilla-Kori” is translated as “decorated with gold”. Square-shaped building of the Madrassah fills the whole area between the Ulugbek Madrassah and the Sher-DorMadrassah. The façade, faced to the square is symmetrical and consists of the high portal and two floors of arched niches, flanked with towers. Khudjras (cells), intended for students, look on the large inner yard.

The entire building is lavishly decorated with various herbal ornaments and linear patterns. The major part of decoration was lost, but due to efforts of restorers it was recovered in the second half of XX century. In 2001 this beautiful monument of the Central-Asian architecture was included in the UNESCO World Heritage List.

In the western part of the Madrassah there is the mosque, crowned with the big glazed dome. Its inner decoration amazes by the quality of the gold, applied by the method of “kyndal”. For a long time this mosque was the main mosque in Samarkand.

Ten years later since the construction of the Sher-Dor madrassah, the ruler of Samarkand Yalangtush Bahadur had planned to erect another building that was supposed to complete the ensemble.

The construction began in 1646, in the northern part of the Registan Square, on the place of the caravan-sarai. The architect decided that the new madrassah should be another copy of already existing buildings, though would be located in the center.

The author of the project had an idea of achieving an architectural integrity of all erections and constructed the façade in the way that it visually created a closed space on the square.

The construction of the Tilla-Kori madrassah lasted more than 14 years and finished in 1660. The main façade of the building is done in two levels; the central portal is silted with a five-ended deep niche with two entrances leading to the inner closed yard. There is a blue-domed tower of the mosque to the left of the portal, with two minarets standing on both sides of the frontal part. The construction beautifully balances two bigger madrassah without disturbing the unity of the architectural style.

The name “Tilla Kori” was given thanks to its décor. Artists had used the painting method of “kyndal” for decoration that contained mostly gilt. Among all three madrassah, this erection has a rich decoration of walls that leaves everyone impressed with the abundance of golden colors. Tilla Kori means “gilded”.

Gur Emir  

A masterpiece of Islamic architecture of medieval East

Gur Emir was built in the southwestern part of Samarkand at the beginning of the XV century. Gur-e Amir (Gur Emir) is Tajik for "Tomb of the King". This majestic complex consisted of a khanakah, the madrasah of Muhammad Sultan - grandson of Amir Timur, and, later, tombs of Amir Timur himself and his descendants. The earliest part of the complex was built at the end of the 14th century by the orders of Muhammad Sultan. Today Gur Emir Mausoleum and its entrance portal are renovated by the restorers, but the khanakah and madrasahs, unfortunately, are left only ruins. The entrance portal to the Muhammad Sultan ensemble is richly decorated with carved bricks and various mosaics. The decoration of the portal was accomplished by the skilled craftsman.

However, Timur already prepared a mausoleum for himself in his native Shakhrisabz. He wanted himself to be buried in there. Tamerlane did not live to see the mausoleum finished; he died in winter 1405 on campaign on his way to conquer China. The passes to Shahrisabz were snowed in, so he was buried in Gur Emir. Tamerlane did not live to see the mausoleum finished. The construction was completed by another Tamerlane grandson – Ulugbek. There rest his two sons – Shakhrukh and Miranshah, beloved grandsons – Muhammad Sultan, Timur’s spiritual mentor - Mir Said Baraka, and later Ulugbek himself was buried here.

The Mosque Hazrat Hyzr

Hazrat Hyzr: Muslim sacred place

The Mosque Hazrat Hyzr is located on the south of Afrasiab fort. The area of the Mosque is 30 x 16 m. It stands on a natural elevation where a steep stairs leads. The mosque consists of aivan and khanakah. The mosque’s aivan (an indoor canopy standing on the columns) is richly decorated with ornaments. There is an entrance from aivan to khanaka (a monastery for dervishes). Hanaka is square, with mihrabi niche with the direction to Mecca in the middle and two hudzhry (monks' cells) on the sides. The minaret is located separately. It consists of a trunk with a spiral staircase and a crowning lantern with ribbed dome.

The facade of the mosque consists of a high base with arched niches, quince, over which the west is closed guldastoy (corner semi-tower) with the brick facing. The aivan’s top includes a number of bricks. To the east, the system includes a mosque organically portal darvazahany with beautiful carved gates. This series closes eastern minaret. Subtle feeling manifested in the performance of the master carved door. Here division and ornamentation are made with a shallow profile, which in this case well, because the contrast shadow quite clearly reveals the shape of the ornament, while preserving the integrity basis. The building is replete with dates, indicating the time of its restoration - mainly, it XIX-XX centuries.

Bibi Khanym mosque

The whole world knows about the architectural miracle called the Taj Mahal. The emperor Shah Jahan built it to immortalize his favorite wife Mumtaz Mahal, whom he loved deeply. Several centuries before, Tamerlane the Great constructed the Bibi-Khanum mosque in commemoration of his favorite and beloved wife. This is a truly epic construction, so magnetic it is impossible to take one’s eyes off it. You should only see the dome of the mosque, which in ancient times was compared to the skies, and the arch of the portal, which was called by the lofty name of Milky Way. 

The Bibi-Khanum mosque (which translates as ‘the senior wife’, as, according to a legend, it was constructed by Tamerlane’s eldest wife Saray-Mulk-Khanum) was Samarkand’s central mosque, which on Friday received thousands of male Muslims. In reality, the building was constructed in 1399-1404 by Tamerlane’s order, after he had returned from his Indian campaign. The construction of the mosque, the site for which was chosen by Tamerlane himself, was begun in 1399. Masters from various countries, such as India, Iran, Khoresm and the Golden Horde, were involved in the construction. By September 1404 the main part of the complex had been completed. The court of the mosque had enough space for 10 thousand preying Muslims. 

‘On Sunday, on the 4th day of the month of Ramadan, 801 (1399 by our calendar), skilled engineers and experienced masters laid the foundation of the building at an hour, which was determined by the stars as happy. About 200 stonemasons from Azerbaijan, Persia, Hindustan and other regions worked in the mosque, 500 persons were engaged in cutting the stone in the mountains and about 100 Indian elephants carried it to the city’. This was the description given by Ruy Gonzales de Clavijo. 

Tamerlane ordered certain minor rulers and emirs to supervise the construction. Each of them was responsible for his own construction section and each was hurrying to demonstrate his ardor. The portal, the main building of the mosque, the walls and the arcades were being constructed by teams of masters directed by the chief builder, who used a three-dimension model of the construction. This can be seen in old miniatures. Tamerlane watched the construction process for several months, but then was detracted for several years by a new military campaign, this time aimed at conquering the Ottoman Empire. The construction continued in his absence. As he returned to his capital, he immediately went to the building site to see the new mosque. Grandiose constructions surrounded a court 130 x 102 m in size. The western side of the court was bordered by the huge main mosque, the southern and northern sides – by minor mosques. The extensive court was paved with marble slabs and surrounded by a roofed gallery for preying people. The entrance to the court had the form of a tall portal flanked by two round minarets, which were 50 m in height. The façade of the main mosque was also decorated with a majestic portal with two minarets. The walls of all the buildings were decorated on the outside with many-colored glazed bricks forming intricate decorative patterns and religious sayings. The interiors were richly and beautifully decorated with majolica, mosaics, fretted marble, papier-mâché and gilding. Today in the centre of the court one can see a marble rest for a large Koran with Arabic inscriptions carved on it, which in the 19th century was taken out of the main building. 

Opposite the mosque was the madrasah of Saray-Mulk-Khanum, Tamerlane’s senior wife. Both these buildings facing each other formed a square. A small octagonal domed mausoleum with a burial vault, known as the Bibi-Khanum mausoleum, is what remains of this madrasah, the size and beauty of which once rivalled those of the Bibi-Khanum mosque. 

Time did not spare this wonderful monument: the construction was heavily damaged. However, for the last 30 years it has received repair and restoration works which have made the monument look as beautiful as it once was.

Shakhi Zinda Burial Vault

Necropolis, named in honor of the "Alive King"

Not far from Bibi Khanum mosque there is one of the most mysterious and unique architectural monuments of Samarkand, Shakhi Zinda complex. It consists of rows of refine sparkling blue colors tombs. Harmoniously combined in a lively and moving composition, various mausoleums are grouped along the narrow medieval streets. ShakhiZinda consists of eleven mausoleums, which were built one after another in XIV - XV centuries.

A unique ensemble of ancient tombs (1370-1449 years) is located near Afrasiab settlement. It is also called "Street cemetery". Building of mosques and mausoleums of XI-XV centuries oddly stretched on both sides and their blue domes look like an elegant necklace from the top.

Shakhi Zinda is the burial place of royal persons and nobles. But the main mausoleum from which the necropolis starts seems to be the imaginary grave of Prophet Muhammad's cousin, Kusama Ibn Abbas. The complex was called "Shakhi Zinda" that means in Persian "The Living King". He was one of those who preached Islam in that region. Later the Complex became an important pilgrimage centre that was revered by the people as sacred.

In accordance with a legend, Ibn 'Abbas came to preach in Samarkand in 640, spent there 13 years and was beheaded by the Zoroastrians during his prayer.

The grave of Kusama ibn Abbas attracts to Samarkand many adherents of religious or spiritual tourism, because even in the Middle Ages, a pilgrimage to the grave of "The Living King" was equated to Mecca hajj. According to a legend, water source at the grave possess healing power.

All mausoleums complex Shakhi Zinda form a single composition. Each of them is a square building with a dome, the entrance to which is highlighted by a portico. It is rich in architectural decoration of buildings, which are used irrigation bricks, majolica tiles, carved mosaic.

The last construction is the main entrance to the crypt Shakhi Zinda, which completes the whole ensemble. The inscription on the main entrance reads: "This magnificent building created Abdulazizhanom-son Ulugbek-Guragana, son of Shah Rukh, son of Amir Timur-Guragana in 838 year (1434/35 AD). After rising to 36 steps, you will find yourself on an open gallery. Here the left and right are crypts - the mausoleum of Tamerlane's relatives. The gallery ends with a round courtyard with a vaulted arch. Under it the right ancient carved door, which leads to the main shrine ensemble Shakhi Zinda - Mausoleum Kusam ibn Abbas, a cousin of the Prophet Muhammad.