Shahrisabz (75 kilometers south of Samarkand) is the birthplace and hometown of Tamerlane. Located in the foothills of the Zeravsshan mountains, it is home to about 100,000 people and features a number old structures associated with Tamerlane, including part of a 14th century palace and mausoleum. In its day Shakhrisabz was probably just as grand as Samarkand but much of the city was destroyed by the Emir of Bukhara in the 16th century.
Shahrisabz, which translated as “Green city”, is one of the most attractive ancient cities of Uzbekistan. It can easily be visited in a day side trip from Samarkand. The road between the two places traverses a steep mountain pass which is closed in winter, but offers a great view from spring through early fall.
The city has a large number of architectural buildings, and the historic city center is included in the UNESCO World Heritage List. The most famous are the Ak-Saray palace, Dor-ut Tilovat memorial complex, Kok-Gumbaz mosque, the mausoleums of Dor-us Saodat, Shamsuddin Kulal, Gumbazi-seyidan. Samarkand was the capital of Tamerlane Empire but Shahrisabz became the second capital city of his vast state, which was constantly taken care of by him, improved well and decorated.
In ancient times, Shakhrisabz was called by historians and geographers as Nautak, and in the Middle Ages: Kesh. In written sources, it was also referred such names as “Dilkash”, “Kubbatul ilm shaft adab”. Today, the government of Uzbekistan is actively implementing the concept of Shahrisabz being “the city of festivals”. Under a an initiative of the President of Uzbekistan Shavkat Mirziyoyev, in September 2018, the First International Festival of Art of Maqom was held in Shakhrisabz, and now will be staged there every two years.
In A.D. 629, early in the Tang Dynasty period, the Chinese monk Xuanzang (Hsuan Tsang) left the Chinese dynasty capital for India to obtain Buddhist texts from which the Chinese could learn more about Buddhism. He traveled west — on foot, on horseback and by camel and elephant — to Central Asia and then south and east to India and returned in A.D. 645 with 700 Buddhist texts from which Chinese deepened their understanding of Buddhism. Xuanzang is remembered as a great scholar for his translations from Sanskrit to Chinese but also for his descriptions of the places he visited — the great Silk Road cities of Kashgar and Samarkand and the great stone Buddhas in Bamiyan, Afghanistan. His trip inspired the Chinese literary classic “Journey to the West” by Wu Ch'eng-en, a 16th century story about a wandering Buddhist monk accompanied by a pig, an immortal that poses as a monkey and a feminine spirit. It is widely regarded as one of the great novels of Chinese literature. [Book: "Ultimate Journey, Retracing the Path of an Ancient Buddhist Monk Who Crossed Asia in Search of Enlightenment" by Richard Bernstein (Alfred A. Knopf); See Separate Article on Xuanzang]
Xuanzang was as philosopher, educator and translator as well as being a monk and traveler. Tansen Sen wrote in Education about Asia: “ Xuanzang was a leading Indophile of ancient China. The Chinese monk not only promoted Buddhist doctrines and the perception of India as a holy land through his writings, he also tried to foster diplomatic exchanges between India and China by lobbying his leading patrons, the Tang rulers Taizong (reigned 626–49) and Gaozong (reigned 649–683). In fact, the narrative of his pilgrimage to India, The Records of the Western Regions Visited During the Great Tang Dynasty, was meant for his royal patrons as much as it addressed the contemporary Chinese clergy. Thus, Xuanzang's work is significant both as an account of religious pilgrimage and as a historical record of foreign states and societies neighboring Tang China. In fact, in the work Xuanzang comes across both as a pious pilgrim and as a diplomat for Tang China." [Source: Tansen Sen, Education about Asia, Volume 11, Number 3 Winter 2006]
According to Silk Road Seattle: Xuanzang was a Chinese Buddhist monk and translator who traveled across the Tarim basin via the northern route, Turfan, Kucha, Tashkent, Samarkand, Bactria, then over the Hindu Kush to India. He departed the Tang capitol (Chang'an) in 629 and returned via the southern route in 645. The remainder of his life was spent translating into Chinese the sutras which he had collected in India. At the request of the Tang Emperor Taizong (r.626-649) he composed a description of the lands through which he traveled. After his death, his travels and story became fantastic legends which were used in plays and novels."Source: Silk Road Seattle, depts.washington.edu/silkroad ]
Xuanzang in Kesh
Xuanzang reported: “Ki-shwang-na [Kesh, Shahrisabz, Uzbekistan]: This kingdom is about 1400 or 1500 li in circuit; in customs and produce it resembles the kingdom of Samo-keen. From this place going south-west 200 li or so, we enter the mountains; the mountain road is steep and precipitous, and the passage along the defiles dangerous and difficult. There are no people or villa;es, and little water or vegetation. Going along the mountains 300 li or so south-east, we enter the Iron Gates. The pass so called is bordered on the right and left by mountains. These mountains are of prodigious height. The road, is narrow, which adds to the difficulty and danger. On both sides there is a rocky wall of an iron colour. Here there are set up double wooden doors, strengthened with iron and furnished with many bells hung up. Because of the protection afforded to the pass by these doors, when closed, the name of iron gales is given. [Source: “Xuanzang's Record of the Western Regions”, 646, translated by Samuel Beal (1884), Silk Road Seattle, depts.washington.edu/silkroad |:|]
“Passing through the Iron Gates we arrive at the country [p.37] of the Tu-ho-lo. This country, from north to south, is about 1000 li or so in extent, from east to west 3000 li or so. On the east it is bounded by the T'sung-ling mountains, on the west it touches on Po-li-sse (Persia), on the south are the great Snowy Mountains, on the north the Iron Gates. The great river Oxus flows through the midst of this country in a westerly direction. For many centuries past the royal race has been extinct. The several chieftains have by force contended for their possessions, and each held their own independently, only relying upon the natural divisions of the country. Thus they have constituted twenty-seven states, divided by natural boundaries, yet as a whole dependent on the Tuh-kiueh [p.38] tribes (Turks). The climate of this country is warm and damp, and consequently epidemics prevail. |:|
“At the end of winter and the beginning of spring rain falls without intermission; therefore from the south of this country, and to the north of Lamghan (Lan-po), diseases from moisture (moist-heat) are common. Hence the priests retire to their rest (rain-rest) on the sixteenth day of the twelfth month, and give up their retirement on the fifteenth day of the third month. This is in consequence of the quantity of rain, and they arrange their instructions accordingly. With regard to the character of the people, it is mean and cowardly; their appearance is low and rustic. Their knowledge of good faith and rectitude extends so far as relates to their dealings one with another. Their language differs somewhat from that of other countries. The number of radical letters in their language is twenty-five; by combining these they express all objects (things) around them. Their writing is across the page, and they read from left to right. Their literary records have increased gradually, and exceed those of the people of Su-li. Most of the people use fine cotton for their dress; some use wool. In commercial transactions they use gold and silver alike. The coins are different in pattern from those of other countries. |:|
Historic Centre of Shahrisyabz: UNESCO World Heritage Site
The Historic Centre of Shakhrisyabz: was designated a UNESCO World Heritage Site in 2000. According to UNESCO: “The historic centre of Shakhrisyabz contains a collection of exceptional monuments and ancient quarters which bear witness to the city's secular development, and particularly to the period of its apogee, under the rule of Tamerlane and the Timurids, in the 15th-16th century. [Source: UNESCO]
“The Historic Centre of Shakhrisyabz, located on the Silk Roads in southern Uzbekistan, is over 2000 years old and was the cultural and political centre of the Kesh region in the 14th and 15th century. The monuments and ancient quarters can be found within the medieval walls, parts of which still remain. . . . Construction of elements continued in Shakhrisyabz throughout different time periods, lending a unique character to the place by the succession of different architectural styles. Despite the inroads of time, the remaining vestiges are still impressive in the harmony and strength of styles, an enriching addition to the architectural heritage of Central Asia and the Islamic world. [Source: UNESCO]
“Shakhrisyabz contains not only outstanding monuments dating from the period of the Timurids, but also mosques, mausoleums, and entire quarters of ancient houses. The covered Chor-su bazaar was built at the cross-roads of two main streets, in the form of an octagon with a central cupola, with no particular decoration but with an eye to the exterior effect of bold architecture. The baths, rebuilt on the site of the 15th century baths and still in use today, are heated by an elaborate network of underground conduits.
“In addition to these monuments, the town also offers a variety of interesting constructions of a more modern period, including the Mirhamid, Chubin, Kunduzar, and Kunchibar mosques. Period houses reflect a more popular architectural style, with rooms typically laid out around a courtyard with veranda. ”
Sights in Shahrisabz
Amir Timur Museum of the History of Material Culture was opened in 1996. And houses 21,000 works and objects related to Timur and other historical figures associated with Shakhrisabz such as Hisrav Dehlavi, Mirza Bedil, Mirza Golib. The main purpose of the museum is to aid the study the history of the development of the culture in Shakhrisabz from ancient times to the present. The museum building is located in the complex of Chubin Madrasah, built in the 14th-16th centuries and included by UNESCO in the list of “Universal Values”. Address: Shahrisabz, St. Buyuk ipak yuli, house 3, Chubin Madrasah
Mausoleum of Gumbazi Saidon was built in 1437 on the orders of Mirzo Ulugbek (1394-1449), the grandson of Timur. The tomb together with other buildings makes up a single and unique memorial-architectural complex Dorut-Tilovat. It adjoins the Mausoleum for Shamsaddin Kulala (died in 1368) from the south and resembles architectural monuments of the era of Mirzo Ulugbek, built on the necropolis of Shahi Zinda in Samarkand, in its southward appearance. The tomb of Gumbazi Saidon was built for members of the family of the Saidov’s Termez branch (the descendants of the Prophet). The interior of the mausoleum is decorated with floral ornaments. In the room of the tomb of Gumbazi Saidon are tombstone plates with inscriptions.
Kok Gumbaz Mosque is one of Sahrisabz’s majestic and must-see sites. Built during the reign of Ulughbek in 1435, it is central domed structure that has been fully preserved. There are inscriptions from the Koran in majolica frame on the outer side of the dome. Once there were held the most important religious services. Kok Gumbaz is the main monument of the Dar ut-tilavat complex. The mosque structure is a square measuring 12. 52 × 12. 61 meters with a dome resting on top. On four sides there are deep niches 4. 48-4. 63 meters wide. Epigraphic inscriptions are laid out in mosaic form on the drum of the outer dome, as well as on the main facade and in the interior of the building. There are different types of Arabic script handwriting, along with traditional ornaments. The inscriptions on the portal are fragments from the Koran (2: 127-128). On the drum of the mosque are kufic inscriptions composed of bricks. 1-2 ayats of surah al-Fath (48) are written in kufi handwriting in white letters on a yellow background. In the interior of the mosque is a composition of repeated sacred maxims. Written in yellow letters on a blue background with Kufi Banna handwriting: — “Power belongs to God. ” On the drum of the mosque inscriptions are written in white letters in suls on a blue background, surah al-Jum (62). The surviving fragment of the inscription on the southern gable wall. The text is written in suls handwriting on a blue background in combination with isly ornaments.
Mausoleum of Gumbazi Saidon was built in 1437 by order of the famous Mirzo Ulugbek (1394-1449), the grandson of Timur. The tomb together with other buildings makes up a single and unique memorial-architectural complex Dorut-Tilovat. It adjoins the Shamsaddin Kulala mausoleum (died in 1368) from the south and resembles architectural monuments of the era of Mirzo Ulugbek, built on the necropolis of Shahi Zinda in Samarkand, in its southward appearance. The tomb of Gumbazi Saidon was built for members of the family of the Saidov’s Termez branch (the descendants of the Prophet). The interior of the mausoleum is decorated with floral ornaments. In the room of the tomb of Gumbazi Saidon are tombstone plates with inscriptions.
Ak Saray Palace
Ak Saray Palace (central Shakhrisabz) was built by Tamerlane to commemorate his victory at Khorezm. It took 24 years to build and was regarded as more impressive than anything in Samarkand. Describing the 50-meter-high portal, a Spanish ambassador, who visited it in 1404 wrote, "The work is so beautifully done that one needs to examine it little by little. " After one of Hundreds — maybe thousands — of local and foreign craftsmen, architects and builders participated in the construction. Ak-Saray Palace literally means “The White Palace. ” Unfortunately all that remains of palace are two 30-foot-high bases of the portal. These are still worth seeing. They are covered with blue, white and gold mosaics. On their sides are written Islamic slogans in Arabic such as "Sultan is a shadow of Allah. ”
According to UNESCO: The Ak-Sarai Palace construction began in 1380, the year following Timur's conquest of Khorezm, whose artisans were deported to work on the palace and provide its rich decoration. Although Samarkand may boast a great many Timurid monuments, not one can rival the Ak-Sarai Palace in Shakhrisyabz. The foundations of its immense gate have been preserved: this architectural masterpiece is outstanding in its dimensions and bold design. [Source: UNESCO]
The two separate entrance portals are over 40 meters tall. The portal arch collapsed about 200 years ago. Its span was 22. 5 meters. The entire surface of the northern facade is decorated with mosaic ornaments. Fancy compositions of geometric patterns in different colors imitate oriental carpets. According to the plan, Aksaray was an elongated rectangular building, with a yard measuring 120-125 × 240-250 meters. According to the Spanish ambassador Clavijo, this was a three-part building, which consisted of an administrative part, a reception room and a garden-yard part with two-story rooms for housing. Eloquent poetic and prose texts written in Suls, Naskh, and Kufi scripts are printed on different parts of the Aksaray portal. They imprinted the maxims of the royal power, the beneficence of the ruler in relation to his subjects and for the benefit of his possessions, they say about the shifting power. The inscriptions of the northern facade of the southern wall of the portal of the Aksaray building are preserved. The text is placed in a frame, written in Arabic in suls handwriting in white letters on a blue background.
Dorussiaodat Mausoleum was finished in 1392 by Tamerlane for his family members. Believed to have rivaled Ak-Saray palace in grandeur, it is mostly a ruin now. Among the building that have survived is tall crumbling tomb of Tamerlane’s eldest son, Jehangir, who died in 1392. Another son, Umar Sheikh, is also buried here.
According to UNESCO: The Dorus Saodat is a vast complex which was destined as a place of burial for the ruling family and contained, in addition to the tombs themselves, a prayer hall, a mosque, and accommodation for the religious community and pilgrims. The main façade was faced with white marble. The tomb of Timur, also of white marble, is a masterpiece of the architecture of this period and it is also one of the finest memorials to be found in Central Asia. [Source: UNESCO]
The Dorus-Saodat complex arose after the death of the eldest son of Tamerlane Jehangir (1376), whose mausoleum has a dome ceiling in the form of a cone. Located east of the Dorut-Tilovat complex. In the past, both complexes formed a single ensemble and were part of the main Shakhrisabz necropolis. The tombstone of Sagana Jehangir is located in the mausoleum.
According to other versions, the mausoleum was erected in honor of the holy Hazrati Imam. The complex is also known for the crypt of Timur. It is assumed that the grave of Umar Shaykh is located on this territory. The tombstone of Timur’s grandson, Said Ahmad, discovered not far from here, indicates that the necropolis was the burial place of Timurids and the aristocracy of the Barlasov family, from which Tamerlane himself originated.
Tamerlane’s Mausoleum (in an alley behind the Dorussiaodat Mausoleum) was built by Tamerlane for himself but never used by him. The crypt can be reached through a green door in a bunker. The room is unadorned except for quotes of the Koran written on the arches and is almost completely occupied by the a single stone casket. On the casket is some biographical information about Tamerlane (offered as evidence that the casket was intended for him). Inside the casket are two unidentified corpses. The tomb was discovered in 1960. Visitors are only allowed in if they pay $35 and join a tour organized by the Hotel Sharhrisabz.
Tamerlane Mausoleum is located 35 meters east of the remnants of the entrance portal of the Hazrat-i Imam architectural complex. The crypt and monument are a unique architectural structures. There is no similar type of crypt in the whole Middle and Near East. Made of limestone, it has a cruciform plan with to deep arched niches.
The entire surface of the niches, archivolts of arches, part of the panels and medallions are richly decorated with epigraphic inscriptions. The first acquaintance with the text of the inscriptions was made by Ya. G. Gulyamov in 1933. Later, in 1942, the monument became the object of research by M. E. . Masson and G. A. Pugachenkova, who wrote: “The crypt is designed for a single burial, impresses with its strict solidity and extraordinary parade. ” The inscriptions on the wall are a variation of the Suls handwriting and contain fragments from the Quran. The inscription begins in the western niche of the crypt and continues in other niches. The surahs of the Koran al-Mulk (67) al-Fatiha (1), and 255 ayat surah al-Baqarah (2), some benevolent prayers (du’a), the names of Allah (al-Asma ‘al-Husna), as well as common to such monuments formula the praise of God.
Qarshi (100 kilometers southwest of Samarkand) is the capital of Qashqadaryo (Kashkadarya) region Region and has a population of about 225,000. The city is an important in natural gas production center but is best known for it woven flat carpets.
Kashkadarya Region Local Lore Museum has more than 30,000 items. Since February 23, 2007, the museum has been operating in a new building located in A. Navoi Park. With the opening of the new building of the museum, a new exposition was organized, dedicated to the 2700th anniversary of the city of Karshi in cooperation with the international Uzbek-Greek Foundation for Cultural Assistance. Address: Karshi, St. Eski Shahar 1. Tel: +998 (75) 2215395
Kusam Ota Ensemble (15 kilometers northwest of Qarshi, in the village of Pudin) is considered one of the main centers of the Yasaviya Sufi brotherhood. Located in the Karshi oasis, the ensemble consists of several buildings — a mosque, a mausoleum, a room for pilgrims (zeorat-khona), three gates and a tomb. According to legend, Kusam-ata was one of the spiritual teachers of Bach ad-Din Naqshband (died in 1389).
The buildings of the necropolis were erected at different times — from the 9th to the 19th centuries. The central place is occupied by the Kusam-ata mausoleum, rebuilt several times. The epigraphic monuments of the complex are gravestone inscriptions and some fragments of architectural inscriptions.
Carved gravestones of gray marble, dating from the 15th-16th centuries., Are located in the oblong mausoleum to the right at the entrance to the northern courtyard. On the wall of Ziyorat-Hona (a neighboring room with the mausoleum of Iskhak-ata) there are fragments of a gravestone of brown color, on which there are inscriptions. A fragment presumably dates from the 14th century. The fragment contains the formula of monotheism (Kalima and tavhid).
Siypantosh Rock Paintings
Siypantosh Rock Paintings (40 kilometers to the northwest from Shakhrisyabz) are situated at an elevation of 820 meters in the southwest ridge of Zarafshan mountains, in Kashkadarya Region in upper gorges of Kuruksaj, in the northern suburb of a village by the same name, opposite a the rural school. The site is difficult to date but may be around 3,000 years old. It was nominated to be a UNESCO World Heritage site in 2008.
According to a report submitted to UNESCO: “Siypantosh - “slippery stone” - represents the group of rocky canopies, located on the right, turned to the east, slope of the ridge of Kuruksay, differing with many exposures granite-diorite gob. The stone canopies which have formed as a result of aeration, have rather equal dome-shaped surfaces towering above an inclined plane of the rock on 1-1,5 meters and more. Two big canopies are allocated: the first, basic, length about 8 meters and width 3-5 meters, and the second canopy located nearby, the length about 4 meters and width up to 2 meters. On the bottom, planes of the both canopies are available made by paint and incused images, put on the rough surface of the stone, covered limy for short while, having places dark grey, red-brown or yellowy-brown shades. [Source: National Commission of the Republic of Uzbekistan for UNESCO]
“Figures are executed by the mineral paint of black, yellow and red-brown color of the different tones. The repertoire of the images of the basic canopy is presented by various geometrical figures: single figures of the direct and slanting crosses, foot shaped sign, rang from short straight lines or cross lines, a circle with a cross inside, etc. Central place among them is occupied silhouette with figure of the bull with curved horns; others are poorly looked through also silhouette images. In some cases of others, executed by a different paint and, apparently, occurring at the different times, observe it. In the bottom part of the arch, surface of "floor" has images of the animals, which have been incused by reddish layer “patina”. The second canopy in the top part where small niche of the oval form that decorated by prints of 10-12 tiny palms made by a reddish paint. The separate group of figures includes complex figures in the form of an oval with the crossed lines, two circles with crosses inside, connected by a line, etc. All images here are executed by paint of identical color.
“The surface of "floor" under the basic canopy has an inclination under the corner nearby 40 degrees and it smoothed strongly down; along a longitudinal axis of canopy, directly under the images, the slippery path was polished form on which adults and children roll down, which come for worship and rest here. Under the third canopy located below canopies with the figures, on flat to "floor", large lune-deepening oval or circle forms are allocated; 6-7 lunes are located by two lines, the depth of the lune - about 10 cm; at the edges of deepening there are traces of smoothing down. The arrangement and the form of boulders surrounding canopies are those, that the open access to them is available only from one (southeast) side where fancifully removed rocks form similarity of the arch entrance. In 20-25 meters from canopies, on the surface of one of the bottom rocks, there are schematically incused images of animals essentially differing from the modern adjoining figures, possibly, dated at the Late Middle Ages or new time.
“The monument was discovered and for the first time has investigated by incorporated Kashkadarya archeological expedition of National State University (Tashkent) and institutes of History and Archeology of Academy of Sciences of the Republic of Uzbekistan under the direction of R. H. Suleymanov in 2001. Preliminary dating is certain by researchers in an interval mesolite- the epoch of bronze. Petroglifs, incused on the open rocks near to canopies, can be dated new time. Siypantosh consists of the account as the monument of local value, but borders of the monument and protected zone are not determine, physical protection from the state authorized bodies is absent.
Image Sources: Wikimedia Commons
Text Sources: Uzbekistan Tourism website (National Uzbekistan Tourist Information Center, uzbekistan.travel/en), Uzbekistan government websites, UNESCO, Wikipedia, Lonely Planet guides, New York Times, Washington Post, Los Angeles Times, National Geographic, The New Yorker, Bloomberg, Reuters, Associated Press, AFP, Japan News, Yomiuri Shimbun, Compton's Encyclopedia and various books and other publications.
Updated in August 2020