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  • Day30

    Samarkand - City of Tamerlane

    June 14 in Uzbekistan ⋅ ☀️ 31 °C

    Samarkand is strategically located along the Silk Road and has been continuously occupied for at least 2700 years. Set at a trade crossroads and fed by the Zerafshan River, stories of its exotic offerings reached far and wide. Alexander the Great visited in 329 BC (when it was named Marakanda) and remarked that everything he'd heard about it was true except that it was even more beautiful than he'd imagined.

    The numerous historic sites (most of which are reconstructions and/or restorations) certainly provide a glimpse of what the city might have looked like in its heyday. The city has been destroyed and rebuilt a number of times over the course of its history, as different rulers made their mark. Much of the architecture evident now was commissioned by Amir Timur or Tamerlane the Great, who considered himself "Conquerer of the World". Seems he did a pretty good job and it's been estimated that his warring campaigns led to the death of 17 million people. He was also a great patron of the arts and was known to spare the lives of talented artisans so he could bring them to the city to improve and beautify it.

    Our first stop was in fact to the Tamerlane's Tomb, located in the Gur-I-Mur complex. He would have preferred to have been buried near his home in Shakhrisabz but Samarkand was considered more appropriate. His body lies in a crypt below a huge tombstone of jade and amongst family members and his spiritual advisor (presumably not everyone died at the same time!). The interior was truly magical - golden ceiling and walls, decorative sanscript.

    The Registan is considered one of the most dramatic architectural ensembles in Central Asia. Comprised of a central square, with 3 madrasahs (Islamic schools), the size (35m columns), colourful domes and top-to-bottom tile work make it quite stunning. Originally a market area where 6 city roads met, it was later used for military parades and public executions, while the Bolsheviks used it for political rallies, trials and veil burnings. The madrassas were built separately over a period of 300 years, with the first commissioned in the 15th century by the grandson on Tamerlane, Ulegbeck, a renowned scientist and astronomer (and leader). The Registan looks even more spectacular at night, when flood lighting creates wonderful contrasts.
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