"Precious pearl of the Islamic world", "Edem of the East", "Face of the Earth" were the names given to Samarkand by the poets and historians of the past.
Samarkand has been on the list of UNESCO World Heritage Site since 2001. It flourished as an ancient city, and it is still important in modern Uzbekistan. Samarkand was founded in the 7th century and prospered under the Timurid dynasty. Samarkand was at the forefront of Islamic architecture, and its significance is witnessed in the old town. There are numerous mosques, madrassas and residential houses, lined on narrow streets and built in medieval Islamic fashion. The western part of the city is more modern, with architecture reflecting 19th and 20th European design and style, influenced through Russian colonisation. The city has often referred as a crossroad of cultures. Samarkand was also an important trade stop along the Silk Road.
Samarkand has a 2500 years-old history. Convenient geographical location of Samarkand in Zarafshan river basin made this city the important crossroads on the Great Silk Road.
Samarkand - one of the ancient cities of the world, along with Rome, Athens and Babylon, is the most popular tourist centre both of Uzbekistan and the whole Central Asia as well. Founded in the midst of 1st century DC, it was named first Marchanda and later Afrosiab. Its most prosperous time was under the rule of Amir Temur. Born in Shakhrisabs, the Sahibkiran made Samarkand the capital of his great empire stretching from the Ind River up to the Bosfore.
For many centuries the Registan Square was and still remains the centre of Samarkand. As the history says, many centuries ago, small river crossed the square where the first medrassah was constructed. Years have passed, the river dried up leaving only sands in the river-bad. In the 15th century the first medrassah was founded just on that place giving name to the square Registan (means "The Sandy Spot"). Beginning from that time, all celebrations, festivals and Sunday's bazaars took place just at that place.
Shakhi-Zinda Mausoleum located on the hillside of the Abrosiab settlement is a monument of pride of all Central Asian architecture. The main construction took place during the 14th and 15th centuries under the rule of Amir Temur. The female burial places of Temur's family predominate the ensemble.
The Gur-Emir Mausoleum was constructed by order of Amir Temur, because of the premature death of Sahibkiran's dearly loved grandson, Mukhammad Sultan, are preserved in the sacred memory of the Temurids under the turquoise domes of Ghur-Emir. (Ghur-Emir means "The Tomb of the Emir").
The Juma Mosque built in 1399 in honour of Amir Temur's beautiful wife, Bibi-Khanum, is one of the most magnificent buildings in Samarkand. Construction of the mosque was continued for five years. No expense was spared in terms of building materials and skilled workers for the mosque's construction. But in 1405 Amir Temur died during military maneuver in China. The mosque was not yet completed. Today only some of the renovated buildings bear testimony of the former splendor of the Bibi-Khanum mosque.
The history of Samarkand is closely connected to famous scientists, poets and philosophers such as Abu Ali ibn Sino, Rudhaki, Omar Khayam, Navoi, al-Khorezmi, etc.
Many tourists visit Samarkand to pay homage to the relics and sacred places of the Islamic world. One can visit the grave of Saint Kusam ibn-Abbas, a place that during the middle age, when visited was regarded equal to a Hadj to Mecca.
Samarkand with its unique historical and architectural monuments, age-old national traditions and holidays and secrets of Asian cuisine awaits guests to this experience of time long gone.
Must see places in Samarkand
History knows Amir Temur who died in 1405, as a great sovereign, commander and founder of world power. During the years of his reign, Temur was constantly dealing with building activity: he created new and reconstructed old towns, built fortresses and constructed irrigation systems. Having established a huge empire and having become its absolute ruler — Emir, Temur made Samarkand the capital of his state. The city made a deep impression on Temur's contemporaries: it was named "The Sparkling Point of the World". Amir Temur is esteemed for having revived belief in Islam, infringed during the Mongolian dominions and for his leading role in stimulating the Renaissance of Middle Eastern culture which took place during the 15-16th centuries.
Mausoleum of the Prophet Daniil
The Biblical Prophet Daniil, known in the East as Hoja Daniyar, lived in 4—5th century BC. He was a descendant of Solomon tsar, revered by the three world religion. It is considered that parts of Daniil remains, namely a hand, were conveyed to Samarkand by Temur. The beautiful mausoleum was constructed over the burial place of Daniil, being reconstructed at the beginning of the 20th century. Quite near to mausoleum there is a water spring with delicious water that is considered a sacred one and everyone wishing to visit mausoleum, should have a drink of this water and wash the open parts of the body. This is a place of pilgrimage both of residents and numerous guests from all over the world. In 1996, the Patriarch of All Rus Alexey II during his stay in Samarkand put a visit to mausoleum and sanctified it. As they say, after sanctifying the mausoleum, the pistachio-tree being dead, began to blossom again.
Next to the Gur-Emir Mausoleum, the small-sized Rukhabad Mausoleum (means "Adobe of the Spirit") could be found. Central Asian sheikh Burkhan ad-Din Sagarji, famous for his contribution to the conversion of the East Turkestan nomads to Islam, his wife Bibi-Khalifa and their ten children were buried at this mausoleum. Burkhan ad-Din Sagarji was married to Chinese princess and died in China. It was Burkhan's wish to be buried in Samarkand called by him as "Town of the God". By order of Temur the domed mausoleum was constructed in 1380. Later Burkhan's son Abu Said and other members of family were buried near the famous sheikh. According to legend there is a copper box with seven hairs of the Prophet Mukhammad under the dome of the mausoleum.
Construction of the palace was started in 1380 and completed in 1404. The Ak-Saray Palace can serve as an example of the main government building — the residence. The arch of the huge construction had a span of about 22 meters — the biggest one of all Temurids structures. The palace, encircled with gardens and ponds, stood out in its beauty of decoration. The yard was encircled with magnificent apartments, reception halls and rooms for feasts. Unfortunately only the picturesque ruins of Ak-Saray have survived to this day, but even these scarce fragments provide an idea of the former beauty of this architectural work of art.
It was constructed by order of Amir Temur because of premature death of his dearly loved grandson Mukhammad Sultan in 1403. He was first in the line to the throne and go-Governor of the state. The great ruler, his sons and grandsons as well as sheikh Mir-Said Bereke are preserved in the sacred memory of the Temurid's under the turquoise domes of Gur-Emir. Gur-Emir means "The Tomb of the Emir". All the headstones are made of marble, and only that one belonging to Temur was made of nephritis. It was brought by order of Ulugbek and put on the grave of Amir Temur. The ensemble includes medressah, khanaka united by the square-formed inner yard with the high walls, four corner located minarets and a portal decorated with beautiful mosaic. Grandeur and beauty of architectural forms as well as colorful mosaic decorations make the Gur-Emir Mausoleum the unique masterpiece of Middle Asia.
The Chapan-ata Mazar (15th century) located to the north-east from Samarkand, was built in honour of the myphical holy "The Herdsmen's Father". Since olden times, his cult was very popular among the people especially among the cattle-breeders. By its architecture it was constructed as a mausoleum, but archaeological excavations did discover neither burial nor crypt. Being located on the rocky top the mazar is good observed from any point of the city.
In the 20ties of 15th century on one of the hills, the governor of Samarkand, Mirzo Ulugbek, built the biggest observatory in the East that can not compare with any other in the world. His star tables Zidji-Gurgani plied by him in his observatory in Samarkand, have kept their scientific value to date: astronomic tables content coordinates of 1018 stars. By Babur's words, who have seen the observatory, it was the three-storied building covered with beautiful glazed titles. The observatory 30-meters height building had 46 meters in diameter. A huge instrument — sextant was placed in the observatory to observe the Moon, the Sun and other starts of the vault of heaven. Shortly, after the death of Ulugbek the observatory was destroyed and its location forgotten. In the early years of the 20th century the observatory was rediscovered and excavated by the archaeologist V.Vyatkin. The bottom part of its main device was found — a huge quadrant with a radius of 40.2 meters and an arc 63 meters long. Presently, the Ulugbek Museum is situated next to the remains of the former observatory. Pages of the Zij as well as medieval engravings, photographs of the archaeological dig and a collection of astronomical instruments are displayed at the museum.
The most grandiose construction to be built in Samarkand on the Emir's order, was the Bibi-Khanym Cathedral Mosque which was named after his senior wife. Construction of the mosque was started in 1399 and continued till 1404. According to Temur' idea this new mosque had to outshine anything he had seen before in the conquered lands. It was a large-scaled construction where the skilled masters' achievements of that time were concentrated including mosaics-, marble- and wooden-carvings, as well as plaster paintings. Public worship was started in the mosque in 1405 when Amir Temur died during military maneuver in China. The mosque was not yet completed. Today only some of the renovated buildings bear testimony of the former splendour of the Bibi-Khanum mosque.
On the south side of Afrasiab hill stands a mosque constructed in honour of the legendary Muslim saint Hazret Hyzr (an eternal wanderer and patron of merchants). For a trading city receiving caravans Hazret Hyzr was very valuable as a patron saint, capable of granting riches and success for distant journeys. The present mosque was constructed in the middle of the 19th century over the remains of the ancient mosque. Decoration of the mosque includes the elements of carved alabaster and the ceiling paintings. The mosque is a wonderful sample of Samarkand school's national architecture.
On south-eastern slope of Afrasiab is situated one of the famous architectural ensembles of Samarkand — Shakhi-Zinda Necropolis. This picturesque memorial ensemble (Shakhi-Zinda means "The Alive Tsar"), named after burial complex where the first cousin of the Prophet Kusam Ibn Abbas was buried, could be rightfully called "The Necklace of Architectural Masterpieces". Shakhi-Zinda is the most ancient architectural monument of Samarkand (midst of the 11th c.). The ensemble consisting of eleven mausoleums, built on one after another during the 14th — 15th centuries, was known as a big religious and cultural centre. Beginning from the 14th century, the Shakhi-Zinda Ensemble is considered a holy place of Samarkand. The Amir Burunduk Mausoleum, the portals of two anonymous mausoleums and the octahedral mausoleum were added in the 1380s to'90s. Mausoleums constructed under the rulers of Amir Temur, Mirzo Ulugbek and other Temurids are the brilliant page in the history of architecture of Samarkand. The ensemble created during centuries, is remarkable for the unprecedented magnificence of its architectural decor. The refined beauty of Shakhi-Zinda seems to defy death and proclaim the eternity of the true, spiritual life.
The Registan Square
It is located in the centre of the ancient city of Samarkand and includes many architectural monuments that make up this unique complex. Ulugbek, "The Scientist on the Throne", patron of science and education and grandson of Amir Temur, erected buildings such as medressahs, khanakas and mosques on the central part of the square. The beautiful and majestic buildings of Ulugbek (15th c.), Sher-Dor (17th c.) and Tillya-Kari (17th c.) are still part of Registan Square today. In the time of Amir Temur the Registan became the main meeting place and focus for trade and crafts activities. It became a centre on which the six main streets of the city radically converged. Under Ulugbek the Registan was used for military parades and public decrees. After completing construction of medressah Ulugbek gave lectures on mathematics and astronomy till his death. Two years later after construction of the Ulugbek Medressah, the ruler of Samarkand Yalangtush Bahadur ordered to build the copy of the medressah and the second, Sher-Dor Medressah was built opposite it. Several years later, the same ruler of Samarkand ordered the third — Tillya-Kari Medressah that was built like medressah but used mostly as mosque: Tillya-Kari has low minarets to call people to pray.
Imam al-Bukhari Memorial Complex
It is located 12 kilometers from Samarkand. At one time, the mosque was constructed here, quite near the grave of Mukhammad Ibn Ismail Bukhari. The complex includes mausoleums, mosques, administrative and other buildings constructed along the perimeter of inner yard. The Imam al-Bukhari mausoleum is located in the center of complex. This cubical building is crowned with a seventeen-meter dome. The right side door leads downstairs do dakhma — place of worship. On right side, under the sagana decorated with light blue onyx, there is a grave of al-Bukhari covered with marble. On left side of the inner yard there is a mosque that can accommodate simultaneous around 1500 prayers. Walls are decorated with light-green, blue and white glazed slabs, as well as with marble, onyx and granite; floor is decorated with girikh. Near the mikhrab niche there is Kisva — Kaaba covering, presented to Uzbekistan by the king of Saudi Arabia.