Samarkand was known as Markanda, when Alexander the Great conquered it in 329 BC. With Bukhara (see previous post) it’s one of the oldest cities in Central Asia, a leading place on the Silk Road. For a while it was the home of a number of religions – Buddhism, Zoroastrianism, Hinduism, Manichaeism, Judaism, Nestorian Christianity… until the Arab conquest during the 8th century, when Islam took over. Around 1220 the Mongols and Genghis Khan arrived and destroyed a lot, but the city was reconstructed and Marco Polo some 50 years later described the city as very large and splendid. In 1370 Timur (Tamerlane) (see previous post) made Samarkand his capital, built a lot and populated it with artists, craftsmen, scientists… from different parts of his empire. After some centuries with changing rulers, the Russians arrived and in 1886 Samarkand became part of the Russian Turkestan. Samarkand was made the capital of the Uzbek Soviet Socialist Republic in 1925 and remained so for a few years until Tashkent took over.
In my preceding post about Shahrisabz I mentioned an – empty – tomb of Timur. Finally he’s buried in the Gur-e Amir (“Tomb of the King” in Persian) mausoleum from the 15th century. Here are also buried two of his sons and the grandson Ulugh Beg, on whom I will revert further down. Soviet archaeologists opened the crypt in 1941 and found the inscription “Whoever opens my tomb shall unleash an invader more terrible then I”. The same day Hitler launched Operation Barbarossa.
Anyhow, the building is a masterpiece, wonderfully restored – see also top picture. The building has served as model to the Taj Mahal mausoleum. The tombstones we can see are on top of the crypt, the very dark one is the one of Timur.
The Registan is the major monument complex in Samarkand. It was a public square surrounded by three madrasas (educational institutions) including the Ulugh Beg one from the 15th century.
A number of visitors are of course around…
… as well as the cleaning ladies...
… and it's a place to take nice family and wedding photos.
The Shah-i-Zinda necropolis includes some 20 mausoleums, the oldest ones about a thousand years old. It’s surrounded by more recent, "normal" graves.
An earlier version of Samarkand, Afrosiyob, was to be found on a hill, outside the present city centre. It was occupied between 500 BC and 1220, when Genghis Khan arrived. Today remains only a hilly grass mound, with a lot still to be found underground.
Another fascinating place is the Ulugh Beg Observatory. It was built in the 1420’s by Timur’s grandson, Ulugh Beg, but was destroyed by religious fanatics already in 1449… and rediscovered in 1908. The underground part of an enormous meridian sextant was made visible. As said above, Ulugh Beg was the grandson of Timur and he reigned for a short period before being assassinated (by his own son), but he was especially a great astronomer and mathematician who also knew to gather tens of scientists around him, working in the madrasa mentioned above. Their star catalogue published in 1437 gives very exact positions of about 1000 stars. They calculated the year to last 365 days, 5 hours, 49 minutes and 15 seconds, a mistake by only few seconds according today’s measurements. They also determined with perfect exactitude the Earth’s axial tilt to 23.52 degrees, etc. etc… It took some time before Ulugh Beg’s findings reached more common knowledge in Europe, but later we can see how he has integrated the list of the world’s leading astronomers. On the engraving from 1690, we can see Ulugh Beg (third from the left) among earlier and later leading astronomers.
The Samarkand monuments are less concentrated than in Bukhara. Here we can see where to find them.
Walking around the streets, it’s sometimes difficult to imagine some of the nice living quarters behind the walls.
I can of course not resist from showing photos again from a local food market.
We got an improvised invitation to a local gigantic wedding celebration. A few dance steps made a nice end of the day.
Before leaving Samarkand, some short views of an Orthodox and of a Roman Catholic Church.