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Published: June 21st 2017
Geo: 39.6576, 66.9476
Samarkand - in the footsteps of Timur
Where do you start with Samarkand. Taken in 329BC by AlexanderThe Great who married Roxana, daughter of a local chieftain. A key city on the Silk Road, then sacked by Ghengis Kahn in 1220. In 1370 Timur decided to make it his capital and poured a vast fortune into creating buildings worthy of him. After his death his grandson Ulugbek ruled until 1449. Ulugbek was also a prominent scientist - he built a huge observatory.In the 16th Century the capital was moved to Bokhara and Samarkand went into decline. Over the years the great buildings decayed until the Soviets embarked on a huge programme of restoraton to promote the tourist industry. (see later)
My arrival in Samarkand was not on a golden road but on the AfroSiaob bullet train which shuutles backwards and forwards between Tashkent and Samarkand at speeds of up to 140mph. On arrival you find Samarkand is a thriving modern city, it even has a football team (Samarkand Dinamo) but in the old town there are these wonderful buildings.
I started, because it was a short stroll from my hotel, at the Gut-E-Amir Mausoleum, Timor's burial place. It wasn't supposed to be,
Timor had prepared his own fairly modest mausoleum in his home town of Shahrisabz some 90 kms to the south across a range of mountains. The Samarkand mausoleum was being built in 1404 for his grandson and proposed heir, Mohammed Sultan, but Timur died unexpectedly in the depths of winter and the pass across the mountains was snowbound so he was buried here.
10 minutes walk away is the Registan. described by Lord Curzon as 'the noblest public square in the world'. The square is bounded on three sides by medressas, Islamic schools. The earliest was built by Ulugbek in 1420 The other two date to the 17th century.
Beyond the Rgistan is the remains of a huge mosque built on the initiative of Timur's wife (the story is the architect took a fancy to her, which cost him his head). Beyond that is the Cemetery. Now, forgive the South London reference again, West Norwood Cemetery has its best monuments just inside the entrance gate. Well in a similar eay this cemetery, Shah-i-Zinda, has over 40 stunning mausolea just inside the entrance, two of them were built for Timur's sisters
I don't want to turn this into a travel guide to SAmarkand
so will stop there. There is a debate, in one of the medrassas there is an exhibition of photos showing the stae of these building before the restoration (some might say rebuilding) and while they are magnificent they are not what Timur and his successors built. I took the trip to Shahrisabz, his home town, to see the remains of the buildings there including the vast entrance way to his palace (Ak-Saray). These are unrestored, unrenovated - stabilised maybe but no more. And as one of the books I read says you have the sense, looking at the tile decoration, that the man who put those tiles on the wall, dangling from a rope, almost certainly looked down one day and saw Timur ride by. It puts you more in touch with the history.
In Samarkand I was 'adopted' by two young men who hang around the tourist sites trying to engage with English speaking tourists to practice their English. (There English was actually quite good), so they accompanied me all over town, made sure I didn't miss a single monument and on my last evening one of them, Sanjar Mardonov, invited me to dinner with his family. His father, an
architect, who had temporarily discharged himself from hospital, his sisters and brother - one sister had lived in Baltimore for 6 years so spoke fluent English and her 6 year old daughter who had been born in the States and obviously wanted to be back there!
That's it, the highlight of the trip so far. They say Bokhara is also beautiful and is the religious capital of Central Asia - so more delights to come!
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