This ancient city was built as early as 5th century B.C. It is located right at the pivot of the ancient silk road between China, India and Persia. That is why it was once prosperous in between 6th and 13th century until it was destroyed by Chinggis Khan in 1220. It might had been the end of the history for the city. However, Timur’s new empire in the 14th century set its capital in Samarkand and as a result it found its renaissance again for another 2 centuries. But after 16th century, due to the move of the capital and several earthquake strikes, it was no longer as important as before. It is during the Soviet time when the ancient sites got restored in a large scale to the credit of the Soviet government. However, it also took some liberty to add new decor to the mosque such as the blue dome at Tilla-Kari Medressa.
This might the single biggest tourist site in the whole Central Asia. It is surrounded by three ancient medressas – Sher Dor, Tilla-Kari and Ulugbek. The magnificent arches, high-rising minarets paired with blue sky forms the best view of my trip in Uzbekistan.
Sher Dor Medressa
There are two tiger-like animal figures on the arch of the medressa, although according to the research it should be lions instead. This is pretty rarely seen in the Islamic arts as the figure depiction is usually forbidden and more often plants and geometric combination are used in the arts . That is also why it is very special and eye-catching.
Actually there is not much to see after you enter the medressa since most of the rooms and spaces are occupied by the souvenir vendors. In fact, it is difficult to understand the history or story of the medressa as there is merely no guide signs in the medressa. I guess hiring a good tour guide might be the only option if you’re interested to know more about the place.
The most famous spot in the medressa is the golden-tiled prayer hall. As soon as you enter the space, you will soon be stunned by the shining light and amazed by how delicate the building was crafted.
This is the most ancient medressa among the three. It was built during the time of Ulugbek, who is the grandson of Timur. In addition to being a king, Ulugbek is actually more well-know for his excellent achievement in Astronomy and General Science. It is said that he had taught lesions of Mathematics and Astronomy in this medressa before.
Located on the hills north-east of Samarkand, it is said that the saint Qusam ibn-Abbas who brought Islam to this region was buried here. That was why Timur and Ulugbek also build the mausoleums of their relatives next to the saint here. You can see probably the richest and most beautiful Islam tile arts here as they were all the best of their times and are well maintained until today.
Rumors had it that this construction was ordered by Timur’s Chinese wife Bibi-Khanym when Timur was away. However the architect fell in love madly with Bibi-Khanym and demanded giving her a kiss otherwise he won’t finish the mosque. After Timur knew about this, soon he executed the architect and decree that women should wear veils from similar stories from happening. Although this sounds not making sense at all nowadays, it does add spices to this once the highest mosque in the Islamic world. With its height of 41 meters, the building was greatly damages after several earthquake and today it looks like there is a need for serious restoration. In fact, I think the building may fell anytime so that’s why I passed through the mosque pretty quickly.
There is a bazaar near Bibi-Khanym mosque. In Central Asia, it is really a fun event to shop at a bazaar. Looking at the faces with totally difference appearances, listening to selling shouting in unfamiliar languages and seeing the exotic products and fruits all make a perfect experience for an authentic Central Asia. What’s more, if you could buy some yummy fruits at cheap prices, it would be even more perfect!
This is the mausoleum of Timur, his two sons and two grandsons. It is said that when Timur died away, his body was supposed to be transported back to his hometown Shakhrisabz. However, when passing through Samarkand on the way, it was stuck due to huge snow. Therefore finally the mausoleum was built here instead.
In the sacred hall lay the marble marker stones of Timur and his sons/grandsons. According to Islam customs, the stones are just markers instead of the real coffins. There are still real tombs underground. We found seats to sit down and listened to the prayer of the people who came here to pay their respects to the National Hero in this holy site. Their prayers are so peaceful, yet extremely powerful. I felt as if I can read their minds and their respects to Timur!
The most interesting thing about Samarkand is that the city landscapes outside the ancient sites are extremely modern, with wide roads, beautiful squares and pedestrian walks. Sometimes I even feel that I’m actually in Europe! On the other side, it may be also hard to imagine its ancient glorious time as a pivot of silk road since all the buildings are renovated to extremely new looks.