Gur Emir Mausoleum, Samarkand
Samarkand's Gur Emir -the Ruler's Tomb - is both magnificent and restrained, inside and out. It was never meant to house the body of Temur - he wanted to be buried in Shahrisabz, the place of his birth - but it was here that his body was brought after his death in 1405 whilst he was enroute for China and more conquests.
It is the dome above all that makes this place such an amazing sight. 32 metres high, it is a huge, soaring, swelling melon, its 64 ribs covered in a glorious mosaic of turquoise, green and gold. The Kufic inscription around the base of the dome proclaims the immortality of God in lettering 10 metres high and the building itself is decorated with elegantly geometric patterns.
Nothing remains of the buildings that were once within the courtyard but, under a light roof, you can see the massive stone that once was used as the coronation stone for the emirs of Bukhara and a huge stone basin that was used to serve a ceremonial drink to the Emir's warriors before they went into battle.
2009 update Work continues on the restoration of the Gur Emir. Outside, the portal that was only partially restored in 2005 (photo 2) is now complete (photo 3). Inside, workmen were busy restoring the lovely honeycomb of pale celadon alabaster that lines the lower walls. It's still just the main chamber under the dome that survives here - walk around the side of that, and all that is standing is a shattered husk of raw brick.
Inside the Gur Emir there are eight sarcophagi, seven of marble and one of deepest green jade, the top a single massive slab, that marks the burial place of Temur himself. No bodies lie within them, the actual tombs are in the crypt beneath, simple stone tombstones lying directly in alignment with the grander markers in the hall above.
Buried beside Temur are two of his sons, Ulugh Bek and another grandson and two un-named children. The last tomb is that of Temur's spiritual advisor at whose feet the conqueror wished to lie.
The hall is beautifully decorated with marble, gold and painted panels above a deep frieze of celadon-coloured onyx tiles. The whole place radiates a solemn dignity and restraint that is very moving.
2009 update Back in 2005 a small sum slipped to the guardian of the mausoleum gained us entry to the crypt below the main hall. A narow staircase led down to a low room where simple stone sarcophagii lay lined up in the same positions as the hall above. In 2009, this is no longer possible and the crypt remains firmly padlocked.
Wherever you go in Uzbekistan you’ll find it impossible to avoid hearing the name of Tamerlaine. It seems every nation needs its heroes, and when the Soviets left the country and their heroic statues of Lenin and Marx were pulled down, it was Tamerlaine who took their places on plinths around the country and who came to symbolise for Uzbeks their new-found independence and freedom. Observers from outside might question his credentials as a hero – this is after all a man who, in attempting to conquer the world, left an estimated 17 million people dead in his wake. But in Samarkand in particular he left the legacy of great peace, prosperity and splendour.
Naturally then his mausoleum is of a scale to impress. An unnamed poet is said to have exclaimed on seeing it, “Should the sky disappear, the dome will replace it”, and you can sort of see what he meant. Built originally for and by his grandson Mohammed Sultan who died in 1403, it became Tamerlaine’s own burial place also, and that of other descendents too, including Ulug Beg. Other buildings would previously have surrounded it (a madrassah and khanagha) but it now dominates its courtyard. Its octagonal shape is crowned by an immense ribbed dome, 32 metres high and covered in turquoise, yellow and green tiles.
You enter the mausoleum from the left hand side, down a short passage added by Ulug Beg where nowadays souvenir books and crafts are sold. Don’t let these distract you for too long – they seem very out of place in this imposing space. Inside the dome is even more overwhelming (photo 2), and is adorned with gilded calligraphy, as are the walls below (photo 3). Beneath it lie the tombs, or rather marble cenotaphs marking the spots below which are the tombs themselves – of Tamerlaine, Ulug Beg and Mohammed Sultan, and also of Tamerlaine’s advisor Mir Sayid Barakah, and of several of his sons. The long pole crowned with a flourish of horsehair marks the grave of a holy man whose remains were found here when the mausoleum was built.
The mausoleum’s centre is dominated by the cenotaphs (the tombs themselves are in the crypt below) of Timur and his closest family and friends. In the middle, of course, the one of Timur, a big block of nephrite (dark-green jade). If you take a picture with flash, you’ll see the crack, room for yet another legend: Nadir Shah stole it in 18th century, but it broke. Then he went into a period of bad luck and upon advice of his staff, he brought the stone back to Samarkand. Needless to say that his bad luck turned into good again.
With flashlight, you’ll see even more decorations on the tombstone – inscriptions, which list Timur’s (believed-to-be) genealogy from Genghis Khan and Ali, 4th caliph of Islam.
And it also has an inscription saying “When I raise from the dead, the whole world will tremble”, adding just another legend to these words: in 1941 anthropologists opened the graves to examine the bodies; next day, Hitler invaded Russia.
During this exhumation, it was proven that Timur was lame on right leg and arm and that Ulug’bek was murdered by beheading.
Together with Timur and his grandson Ulug’bek, his sons Shah Rukh (Ulug’bek’s father), Miran Shah and Umer Sheikh are buried here, as well as Timur’s teacher, Sheikh Said Burke (pic. 5).
Another example of Timur’s building style and surely of his idea about himself as the centre of the world is Gur-i-Amir (“the leader’s tomb”), located southwest in the city.
Timur had it built around 1404, his grandson Ulug’bek finished it (in 1434) to be the burial site for the close family. The completely finished ensemble did have a khanaka (pilgrim hostel) and medressa together with the mausoleum itself around the courtyard (see pic. 5, taken in Tashkent’s Timur Museum). Today, only the entrance pishtaq and outer walls are left, and of course the mausoleum building.
Inside the building is a small exhibition about Timur’s empire size and some souvenirs on display (beautiful ones, however; I still regret not to have bought some fine tile work there).
The inner room of the mausoleum itself is beyond imagination, and even the website below can only give a static view; you need to see this all with your own eyes. Try to get inside when the masses are gone (late afternoon to evening), otherwise the tourists’ twaddling and blethering will destroy the magic atmosphere inside.
The walls are all covered with fine alabaster and onyx; green jaspis with golden inscriptions (pic. 2) tell about Timur’s life (glamourising of course) and arabesces and geometrical patterns of all kind decorate the walls, all in blue and gold (pic. 1). The niches are fitted with marvellous muqanas made of paper-maché also in gold and blue (pic. 3). Make sure you ask the sitekeeper to illuminate the room – this all will best show you the details of all this splendid decoration.
For those who are interested in the architecture – Bernhard Peter has also a highly interesting article with scetches of Gur-i-Amir, including a cross-section, which gives you ideas about the Timurid cupola concept (inner one separated from the outer one, to give more room for expansion):
Bernhard Peter about Gur-i-Amir
I was really impressed by how exquisite and sophisticated the ensemble is. It is within walking distance from the main attraction - Registan, and you can see the tomb of the greatest and probably the best known ruler of the land - Timur and his relatives. Take a guided tour to learn about the legends that surround this place (and it's not just the usual blah-blah-blah, the stories are fascinating)
It is one of the main historical monuments in Samarqand. Amir Timur, his sons Mironshokh and shokhrukh and his grandsons Mukhammad Sultan and Ulugbek have been buried here.
After his death in 1405 Amir Temur was buried in Samarkand in the mausoleum which was erected for his grandson Muhammad Sultan. He should have become successor of Amir Timur but he died early. The ashes of Said Baraka, who was Amir Temur's spiritual perceptor, were also transferred and buried here.
The mausoleum was completed during Ulugbek times. He designed the east gallery as the new entrance to the mausoleum. In this way when you enter to the main space you don't see the tombstones from the heads (like people did when they used the main entrance) but from the main side.
In 1404 Timur the Great ordered to build the mausoleum Gur-Emir (Tomb of Emir) for his loving grandson Mukhammad Sultan.
With time, the mausoleum became the family crypt of the Timurids dynasty.
Next to Tamerlane, there are the graves of his sons Shakhrukh and Miranshakh and his grandsons Mukhammad Sultan and Ulugbek.
It is indeed one of the majestic architectural monuments in Samarkand.
Well, i've heard some versions of the same legend. Our guide told us the following one:
When the soviet anthropologist Mikhail Gerasimov was doing the works to open the tombs of Timur and his relatives he recieved the visit of three strange characters: old men with long beards and dressed in wite. They told him: don't open Timur's tomb. He was a warrior and if you open his tomb you'll free the spirit of War. Of course Gerasimov went on with his work and opened the tombs... The following day, June 22 1941 Hitler attacked the Soviet Union
BTW. Gerasimov prooved that the bodies where those of Timur and his relatives. Timur was really lame in the right leg and his grandson Ulugbek died from being beheaded.
This was absolutely my favourite dome. It's a fluted blue 64ripped (64 because Mohammed died when he was 64) dome and our guide told us that between the external dome and the internal dome are 11meters. This is maybe to create a more intimate space inside leaving the immage of magnificence for outside.
The dome is between two minarets. All around them you can read the inscription "Allah is great", "Allah is great"
Timur was one of the greatest conquerors in Central Asia. He was born in Shakhrisabz by the year 1320 from a noble family of turkish origins. In only twenty years he created one of the biggests Empires in the world from India to Russia and Anatolia establishing his capital in the mythical city of Samarkand. Brave warrior and very intelligent he had always the loyalty of his nomadic subjects and his soldiers. The tradition of the Mongol Empire, accepted by all the nomadic tribes in Central Asia, said that only descendants of Gengis Kan could become "Qan" and rule as kings. For this reason Timur never used this royal title instead of his great power and authority. He only became güregen (royal son-in-law) ,the highest title he could use,when he married a Mongol princess, descendant of Gengis Kan.
In1405 he died unexpectedly of pneumonia in Kazakhstan, where he was in the course of planning an expedition against the Chinese and was buried in Guri Amir Mausoleum in Samarqand.
This is the burial place of Amir Timur (Tamerlane).
According to our guide, the tombs were opened in 1941 by a Soviet anthropologist, who proved that Timur was indeed lame. However he ignored the alleged curse, and the following day Germany invaded the Soviet Union.
Timur means “clever, talented”.Tamerlane, two sons and two grandsons, including Ulug bey, lie beneath the modest Gur Emir Mausoleum.
As with other muslim mausoleums, the stones are just markers; the actual crypts are in a chamber in the basement. In the center is Timur's stone, once a single block of dark-green jade.The plain marble marker to the left of Timur's is that of Ulug bey, and to the right is that of Mersaid Baraka, one of Timur's teachers. In front lies Muhammed Sultan, Timur's grandson by his son Cihangir. The stones behind Timur's mark the graves of his sons Sahruh and Miransah. Behind these lies Seyh Umar, the most revered of Timur's teachers.
So according to the west culture one of the most "cruel" ruler is buried with his teachers...
I think that you know already the famous legend about the tomb and the IIWV.
I dont know if any westerner ruler which is not considered as "cruel" accept to be buried with his teachers?
“should the sky disappear, the dome will replace it” enthused a poet on glimpsing the peerless cupola atop Tamerlane’s mausoleum Gur Emir, i.e. the tomb of the ruler.
Between 100 and 1401 his favourite gradson, Mohammed Sultan, erected a madrassah and khanagha complex here. Mohammed’s death in 1403 prompted Tamerlane to complete the ensemble with a mausoleum. Although Tamerlane intended burial in his hometown Shakhrisabz, he was soon laid to rest beside his grandson and followed by descendants down to Ulug Beg, whose presence has spurred recent restoration.
Mohammed Sultan’s blue tiled portal opens onto courtyard once cornered with minarets and flanked by madrassah and khanagha, but today only the foundations survive. Their absence emphasizes the simple monumentality of the Gur Emir itself, based on an octagonal chamber decorated with geometric grikh. Above it, belting the tall, cylindrical drum, the inscription God is Immortal thunders in white Kufic script three meters high. Crowning the building in fluted majesty is the sky-blue dome, gently swelling to a height of over 32 meters. Across the 64 ribs spreads a skin of coloured glazed tile in a continuous lozenge pattern.
In the courtyard stands a great marble block carved in arabesques and known as the Kok Tash. historians discredit the belief that this was Tamerlane’s throne, but from the 17th century it was certainly used as coronation stone by the Bukharan emirs, while prisoners of noble birth served as footstools. Stories also claim that the nearby bowl was Tamerlane’s bath for pre-prayer ablutions or even a gauge of military loss: before battle, each soldier squeezed pomegranate juice into it; once the survivors had drunk, the residue determined the number of fallen.
Entrance fee: 1900 sum (750 extra for camera)
To see the crypt of the famous Timur Lem, you have to pay 1000 sum extra.
Timur built the crypt in 1404 for his family but was buried himself there because, being ill, he didn't manage to reach his hometown Shakrisabz
Astronomer Ulughbek is also buried here
It gives you a chill standing next to the grave of one of the world's greatest military heroes