Samarkand and Bukhara are both very much the epitome of the Silk Road. Less famous, but impressive as well is Shahrisabz, the birthplace of Tamerlane, tugged in between its well-known neighbors.
14.06.2013 - 27.06.2013 38 °C
All but destroyed by Genghis Khan in 1220 nothing in Central Asia from before the Mongol’s rampage remained standing. A shame since places like Bukhara had long been beautiful centres of Islamic leaning and science.
On 9 April 1336 another of the World’s big conqueror was born in Shahrisabz: Amir Timur (aka. Tamerlane). He chose Samarkand as his empire’s capital, but never forgot this birth town or the proud history of Bukhara. By 1395 Central Asia, Iran, Iraq, Turkey, the Caucasus, and northern India where within Tamerlane rule, while Egypt, Eastern China and parts of Russia paid heavy tributes to avoid obviation. A ruthless conqueror hundreds of thousands – if not millions – where slaughtered in the process, but a religious patron of art and architecture his homeland was plastered with impressive, blue-domed mosques, mausoleums and khanakas (travellers’ and pilgrims’ hospices).
Below are some of the most impressive 'left-overs' from the Timurid rule. See all the Uzbek pictures here.
In today's Uzbekistan is Tamerlane seen as a national hero - if not the nation’s founder (historically incorrect). Thus he is only seen as the great states man, who left the country with countless blue-domed monuments. Even the national museum conveniently forgets the scull-stacking campaigns of conquer; let alone the government who have erected countless statues of him around the country. Here in his birth town, in front of his most ambitious project, the huge Ak-Saray Palace. What is left stands 40m high, was 24 years in the making and build by foreign artisans 'imported' during his campaigns.
The other grand left-over is the grand Kok-Gumbaz Mosque. Slowly being renovated to its former glory. Towering over Shahrisabz main street it's impossible not to notice - and maybe that's the whole point. Just behind it lays the crypt where Tamerlane was supposed to be buried. He never made it here, but lies in a mausoleum in Samarkand (see below). The crypt (pictures in the link above) is normally locked, but is just one of the locked doors in Uzbekistan you can get opened if you tip the key-bearer. Finding the person holding the key is often a much bigger challenge. In this case it was the local imam...
Talking about it, let’s jump to Tamerlanes actual grave site in Samarkand: Named Gur-e-Amir (Grave of Amir) Tamerlane is buried under the black marble stone in the middle. In the Islamic world the crypt are just markers - like Christian grave stone - while the actual bodies are in chambers below. Around the black stone of Tamerlane lies some of his sons and teachers.
Gur-e-Amir seen from the outside: The blue domes are very typical for this architecture, but the tilted stone work is really amazing! The entry portal is decorated with suns and it's worth noticing the perfect spirals running up and down the minarets!
A Soviet anthropologist opened the crypt and removed the bodies in 1941, ignoring the warning on the crypt saying: Whoever opens this will be defeated by an enemy greater than I'. The next day, 22 June, Hitler attacked the Soviet Union.
The most famous of all Uzbekistan's (and the Silk Road's) monuments is The Registan: Three madrassas build around the main square. Registan means 'Sandy Place' and while the place without a doubt must have been fantastic at Tamerlane's time when a bazaar filled the square I kind of find it overrated now. Of course it's an overload of beauty, but more impressive Timurid buildings are found elsewhere, combined with a big road running just behind the photographer (that would be me).
Most impressive is The Registan at sunrise. Unfortunately I did need to bribe your way in. That did cost me seven dollars, opening the whole place up to my alone. It included access to the upper levels and even a trip up to the top of the 35m minarets. Unfortunately is only one of the madrassas bathed in morning sun. The Ulugbek Madrassa named and builds by Tamerlane's grandson; it's the most impressive of the three.
While Samarkand might be a tad to modern and touristic, with the monument spread out throughout the city Bukhara's new and old towns have been kept apart. This treats the visitor to an experience where no matter what small, car-free street you step down at there will be some amazing, not fully restored marvel to behold. This effectively giving off an impressing of stepping back in time, to a point not too long after the last rules of the Timurid era passed away. Above is the old town's skyline.
Full of pools and channels used for washing and bathing (and to carry the plague) Bukhara is a tranquil and pleasant place to visit. Here is the Nadir Divanbegi Khanaka (traveller’s hospice) at the central square/pool of Lyabi-Hauz (Tajik for 'around the pool'). Sipping tea while playing backgammon or chess with the old white-bearded Uzbeks are something I'll never grow tired at - if I was a better loser that is...
The most famous of Bukhara's sights is the Kalon Mosque and Minaret. Build in 1127, before the Mongol raid, Genghis Khan was so impressed by the 47m high minaret that he ordered it spared. The was, however, destroyed, which explaining the lack of Tamerlane’s favourite blue colour on the minaret. It was the only locked door I didn't manage to buy my way into and I - like everybody else - only had the outside view of it.
Probably the oldest monument in Bukhara, I randomly walked into the Turki Jandi Mausoleum while exploring some back alleys. Legends, or so told the chatty gatekeeper me, has it that this place was the most holy of burials and that corpses have been stacked 30 meters deep under the mausoleum. Thus making this one of the world’s biggest voluntarily made mass graves.
Olimjon Khanaka was another amazing sight that I just stumbled upon. Still in use as both living-quarters and workshops I met both a kid decorating silver plates by hand and an old dutar maker (a dutar is a three string traditional guitar), and pictures of both can be found in the initial link.
Lastly a picture detailing the Islamic art used in the Timurid ear architecture: Here from Bibi-Khanym Mosque in Samarkand.