Bibi-Khanym Mosque, Samarkand
Lady Bibi was the beloved wife of Timur.Bibi Hatun Mosque (15th century)was the largest structure of its time in the world.Tamerlane's idea was to to build the most beautiful mosque of the world and he did it . It was built between 1399 and 1404 by 600 slaves and 100 elephants brought from India, with 200 architects, artists, master craftsmen and masons from the rest of the empire. An observer wrote of the finished mosque: "Its dome would have been unique had it not been for the heavens, and unique would have been its portal had it not been for the Milky Way".However Timur was not satisfied of construction. He hang the architects There is also a legend about construction of Bibi hatun mosque..
Its turquoise dome newly retiled and the Kufic inscription once more complete, the Bibi Khanum mausoleum is now open to visitors again after many years of neglect. Whether one of the three women buried here is truly the Bibi Khanum who received the fatal kiss is,of course, debatable - as is the truth of the tale itself. Bibi Khanum actually means "elder wife" and whilst it is known that Temur's senior wife did commission the mosque that bears her name, whether or not she was young and beautiful enough to tempt the architect is a moot point! Still, when did the truth get in the way of romantic tales of jealous husbands, beautiful wives and lovers who can fly?
It is known that the mausoleum was built in 1397 and once had a medressa as part of its complex.
Bibi-Khanum was Temur's Chinese wife, and he commissioned the mosque that now bears her name to be the biggest, the grandest, the most beautiful mosque of any he had ever seen. Big and grand and beautiful it certainly is - but such was the rush to build it that it started to fall down before Temur had died. An earthquake in the 17th century caused more damage. The Tillya-Kari became the city's congregational mosque and so Bibi Khanum was further neglected until, by the late 19th century, it had ceased to be a mosque altogether.
Restoration was begun by the Soviets in the 1970s, but the financial problems that followed independence have seen the work halted and much of the place is still looking the worse for wear.
Despite all that, it is a magnificent complex. A huge portico leads into a central courtyard where two small mosques with wonderful ribbed domes face each other across a massive marble Koran stand. The soaring entry portal and the main mosque are covered in elegant geometric patterns.
And the kiss? Legend has it that the architect fell in love with Bibi Khanum and managed to persuade her to allow him one kiss - but the kiss was given with such passion that it left a mark for Temur to see. Such infidelity was intolerable and Bibi Khanum was thrown to her death from one of the minarets - the architect escaped by growing wings and flying away to Mecca from the top of another!
2009 update Work has been resumed on the mosque but, as Photo 5 shows, the interior is still untouched and there is still an enormous amount to be done.
This mosque has recently been renovated, though as with some other renovations to monuments in Uzbekistan, the work was a bit slapdash in places (our Uzbek guide kept pointing out the poor quality of modern materials used for renovations everywhere we went).
According to legend, this mosque was built on the orders of Timur's wife, Bibi-Khanym, whilst he was away, but the architect fell in love with her and refused to complete the work unless she gave him a kiss. Timur was not pleased.
The central courtyard contains a giant Koran stand. Another local story is that any woman who crawls under this will have lots of children. Needless to say, I did not try it.
As Tamerlane devastated Northern India, his favourite wife, Chinese princess Bibi Khanum, ordered the construction of a giant mosque to surprise the conqueror on his return to Samarkand. Its towering minarets and vast dome soon challenged the heavens, which just a single arch remaining unfinished. When she questioned the chief architect, a young captive from Persia, she found him so enraptured with her beauty he refused to continue until she granted him a kiss.
“But all women are the same” she replied, “take one of my slave girls. Look at this dish of coloured eggs, every shade of the rainbow, yet break open the shell and all difference disappears”. Her suitor brought forth 2 bowls, filing one with spring water, the other one with white wine. “Their colour and shape are the same”, hea reasoned, “but one leaves me cold and the other is intoxicating”. Fearful of Tamerlane’s imminent return, she finally agreed to a kiss through her hand. Alas! The ardour of his passion burnt an imprint on her cheek. The arch was finished, but her master’s joy at the spectacular present turned quickly to rage at this mark of infidelity. The luckless princess was cat to her death from the top of a minaret, while the architect fled up another with a squadron at his heels, sprouted wings and flew to Mecca.
From this day, Tamerlane commanded all the women in his empire cover their faces with veils, lest they tempt men to covet their neighbours’ property.
The legend of the “Chinese Princess Bibi Khanum” probably stems from Tamerlane’s chief wife Saray Mulk Khanum, daughter of a Mongol Khan and involved in building both mosque and mausoleum, but so advanced in age (Bibi Khanum means “elder wife”) as to be unlikely to tempt the architect.
Flush with plunder from the sack of Delhi in December 1398, Tamerlane vowed to create a mosque without parallel in grandeur or décor throughout the Muslim world. Despite the ravages of time on one of his foremost expressions of power, the remains still captivate the visitor by their fantastic scale and romantic legend.
The best slave-artisans in the realm laboured to realise the emperor’s plan. 95 elephants imported from India hauled wagons laden with marble. As at Tamerlane’s palace, courtyard activity was paramount and the portals leading onto these magnificent arenas were considered just as important as the building themselves, so Tamerlane, believing the portal too low, had it rebuilt at great haste.
Bib Khanum’s portal soared 35m around an 18m arch with flanking minarets 50m. It led to a large rectangular court paved with marble, cornered by minarets and fringed by a gallery of 400 cupolas supported by 400 marble columns. North and south were side mosques with fluted domes. Ornamentation was suitably magnificent: carved marble and terracotta, glazed mosaic in multiple form, blue-gold frescoes & gilt papier-mache.
Yet soon after consecration of the mosque, worshipers were already dodging falling bricks, while later earthquakes accelerated the decay. Bukharan emirs stripped it for building supplies and in the early 19th century. Tsarist offices used the mosque as a stable & cotton market before the Soviet preservation became reconstruction works in 1974.
All three mosques have crudely reappeared, retiled in turquoise-blue on yellow-brown brick, the classical Samarkand contrast of sky and earth.
At the centre of the courtyard stands a great lectern of grey Mongolian marble donated by Ulug Beg. Once it held the 1 sqm Osman Koran, a 7th century treasure brought here by Tamerlane, taken to St. Petersburg in 1873 when the Russian removed the lectern from the dangerous prayer hall, and subsequently returned to Tashkent by the Bolsheviks.
The most spectacular building in Samarkand is the Mosque Bibi Hanim, which Timur built in honor of the mother of his wife The Great Hanim. The mosque was build between 1399 and 1404. The building is one of the biggest and most beautiful in the Orient. It is 109m long and 167m wide. A wide courtyard with a well and some old trees has space for many hundred people. The decoration is with many fine mosaics. Inside the walls are decorated in blue and gold.
The mosque slowly fell into disuse, and crumbled to ruins over the centuries, likely due to the fact it pushed the construction techniques of the time to the very limit, and the fact it was built too quickly. It partially collapsed in 1897 when an earthquake occurred.
Now in past few years the mosque has been reconstructed and renovated. The blue melonshaped cupolas gleam in the sun. In the courtyard an old and very big book holder made of stone is left from the very beginnings of the mosque.
The mosque Bibi Hanim is again an impressive building and overwhelmingly beautiful. However the traces of earthquakes can still be seen.
From here it is only a few steps to the big Bazaar.
This is not one mosque, but three: two fairly normal in size, and the third on a truly grandiose scale. This is Tamerlaine’s great work, his attempt to build a mosque larger and more splendid than the Muslim world had ever seen. But his ambitions here overstretched the capabilities of his craftsmen, and the mosque was doomed almost from the start, though not from want of effort. He employed the very best slaves and workers, imported 95 elephants from India to haul the wagons and, when he judged the portal too low, had it pulled down and ordered it to be rebuilt. He himself superintended the work, coming to the site each day in his litter, and arranging for meat to be thrown down to the men digging the foundations rather than have them stop working for a moment. The result was a mosque of never-before seen proportions – a portal over 35 metres tall (photo 2) leads to a huge courtyard, which was originally surrounded by a gallery of 400 cupolas supported by 400 marble columns. The main mosque on the eastern side has a portal of over 40 metres, and all was adorned with the most ornate tile-work, carvings, gildings etc.
But this splendour wasn’t to last. Almost from the first day it was in use, the mosque began to crumble, putting worshippers in peril. No one seems to know for certain why this was – maybe the building was simply too ambitious for the technologies of the day. Whatever the reason, this is one ancient structure that has so far defied the attempts of modern builders to restore it properly. Thus when I went inside I was taken aback to see not the beautifully restored interior I’d come to expect by this point in our travels but a semi-ruin held together with great iron bolts (see photo 3). Weirdly though, this seemed to emphasise even more than if it had been restored the great scale of this monument to Tamerlaine’s ambitions.
Back outside in the courtyard is a huge marble Koran stand, designed to hold the Osman Koran now on display in Tashkent (see photo 4 and my Tashkent page, once completed).
Bibi Khonim's ring was very impressive. It was a mongol ring, a unique piece, and it was very famous for its particular design and richness. Of course, it was Bibi Khonim's favourite jewel and she wore it everywhere. When she died, it's said she was buried with it.
During russian times, archaeologists opened her tomb to prove Bibi Khonim was really buried there. And it was true, they could find Bibi Khonim's body still with her wonderful ring. But some days after, the ring disappeared and nowadays nobody knows where it is.
But Uzbekistan in some way still owns this ring. If you take a note of 100 sums you will see a design with the emblem of Uzbekistan in the middle (first picture). Fold the paper like on the second picture and....here it is, BIBI KHONIM'S RING! :-)
It's a 14th century mausoleum and it formed part of a big complex that included a big madrasah, the mausoleum of Bibi Khonim's mother and two more women of her kin. It was high octahedral construction with a cylindrical reel. Interior was decorated by a mosaic and paintings of paradise garden landscapes. In XVIIIth it was destroyed during the invasion of Nodir Shakh.
In the center of the courtyard stands a huge marble stand for one of the four original Holy Koran, which was brought to Samarqand by Timur. This Koran was taken by Russians and brought to Ermitage. After long negotiations it finally returned to Uzbekistan (except 4 pages, that were left in Ermitage) and now it's kept in a Museum (i don't remember where :-(()
You can immagine how huge is this book by seeing the stand!.
There are two local traditions about this stand:
-The woman who crawls under the stand will have lots of children
-Wish for something and then turn around the stand for three times. Your wish will come true
I only did the second one, i'll tell you if it works :-))
It was built under Amir Timur order as the main cathedral mosque in Samarqand. It takes the name of Bibi Khonim in honor of the senior wife of Timur, a mogol princess very beautiful and wise. She carried out supervision of the construction in his absence and there are lots of legends around her and the main architect of the mosque.
This mosque was planned to surpass all existing monuments in other countries. Architects, artists, masters and craftsmen from Azerbaijan, Khorosan, India and other regions were involved to the construction of this magestic complex. The construction lasted 5years.
The arch of the entrance was flanked with powerful minarets of 50m height. Main entrance had bronze doors and there was a text that said: "Sound of juge gates of it, made of an alloy of seven metals, calls praying seven climates to the house of Islam"
The mosque collapsed in an earthquake in 1897. Recent restoration has reinstated only its external face.
This is the only monument in Samarqand (and paradoxically maybe it's the most beautiful) that is not inscribed in Unesco World Heritage List. The reason is that Russians used iron to stabilize some of its parts during restoration
Bibi Khanum Mosque has such a magic atmosphere almost all day long; so you should take your time and stay here at least 1 hour in the morning and some time in late afternoon. Morning, as nothing can beat this mysterious feeling inside of the main sanctuary, when light falls through the wood carved windows (of which I still don’t know why it has the hole :-), pic. 5). And evening, as then all is painted with golden light.
As soon as I entered the huge restored main pishtaq, I was somehow on another planet. It was quiet inside, only birds were singing and some old men came to sit on the shady benches, while a souvenir seller was quietly setting up his goods around the Qu’ran stand in the middle of the courtyard. This Qu’ran stand is said to have once stood in the main sanctuary – another proof of the dimensions, Bibi Khanum Mosque was meant to have. There is a cute belief about this stand – read what Leyle of WanderingCamels wrote about it.
The main sanctuary is restored on most of its outside, the turquoise dome gleams in the sun (pic. 4). Interesting that the minarets flanking the sanctuary’s iwan are of octagonal shape (pic. 2). Take some time to look at all the marvellous restored tile work, which is kufi calligraphy and geometric ornaments in perfect symmetry.
Wandering around the rest of the areal gives you an idea of the mosque’s size once. In some places, you can still see parts of the marble and granite pillars; 500 of them once supported the arcades around the courtyard.
I’ll add some additional pictures of this magic place into travellouges.
Daily 8 a.m. to 6 p.m. (except national holidays),
2800 som and additional 700 som for taking pictures (all valid for 3 days).
Uzbek name: Bibiхоnim mаsjidi
Russian name: Биби Ханум
We continue now to what once was the biggest mosque in Central Asia and the one with the maybe shortest shelf life – Bibi Khanum Mosque. Timur had erected it in honour of his favourite wife, Saray Mulk Khanum, daughter of Chagatay Khan, around 1404. Paintings of this legendary woman are found all over in the museums of Tashkent (see pic. 5). The mosque was meant to be bigger than anything, Timur had build before and even bigger than anything else in those Central Asia days. But this also was her fate – she was built too quick, too high, too enormous and started to collapse just years after she was finished. This was also enhanced by the earthquakes, which are typical for this region.
But a visit, not even a virtual one, cannot be described or recommended without showing how the mosque once looked after contruction.
Undoubtedly it was the biggest and most probably also the most beautiful one in Islamic world – according to the model, which is displayed in Tashkent’s Timur Museum (and reconstructional drawings and sketches of independent architects); see pictures 1-4.
The ensemble covered once an area of 140 x 100 m, its main entrance portal was less bulky than others, had vaulted arch windows all over and two minarets, placed at the sides of the iwan. All in all she must have been covered in tile work of different decoration techniques, mostly blue, turquoise and white and kufi writings on walls and domes.
A chronicler of these days once compared her beauty unique as heaven and the Milky Way.
As mentioned already, Timur’s megalomanic ideas about building size brought Bibi Khanum Mosque a very bad and sad fate for a long time. She started to deteriorate just some years after finalization . Earth quakes also had their parts in the game and over the years and ages this once marvellous mosque collapsed and turned into a pile of bicks and debris. It must have been a sad sight, according to a picture I found in a book (see pic. 1).
Around 1950, Soviets have started to restore the mosque; up to doday (mid 2006) already parts of her beauty have been brought back. However, it will take ages, if ever, to show her original glory. Somehow I think they should not restore more – what I saw mid 2006 was already “enough” to feel the magic of this place, and maybe more restoration would “overdo” it.
By now the main buildings are restored, at least the outer walls. Special techniques have been used, such as fixing the walls with iron tubes and also separating the outer walls from the load-bearing brickwork. If you go inside the main sanctuary (entrances at the northern and southern sides), you’ll see the huge cracks in the brickwork. Well, not real cracks – just what was left after putting together the pieces of the puzzle stones. On the other hand – this all gave the mosque a very special and magic atmosphere, almost eternal. The floor is still sand and I can highly recommend to visit Bibi Khanum early morning; the play of light and shadow on the sandy floor is almost out of this world.
And… :-) no, I don’t know why there is a hole in the wooden window. But this little imperfection makes it all very much perfect :-)