Samarkand is one of the oldest continuously inhabited cities in Central Asia and is the site of many wonderful examples of Islamic architecture. It was founded between the 8th and 7th centuries BC. Prospering from its location on the Silk Road between China and the Mediterranean by the time of the Achaemenid Empire of Persia, it was the capital of the Sogdian satrapy. The city was taken by Alexander the Great in 329 BC, who called it in Greek Marakanda. The city was ruled by a succession of Iranian and Turkic rulers until the Mongols under Genghis Khan conquered Samarkand in 1220. In the 14th century it became the capital of the empire of Timur (Tamerlane) His grandson, Ulugh Beg, took the throne after Timur’s death and made Samarkand into one of the most important scientific centers of the Middle Ages. Ulugh Beg built a unique observatory, where many important mathematicians and astronomers from all over the Islamic world gathered to study the heavens. The astronomical research that was carried out there was still being used by Europeans in the 17th century. After the collapse of the Timurids the importance of Samarkand decreased and the capital moved to Bukhara. Rising again to prominence after the annexation by the Tsarist empire in the mid 19th century, today Samarkand is the second city of Uzbekistan and draws large numbers of visitors each year to see its architectural wonders.
Samarkand was noted for being an Islamic centre for scholarly study, three important Madrasas are situated around Registan square at the heart of the city these include:
Ulugh Beg Madrasa’s façade is decorated with geometrical stylised forms centres on four imposing iwans (rectangular vaulted halls walled on three sides, with one end entirely open framed by minarets). The square courtyard within includes a mosque and lecture rooms fringed by dormitory cells for students. The 17th-century ruler, Yalangtush Bakhodur, constructed of the Sher-Dor Madrasa opposite the Ulugh Beg Madrasa and the Tilla-Kori Madrasa at right angles to it to form the present monumental complex. Tiger motif mosaics in the spandrels of the Sher-Dor’s facade flout Islam’s proscription of the depiction of living beings on religious buildings. The Tilya-Kori acted not only as a madrasa but also a grand mosque. It has a two-storied main façade and a vast courtyard fringed by dormitory cells, with the usual four iwans on its axes. The mosque whose main hall is abundantly gilded, occupies the western flank of the building.