Sunday, November 22, 2009

Cultural Heritage of Samarkand

Samarkand is unrivalled in terms of its architectural heritage, not only in Uzbekistan, but the whole of Central Asia. Once the capital of the Uzbek Soviet Socialist Republic (between 1925 and 1930), nowadays it is an important center for tourism and the second city of Uzbekistan (only behind the capital Tashkent in importance). The

Sher-Dor (Tiger) Madrassa is almost unique in Islamic architecture as it has depictions of living images on its façade.

Samarkand - Crossroads of Cultures
Ancient Arab manuscripts refer to Samarkand as the “Gem of the East”. In Medieval Europe it was known as “The City of Scientists”. A majestic and beautiful city, Samarkand is truly a city of legends. In 2001, UNESCO inscribed the 2,750-year-old city on the World Heritage List. Founded c.700 BC by the Sogdians, Samarkand was one of the major centers of their civilization, and by the time of the Achaemenid dynasty of Persia it was the capital of the Sogdian satrapy and was already a well established trading town when Alexander the Great captured it in 329 BC and was known as Maracanda by the Greeks.

As Samarkand grew it became a major centre on the caravan routes of Central Asia and over the next thousand years it became noted for embracing customs and ideas from all over Asia. Arab armies heading eastwards in the early 700s conquered the city and introduced Islam. Chinese armies heading westwards lost a battle near the city in the following century and Samarkand acquired paper-making techniques from captured soldiers, becoming the first place outside China to master this precious art.
By 1200, Samarkand was part of the great empire of Khwarizm and had become the most important  Centre for Islamic learning in all of central Asia. It was renowned for its scholarship, religious schools, and elegant Islamic architecture.

In 1220, the Khwarizm Shah provoked Genghis Khan by killing a large number of merchants under his protection. The Khans hordes of cavalry and thousands of siege engineers attacked and pillaged Samarkand, destroying the city and routing the population to such an extent that when Marco Polo visited 50 years later, the city had degenerated into a backwater. In 1370 another great conqueror Tamerlane decided to make Samarkand the capital of his empire, which in a short period he extended from India to Turkey. From 1370 to 1405, he built a new city, collecting skilled artisans from the countries he conquered and putting them to work as painters, bookbinders, and metalworkers. His grandson Ulugh Beg the famous astronomer (whose works were known in Europe during his lifetime) constructed in the 1420s a three storey tall sextant, one of the largest ever built. The ruins were rediscovered in 1908 and can be visited today. The city has an astonishing collection of ancient monuments.        
                                                                                                    Ulugh Beg
The city has an astonishing collection of ancient monuments.
The turquoise domes of Samarkand are among some of the Islamic world’s most evocative architecture. The most magnificent landmark in Samarkand is the Registan Ensemble and Square which are considered the traditional centre of the city. Registan Square is considered an architectural wonder representing some of the finest examples of Islamic Art in the world. The square is lined on the three sides by three sparkling and turquoise tiled madrasahs : Ulugbek Madrasah (1417-1420), the Sher-Dor (Having Tigers) Madrasah (1619-1636) and the Tilya-Kori Madrasah (1646-1660).On the western side is the oldest, the Ulughbek Madrasah, finished in 1420 and decorated with amazing mosaics depicting astronomical themes. Opposite is the Sher-dor Madrasah finished in 1636 and decorated with tigers. This is extremely unusual in Islamic Architecture as depiction of living creatures is normally considered idolatrous. In between is the beautiful Tilya-Kori Madrasah, which was only finally completed in 1660.                                                                                Registan Square at Night

Extensive restoration works have been undertaken to all three buildings. Inferior and exterior facades of the madrasah’s are decorated with an ornament of glazed brick, mosaic and carved marble. After the square the next most known site in Samarkand is that of the Gur-e-Amir Mausoleum (the burial place of Timur).It’s majesty of architectural forms and lines and colourful mosaic designs make it a unique monument of medieval architecture. It's famous blue ribbed cantaloupe dome rises over the tin roof-tops of central Samarkand.
 Ceramic Detail, Tilla Kori Madrassa,Registan Square
 A massive slab of green jade, under which Tamerlane was laid, is said to be the largest such piece of Jade in the world. Another masterpiece the beautiful mosque of Bibi-Khanym is also the stuff of legend. One story says this gigantic ruined mosque was started by Tamerlane’s Chinese wife, Bibi-Khanym, while he was away campaigning in India. It is said that the architect fell for her and refused to complete the building until she gave him a single kiss. The kiss (and maybe more beside) ensured that upon returning Tamerlane ordered them both killed.
Magnificent interior of the dome of the  Gur e Emir Mosque (above Timurs Tomb)
The cupola of the main chamber rises up to 40 m. The mosque was still under construction in 1399 after Tamerlane's return from his conquest of India, according to the writing's of the then Spanish Ambassador Ruy Gonzáles de Clavijo, who reported that 90 captured elephants were employed merely to carry precious stones, to erect the mosque. Its construction was completed in 1404 and for a number of years the mosque was the most prominent in Samarkand, however it slowly fell into disuse, and crumbled to ruins over the centuries.
 Its demise was hastened due to the fact that its builders had constructed it too quickly and had pushed the building techniques of the time to the very limit. Another fascinating site is that of the Shah-i-Zinda, a huge burial complex on a hill opposite the heart of the old town. It is referred to as “the street of the dead”, and comprises many mausoleums and tombs, all covered Shah-i-Zinda
with spectacular turquoise tiles. The name Shah-i-Zinda (meaning "The living king") is connected with the legend that Kusam ibn Abbas, the cousin of the prophet Muhammad was buried there. Coming to Samarkand with the Arab invasion the 7th century to preach Islam.

Later History  In 1500 the Uzbek nomadic warriors took control of Samarkand. The Shaybanids emerged as the Uzbek leaders about this time and in the second quarter of 16th century moved their capital to Bukhara and Samarkand went into decline. After an assault by the Persian king, Nadir Shah in 1720 the old city once again fell into ruin. In 1868 Samarkand came under Russian rule after the citadel had been taken by a  force under Colonel Kaufman. In the following years the Russian section of the city started to emerge largely to the west of the old city.  In 1886, the city was made the capital of the newly formed Samarkand Oblast and grew in importance still further when the Trans Caspian railway reached the city in 1888. After the revolution it became the capital of the new Uzbek SSR before being replaced by Tashkent in 1930. Today it is the second city of the Republic of Uzbekistan and is a magnet for tourists from all over the world who come to see its magnificent Islamic architecture.

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