Saturday, June 18, 2011

Land of the Blue Domes and much much more - Samarkand.

The Uzbek summer rolls on! The weather doesn't get much cooler, and the trains are a nightmare. But the sights are amazing and worth seeing. Note to self: if I ever go back to Uzbekistan, don't go in Summer!

Samarkand lies around three hours back in the direction of Tashkent, relative to Bukhara. Here they have what they claim to be 'fast trains', however, they tend to get to their destination around an hour late with surprising regularity. The big issue, however, is the temperature. There we are, stuck in the carriage, whilst the TV blares some Uzbek movie, and no proper windows to open, no working air conditioning. Not just me, the entire train are suffering. Today I returned by train (why did I do that?) to Tashkent. There were grown men with no shirts on. If I wasn't so modest I would have joined them.
 But to Samarkand. This ancient capital is the city of Timur the Great, a lame short man who conquered half the Eastern World in the late 14th century. Impressed? They certainly are here. Much of the architecture dates back to this time, and the three or four centuries that followed. The Registan is one of the principal attractions in Samarkand. Three large medressas that face in to each other. I will put the photos up on the next post as they are on a different flashcard to those appearing in this post. Large, serene, featuring blue domes. There really is a feeling of Iran here.
Blue domes are a popular theme with all the medressas and Mosques of ancient Uzbekistan. The Bibi-Kanum Mosque is an example of that, one of the oldest and at one stage (if my guidebook is to be believed) the largest in the Islamic world (we are talking a few centuries back now).
 Shah-i-Zinda is something rather special. It's a series of tombs along an avenue. You can go inside a few of them, with simple markers for the grave but incredible delicate decorcations on the upper walls and inner domes. A very revered sight for Uzbek Muslims, it is set on a hill surrounded by a much more recent cemetry. Possibly the highlight of a town strewn with amazing Islamic architecture.
Finally I visited the above Mausoleum of Timur himself, buried with his two sons and his successor, Ulugbek, a ruler and an astronomer. The Lonely Planet describes the tomb as understated. Hmmmm, well, I can't agree. Inside the decorcation in gold, blue and black was incredible. Inside the tomb many people pray, hands open palm up, to Timur. Not to God, to Timur. He is a seriously revered figure.

One story I have read and heard. When a Soviet archologist in 1941 open Timur's tomb and found his remains he found an inscription. "Whom so ever opens this tomb will be defeated by an enemy far greater than me'. The next day Hitler invaded the Soviet Union.

Well, it's an interesting tale, isn't it?
Next time I hope to write a little about Uzbekistan as a place, an entity.
No flipping!

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