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Samarkand travel guide and tourist informations, Uzbekistan


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 en¬tire 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 in¬vasion 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 mauso¬leums 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 fif¬teenth century, the Ulugbek 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, Ulugbek’s teacher.

The narrow passage beyond the mausoleum is lined on either side with mausoleums of the Timur period. They form a fantastic spectacle of majolica revetment and tile mosaics. The mausoleum of Shadi-Mulk-aka (1372) and her mother Tour-kan-aka, Timur’s sister, is better preserved than others The facing of the portals is done with blocks of superbly carved glazed terracotta in combination with majolica. The passage between the mausoleums gives way to a charming shady court enclosed by the mausoleum of Touman-aka (early J5th century), and the mausoleums built before the time of Ti¬mur—those of Khoja Akhmad, and of an unknown, A door with the date 1404—1405 which is decorated with carv¬ing and originally had ivory inlay, leads from a court to a fifteenth century mosque and the earliest and principal mauso¬leum, that of Kusam ibn-Abbas.

The colored enameled revetment ot Shakhi-Zindah is unique. The stonemasons who followed one another over a century were able to unite individual buildings into a single architectural ensemble with great artistic delicacy.

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 Shir-Dor (1619—1636) was built where once stood now nonexistent 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 Tillah-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 struc¬tures 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.

Historical and architectural monuments of Samarkand 

- Ensamble Registan Square 
  * Ulughbek Medrasah
  * Sherdor Medrasah 
  * Tillakari Medrasah
- Ruins of Bibi-Khanum Mosque
- Shakhi-Zinda Necropolis
- Gur-Emir Mausoleum
- Ulugbek Observatory and Museum
- Afrosiyob Museum
- Siyob Oriental Bazar 
- Khazrat-Khizr Mosque
- Khodja Doniyor Mausoleum (Saint Daniel)
- Khoja Ahror Vali
- Kok Mosque
- Abu Mansur Al-Matridiy Mausoleum
- Ruins of Kok Saray,  former Palace of Timur
- Namozgokh Mosque
- Ishrat-Khana 
- Khodja-Nisbatdor Mosque
- Khodja Abdu Darun Mausoleum
- Imam Al Bukhari Complex, Muslim pilgrimage place
- Imam Ad-Dorami Mousaleum