Unlike the mosque in Temur's Dorus Sidiat complex, the dome of the Kok Gumbaz mosque built by his grandson, Ulugh Beg, has been restored to its former azure glory alond with the portal and arch leading into it. The tiling here mimics the astral themes of the tiles on the Ulugh Beg medressa in Samarkand. The internal decoration of the mosque and the two mausolea nearby differs from the usual style of the era in that the largely blue and white palette of the painted and frescoed walls seems to have a strongly Chinese influence - looking for all the world like scenes from a Chinese plate.
Shakhrisabz's bazaar is a delight. A long covered market hall is packed with stallholders selling the usual dried fruit, nuts, bread, sweetmeats, fabric, etc that are the backbone of markets everywhere in Central Asia. Huge piles of folded chupans (the long padded coats worn by young and old in the cold winters here) are stacked waiting for sales that must be hard on a hot summer's day, but the stall-holder will unfold one or two for you so you can see how they are made and warm they must be. As you walk between the rows you are offered a handful of nuts, sugar-coated dried mulberries (delicious), a sun-dried apricot bursting with flavour, sugar candy of excruciating sweetness and dentist-visit-inducing stickines. The open area outside the hall is a sea of sacks of dried goods and piles of fresh fruit and vegetables, the meat section not quite so appealing. Outside in the street a smiling woman explains how an Uzbek cradle works - no need for nappies here - and outside a metalworker's workshop an array of patterned tinware tap and basin units glint in the sun. The smell of grilling shashlyk is a lot more tempting than the huge bowls of thin foamy yoghurt-soup filled with herbs or apples and green peppers, but the locals seem to enjoy them both.
Across the courtyard from the Kok Gumbaz mosque stand two mausolea , each topped by a smaller version of the mosque's great blue dome. These are all that remain of the medressa complex known as the Seat of Respect and Consideration.
The first was built in 1374 by Temur for his father's spiritual advisor and it is thought both men, father and advisor are buried here.
The other mausoleum was built by Ulugh Beg for members of his family who claimed descent from the Prophet's grandson, Husain. One of the gravestones - the Kok Tash (the Blue stone - kok is blue) has a deep groove in the top, worn into it by the thousands of parents who have poured water over the stone in the belief that the water would be infused with health-bringing magical properties that would cure their sick children. Modern scientific analysis has proved the stone's salts have medicinal qualities.
Like the mosque across the way, the decoration here is light and delicate -seemingly Chinese inspired on the walls particularly - though, as in so many places in Uzbekistan, the effects of the dire water problems caused by cotton's insatiable thirst are evident in the damage being caused by the rising water table.
All that remains of the huge summer palace -the Ak-Serai, the White Palace- that Temur built here in Shakhrisabz are the remnants of two massive towers that flanked the entrance. That this was once the greatest of all his palaces is attested to by contemporary writings. Now all that remains of all that splendour are the towers with their crumbling brickwork and beautiful (and, so far, unrestored) tilework of blue, white and gold - including a Kufic inscription on one of the towers that say "The Sultan is a shadow" - an incomplete (and somewhat prophetic) version of the inscription on the other tower which says "The Sultan is the Shadow of Allah". No doubt heads rolled over that!
There are steps to climb the west tower for a great view of the city.
Click for full panorama image
The small town of Shahrisabz sits at the foothills of the Zerafshan mountains about 100km from Samarkand. The shorter mountain pass route takes you over the spectacular Tashtakaracha pass but this is often closed and is unsuitable for buses so it is possible you will have to go via the longer, lowland route - a journey of some 3 hours by car. Whichever way you go, the town is well worth a visit.
Once known as Kesh, and renamed Shahrisabz (Green Town - now usually spelt Shakhrisabz) by Temur who was born here, there are several important buildings that date from Timurid times. It is not a big town and most things that you would expect to see on a day's visit are within easy walking distance of each other, no more than a leisurely twenty minute stroll along the street that leads from the statue of Temur and past the bazaar.
It is possible to get day tours to Shakhrisabz from Samarkand. Alternatively shared taxis leave from Suzangaran St, near the museum in Samarkand. The daily bus takes 4 hours on the lowland route which would make it a very long day.
Unusually, Shakhrisabz's Dorus Siadat - Seat of Power and Might - although built by Temur as a burial place for first one, then another, of his sons shows little sign of the restoration that has been so evident at other buildings of this period of Uzbek history. Instead, its reddish-brown bulk, with its most untypical cone-shaped dome, shows only a trace here and there of the magnificent tiles that once covered it.
A crypt, found when a child fell into it in 1943, contains a marble casket that was prepared for Temur to be buried here along with his sons but that was not to be. Samarkand claimed the great khan's body and the crypt's sarcophagus remained empty. A small fee slipped to the guardian will gain the visitor access to the crypt.
The mosque in the courtyard has an attractive high pillared iwan. Whitebeards in their traditional chupans and boots meet here under the shade of the iwan to talk and to pray.
Although Uzbekistan is an Islamic country (well, almost), it guarantees religious freedom and so it is no wonder that the big Russian commune (?) has her Orthodox church at the southeastern part of the university park (ok, just outside of it).
The Orthodox cathedral is devoted to St. Alexej (Alekseevskii), as a little sign says, and is definitely worth a visit. Make sure, you donate a small amount, although it is not asked for.
If in Shah-i-Zinda’s upper parts (north of Qusam Mausoleum) it is surely interesting to walk a bit further and visit Samarkand’s cemetery. It is huge and stretches almost along the whole rest of the hill slopes between Hazreti Hizir Mosque and Shah-i-Zinda. The graves are very much similar to the ones in the western world, well, to the ones I know from Germany.
It is also a quiet place, shady as well in some parts, if you want to rest a bit on benches during your visit of the otherwise very much unshady Shah-i-Zinda.
On the way from the bazaar to Shah-i-Zinda we’ll see a mosque on the road to Afrasiab/Ulug’bek Observatory, which should be worth a visit, however from the outside only (for non-Muslims). It is old, at least the fundaments, and had been restored early 20th century. The entrance hall is supported by wooden pillars and the ceiling is beautifully carved and painted. It looks a bit like Buhkara’s Bolo Hauz Mosque.
Oh, and the mosque is devoted to Hazreti Hizir, a pilgrim of pre-Islamic days, patrons for travellers.
Most of uzbek people are muslims but russians were here since 18th century and they left their footprint in religion too. For this reason you will find some examples of ortodox temples in this area. This is St. Alexej Cathedral and although the decoration is a little poor inside it's worth to have a look
I liked this church very much. Good proportions and simple, but nice decoration inside. It's an ortodox church and it's near of St. Alexei Cathedral so if you're in this area don't hesitate to visit it. Usually it's closed inside, you can only see it when the mass, at 17:30.
M.Koshgari Street, in front of Hotel Sherdor
...and, truth to tell, probably no Daniel either but local legend says that Temur brought the Old Testament prophet's remains back to Samarkand and had them buried on the slopes of ancient Afrosiab and, ever since, Muslim, Jewish and Christian pilgrims have come to the tomb to pray. That other places, notably Susa in Iran and Hillah in Iraq, also claim to be the lion-taming prophet's last resting place doesn't seem to worry anyone and there can be no doubt this shrine has an air of peaceful sanctity that speaks of centuries of deep faith witnessed here.
Old Testament prophets are renowned for their miraculous abilities and this Daniel - known locally as Khodja Doniyor - is no exception. The relic is encased in an 18 metre long sarcophagus, evidence it is said of the saint continuing to grow even after death. It's believed he will rise again when he reaches his final height - that's going to be quite a sight!
A narrow entrance leads through a short defile that opens into an open space beside a small stream. A steep flight of steps leads up to a second terrace where a nomad's horsetail grave marker hangs high above the mausoleum and a 500 year-old pistachio tree - itself said to have miraculously come back to life after being blessed by the Russian patriach. More steps behind the gatehouse on this level lead up to the grass-covered mounds of buried Afrosiab.
The shrine lies close to the main Samarkand-Tashkent road, not far from the bazaar and the Shah-i-Zindar mausoleum complex (see map - photo 3)
....there was Afrosiab, and, compared to Afrosiab, Samarkand, a mere 800 years old, is definitely the new kid on the block. Despite a presence in Central Asia that lasted 1800 years, all physical evidence of the Sogdians, the founders of Afrosiab (and a chain of city-states that dominated the region), lay buried beneath the mysterious grassy mounds that lay outside the newer city. It wasn't until Russian archaeologists began digging in those mounds in the 1880s that Afrosiab began to reveal its secrets and the long-lost Sogdians began to emerge.
And what an amazing city Afrosiab turned out to be. Beneath the thin crust of loess soil and sparse grass lay a city of an unimagined sophistication. Massive walls surrounded an orderly layout of streets and canals that divided the city into guzars - living and working quarters where the houses and artisan's workshops were supplied with water from local reservoirs. Temples and shrines indicate that Zoroastrianism, Nestorian and Manichean Christianity, Buddhism and local pagan cults were all practiced in an extraordinary tolerance of different faiths. The finds that indicate all this have found their way into museums - the best in St Petersburg it's true, but enough remain in Samarkand's Afrosiab museum to illustrate the wealth and culture that existed here for 1800 years.
The greatest treasures were revealed with the excavation of the citadel - frescoed walls of such vivid colour and lively character they immediately brought the court of the ruler to life. Again, the best were taken off to Russia but those that remain here are still quite entrancing, one depicting the arrival of a royal bride and all her entourage, another the king receiving gifts from foreign lands and a third a Chinese princess being rowed across a river.
Exposure to the air caused the frescoes to begin to fade almost immediately and that, combined with the necessary very low lighting in the gallery makes photography difficult. I have no doubt however, that it won't be long before no photography is allowed and the day may come when access to the real thing ceases and visitors can only see reproductions in an attempt to preserve these fragile masterpieces.
Visiting the museum first and seeing the artifacts and frescoes really helps put the site itself into perspective. Without that, and a good guide, it's just a vast hillocky wasteland. With a knowledgeable guide, the lumps and bumps take the shape of the ancient city and, maybe, reveal a tangible link to the past in the form of a shard or two of turquoise glazed pot with the unmistakeable pearly sheen of of long contact with the earth.
Museum open daily - 9-5.
Location: Tashkent road, 10-15 minutes walk north of the bazaar, about halfway between the bazaar and Ulugh Beg observatory
On Afrosiyab there are the excavations of ancient Samarkand (called in early times Marakanda). You can see some important pieces from this archeological site in Afrosiyab Museum. Nothing special, but there are some 7th century frescoes painted by local rulers (hunting and ambassadorian processions scenes) that are interesting.
The best way to go to the museum is by taxi
Shahrisabz (green town in tajik) is a little town 90kms south of Samarqand. It's important because it was Timur's birthplace and he built here his palace and other important constructions. Although Samarqand was the capital of Timur's Empire he always dedicated a special attention to his homeplace. In essence Shakhrisabz was the second capital of his empire. It had to be the place to his eternal rest too but sometimes things don't happen like we want or like to.
Since year 2000 Shahrisabz forms part of the unesco world heritage list
For more information please visit my