5 tips for Samarkand

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Center of the Silk Road, capital of Timur’s empire, and beyond that one of the oldest cities in the world: Samarkand can truly adorn itself with many names. The impressive cultural center represents the focal point of the famous Silk Road and is a highlight of any trip to Uzbekistan, not only for well-versed historians. Discover the most famous sights of Samarkand and experience the Observatory, the necropolis Shah-i Sinda, the Registan main square with the three Koranic schools and other unique places. Samarkand is a historical and cultural experience and offers unforgettable insights into the history and the present on the spot.

Tip 1: Registan

Samarkand in the northeast of Uzbekistan is one of the oldest cities in the world. Since the Middle Ages, it has also been called the “Pearl of the Orient” and was one of the most important transshipment points along the ancient Silk Road. The term registan (“sandy square”) generally refers to the main public square in medieval Central Asian cities. It was here that meetings were held, laws were promulgated, or executions were carried out. Apart from that, it served as a trading place of goods. In Samarkand once was traded Chinese silk, tea, horses, precious stones or various spices.

The Registan of Samarkand is one of the most magnificent squares in Central Asia. It is lined on three sides by old Islamic colleges, the so-called medreses. These are particularly splendid and representative buildings from the 15th to 17th centuries, which correspond perfectly with each other.

Tip 2: Ulugh Beg Observatory

Among the historical monuments in Samarkand, the observatory occupies a special place. It was built by Ulugbek in 1428-1429 on one of the hills of the Chupanat chain. According to Babur’s description, it was a three-story building, clad with beautiful glazed bricks, 46 meters in diameter and 30 meters high. The instrument for observing the sun, moon and other celestial bodies was installed in the main hall. In its time, this observatory was a unique construction. The basis of the observatory was a gigantic goniometer (vertical circle) with a radius of 40.21 meters. This sextant-like instrument was aligned with amazing precision on the meridian in the north-south direction. Control installations of modern astronomers prove this. The size of the instrument, the fortunate design, and the scientific experience of Ulugbek and his co-researcher resulted in amazingly accurate astronomical observation.

Ulugbek and his scientists calculated the duration of the stellar year as 365 days, 6 hours, 10 minutes and 8 seconds. The actual value is 365 days, 6 hours, 9 minutes and 9.6 seconds. Accordingly, the deviation is less than one minute!

After Ulugbek’s death, the observatory was destroyed and looted by religious fanatics. Only in 1908 the archaeologist Vyatkin found the first evidence in which the position of the observatory was mentioned. Unfortunately, only the lower part of the sextant and the foundation of the building have been preserved. On the basis of found documents scientists created a model of the observatory.

Tip 3: Gur-e-Amir

Gur Emir, which translates as “Tomb of the Ruler”, was built at the end of the 14th century until the middle of the 15th century as the burial place of the Timurids. Timur Lenk had the Gur Emir Mausoleum built for his grandson Muhammed Sulta, who died unexpectedly in 1403. The magnificent Gur-Emir Mausoleum still represents an architectural and particularly ornate masterpiece in Samarkand. Shortly after its construction, Timur died in Kazakhstan on February 19, 1405, on his way to a campaign in China that had been planned by a longer hand.

Since his actual heir to the throne had died earlier, the once great empire disintegrated in a short time due to succession disputes. Timur was also buried in the Gur-Emir Mausoleum in Samarkand. In addition, two sons of Timur, Sahruh and Miranshah, were buried in the magnificently designed Gur-Emir Mausoleum, as was the second grandson Ulugbek. Thus, the Gur-Emir Mausoleum is an important burial place of various members of Timur’s family, even though until today the mausoleum is mainly known as the burial place of the great ruler Timur.

Tip 4: Bibi-Khanym Mosque

Bibi Khanum Mosque is one of the most famous sights of Samarkand. In the 15th century, the Bibi Khanum Mosque was considered one of the largest mosques in the entire Islamic world. Just as Timur wished, however, the mosque was also one of the most beautiful in the world. The construction of the mosque, which has been lavishly restored today, began in 1399 and was probably completed in 1404. After the extensive restoration work, the mosque is a magnificent sight today and should not be missed on any tour of Samarkand.

Tip 5: Shah-i-Zinda

Built between the 9th and 19th centuries, the necropolis is located in the northeastern part of the city of Samarkand. It currently includes more than 20 buildings.

The historical complex of buildings consists of 11 mausoleums and is one of the absolute Samarkand highlights.

Significant buildings of the complex are, for example, the Amir Burunduq Mausoleum, Amir-Zadeh Mausoleum, Octagonal Mausoleum, Shirin Bika Aqa Mausoleum, Shodi Mulk Aqa Mausoleum, the Qutham ibn Abbas and Tuman Agha complex.

The necropolis is considered sacred among Muslims. In the Qutham ibn Abbas complex, according to legend, Qutham ibn Abbas ibn Abdulmuttalib, a famous cousin of Prophet Muhammad, is buried.