Afrosiab is one of the few ancient places remaining somewhat untouched. While there is a museum exhibiting some of the past artifacts found onsight, the whole of the grounds have not been fully excavated. Needless to say, this was quite fascinating for me- real and not rebuilt, with no fences or pesky guards. As of August 2008, you're free to roam! There's a small fee to get into the museum, which, if you're interested in stuff from the first centuries AD, is pretty neat. But the best is to wander, though there isn't really much to see.
The site of Afrosaib, ancient Marakanda, is worth a visit.
The museum there is very interesting, with details of the many different layers of civilisations excavated on the site.
The highlight is a room containing fragments of 7th century frescoes.
The Sogdian ruins sprawl over 300 acres of dry loess cut by ravines and excavations around the museum. Most impressive are the remains of the rule’s citadel overlooking the river Siab. Thick walls extend 2 storeys deep into the earth, dividing the palace complex of halls, rooms and corridors.
15 minute s walk from the museum, hugging the southern bank of the Siab and the northern wall of Afrosiab is the legendary Tomb of Daniel (aka Doniyor) of the lion’s den, the Hebrew saint allegedly brought back form Persia by Tamerlane. Beneath 5 domes is a giant sarcophagus, 18 meters long, for mullahs believed that in even in death Daniel grew half an inchi every year (he was supposed to rise again when he reaches a certain size), and thus his grave was enlarged annually.
From the 6th century B.C. to 1220 A.D., Samarkand weathered the pattern of invasion and renewal from the hill-fort Afrosiab in the northeast of the modern city. Behind defensive ramparts with corridors and arrow slits, built of unbaked brick, waterproof reeds and anti-seismic juniper, lived the Sogdians, famed go-betweens of East-West commercial and cultural relations. They were lost to history until Russian archaeologists began probing the ruins in 1880s. their finds and those of later Soviet experts are gathered in the marble museum on Afrosiab’s slopes.
The small museum shows excavation photos, relief maps, early ceramics and coins from Graeco-Bactrian times, altars of fire offerings and solar symbols from the Zoroastrian Kushan period.Silk Road profits from the 5th century onwards are reflected in jewellery, cosmetics, c oins and bone-carved chessmen, but chiefly in wall paintings on public buildings. In 1965 the royal palace yielded the museum’s highlight, a series of 7th century murals over 2m high, displayed in their original layout like an epic narration of courtly splendour.
Even with the decay of time and Arab mutilation (the Prophet’s prohibition on idols led the Arabs to scratch the eyes) the paintings survive in colourful testimony to the skilled artists at the peak of Sogdian cultural activity.
Leading a bridal procession from to the ruler of Samarkand is a princess atop a white elephant before an entourage of maids on horseback, bearded camel-riders holding the rods of ambassadorship, a cavalcade of horsemen and a file of sacred swans. The central mural depicts the ruler himself, magnificently clad in robes and jewellery, receiving the gifts of foreign envoys: silk bearing Chinese, long-haired Turks, Pamiri nomads and pigtailed Koreans. The last scene suggests a Chinese princess in a boat, perhaps being rowed to the royal harem, while on the shore horsemen chase a leaping leopard.
Legend traces the history of Shah-i-Zinda back to 676, when Kussam-ibn-Abbas, a cousin of the Prophet Mohammed, arrived to convert Zoroastrian Sogdiana to Islam. The success of his preaching provoked a gang of fire-worshippers to behead him whilst he was at prayer. It appears t he Arabs established Kussam, who probably never saw Samarkand, into the cult of Shah-i-Zinda (the Living King) by adapting a pre-Islamic mythical ruler, maybe Afrosiab himself, reigning beyond death beneath the earth.
The Timurid aristocracy continues the tradition of building mausoleums near the sacred site, often on earlier remains. These works display the creative wealth of the empire in surprising harmony, for no mausoleum repeats another.
Worshippers still flocked on the necropolis until Soviet conversion into an anti-religious museum forced visitors to cloak their beliefs with secular trappings. Independence has restored sanctity to the street, holy men to its mosques and pilgrims to its tombs.
The holiest site in Samarkand is a necropolis of mausoleums climbing back in time from the northeast fringe of Tamerlane’s capital over the old city wall and onto the southern slope of ancient Afrosiab.
In the 14th and 15th centuries, it developed into and architectural testing ground whose celebration of ceramic art, unrivalled in Central Asia, makes this street of the dead perhaps the most visually stunning sight in a city of superlatives.
A walk around the adjacent cemetery provides a panorama of Shah-i-Zinda’s varied cupolas and proof of the popularity of sacred proximity, form simple Muslim graves to striking Soviet memorials. The cemetery may also be used to enter and exit the ensemble, avoiding payment of the hefty entrance fee (7000 sum).
A bit outside of today's Samarkand is the excavation site of Afrosiyab, which form a distinct hill. The archeological excavation, beared outstanding results, was started here in 1894.
It is said, Afrosiab was the name of the legendary king of Turan. For its turn, Turan was the name of huge territory, which formerly almost completely covered the space of Central Asia.
As the capital of Sogdiana, Aafrosiab was conquered by Alexander the Great in 329 BC. In the early 8th century AD, it was conquered by the Arabs and soon became an important center of Muslim culture. In 1220 the city was almost completely destroyed by the Mongol ruler Genghis Khan.
There is a small but very interesting museum. The exhibitions narrate about the history and culture of Sogdiana, an ancient Persian province, 6-8 centuries. The wall-paintings from the palace of local governors come first among those revelations. The wall paintings show animals and birds and scenes of the life at the court.
NOt far from this museum is the famous Ulughbek Observatory, a structure of the 15th century with a small museum.
Just opposit the Hotel Afrosiab is the Gur Emir, a beautiful building with a big blue cupola. Gur Emir is the Tajik word for "Tomb of the King". This architectural complex contains the tombs of Tamerlane, his sons Shah Rukh and Miran Shah and grandson Ulughbek and Muhammad Sultan. Also honoured with places in the tomb are Timur's teacher Mir Said Baraka.
The Mausoleum is a palacelike building with a courtyard where in the past has also been a mosque and a hostel for the Derwishes (Chanaka). It was build in the beginning of the 15th century by the architect Muhammad Ibn Mahmud from Isfahan. The building had influences on the architecture of Centralasia for about 200 years.
There is an interesting story about the green stone of Timur's tomb:
"Under Ulughbek's government a solid block of dark green jade was placed over the grave of Timur. Formerly this stone had been used at a place of worship in a Chinese emperor's palace, then as the throne of Kabek Khan (a descendant of Genghis Khan) in Karshi.
In 1740, the Persian warlord Nadir Shah stole the stone, but it broke in two and he started to have a run of extremely bad luck. His advisors urged that he return the stone to its rightful place immediately. The second time the stone was disturbed was in 1941 when Soviet archaeologists opened the crypt. The sculptor I. Gerasimov was able to reconstruct Tamerlane's facial features from his skull, and it was also confirmed that he was a giant for his day, well over six feet tall, and would have walked with a pronounced limp. Further historical information about the assassination of Ulughbek and the authenticity of the other graves was also confirmed. However, the Soviet archaeologist involved also invoked the curse, as a short time later, the Nazis invaded Russia. The tomb inscription reads: "Anyone who violates my stillness in this life or in the next one, will be subjected to inevitable punishment and misery".
A 30 minute walk from the hotel.
Entrance fee 1900 sum.
very new museum with lots of displays showing the history of Samarkand and the archeological excavations
In a separate room, you can see beautiful fresco's from the 7th century (1000 sum to take one picture)
Outside, you can wander around the sandy hill and find yourself some pieces old pottery.
With my pocket knife, I behaved like an archeologist and had a lot of fun
We went all the way to the river to find Daniel's Tomb