Samarkand (Marakanda to the Greeks) dates from the 5th c. BCE.

 

Samarkand was the capital of the Sogdian empire when Alexander the Great captured it in 329 BCE. He subsequently married the Sogdian princess Roxane.

 

Samarkand became a key silk road city and was more populous then than it is today. It changed hands every couple of centuries; Western Turks, Arabs, Persians, Karakhanids, Seljuk Turks, Mongolians, and Khorezmshah all have ruled here before Chingghis Khan totally obliterated the place.

 

Timur Eng (Tamerlane) made it his capital in 1370 and created in 35 years an almost-mythical city that became Central Asia’s economic and cultural center. His grandson Ulugh Beg ruled until 1449 and made it an intellectual center as well.

 

The picture above tries to capture some of Samarkand’s colorful buildings; it was taken through a fountain.

 

 

We drove from Bukhara to Samarkand.

 

On one of our stops we photographed a flower and cotton ball in one of the endless cotton fields of Central Asia.

 

This area had been self-sufficient for food for 5000 years when the Russians pulled up all the orchards, grapes and gardens. The reason for this, interestingly enough, was due to the cotton shortage in the 19th c. caused by the American Civil War. Prior to that war, the Russians had purchased all their cotton from America. Rivers were drained to irrigate the vast cotton fields and led eventually to a total ruin of the Aral Sea (reduced to a couple of salt lakes) and climatic changes in the entire region.

 

 

 

On the journey to Samarkand, we visited Shakhrisabz, the place where Timur was born in 1336.

 

Below left is a modern statue of Timur and on the right his Ak-Saray palace which was an immense and splendid building that took 24 years to build. The only part left is the gigantic 120 ft entrance covered with colorful mosaics that was built to impress.

 

 

 

Timur’s statue and palace are a favorite background for wedding photos. As mentioned before, Ramadan was to start in a few days and couples rushed to get married in order to celebrate during the day.

 

In Uzbekistan, women must have a dowry of 40 dresses and a lot of handwork. Every day for the 40 days following the wedding (40 is big in most religions!) the bride and groom visit sites wearing a different outfit each day! These outfits are very glittery. They are accompanied by family members and friends.

 

After that, they have a very hard life, often as near-slaves to their mother-in law, in whose home they live.

 

 

This group of buildings on the left is the UNESCO World Heritage site in Shakhrisabz.

 

It consists of the Kok Gumbaz mosque (right) built by Ulugh Beg in 1437 and the Dorat Tilyovat (House of Meditation) complex (left). The latter consists of the Mausoleum of Sheik Shamseddin Kulyal, spiritual tutor of Timur (right small dome, completed by Timur in 1374) and the Gumbasi Seyidan (left small dome, built by Ulugh Beg in 1438).

 

 

This is the crypt of Timur in Shakhrisabz, a small room nearly filled by a single stone casket.

 

The room was discovered only in 1943. The biographical inscriptions about Timur indicate that the crypt was intended for him. Timur, however, was buried in Samarkand.

 

 

After driving to Samarkand, we toured the Guri Amir mausoleum which was built by Timur in 1404 for his sons and grandsons.

 

He intended to be buried at the above crypt in Shakhrisabz but when he died in winter 1405 the passes to Shakhrisabz were snowed in and he was interred here instead.

 

 

Inside the Guri Amir mausoleum.

 

 

Timur’s (Tamerlane) tomb.

 

Timur (1336-1405) was a military genius who ruled over an empire that, in modern times, extends from southeastern Turkey, Syria, Iraq, Kuwait and Iran, through Central Asia encompassing part of Kazakhstan, Afghanistan, Azerbaijan, Georgia, Turkmenistan, Uzbekistan, Kyrgyzstan, Pakistan, North-Western India, and even approaching Kashgar in China.

 

When Timur conquered Persia, Iraq and Syria, the civilian population was decimated. In the city of Isfahan, he ordered the building of a pyramid of 70,000 human skulls, from those that his army had beheaded, and a pyramid of some 20,000 skulls was

erected outside of Aleppo. Timur herded thousands of citizens of Damascus into the Cathedral Mosque before setting it aflame, and had 70,000 people beheaded in Tikrit, and 90,000 more in Baghdad.

 

AS MANY AS 17 MILLION PEOPLE MAY HAVE DIED FROM HIS CONQUESTS! Imagine!

 

 

Dome of the Guri Amir mausoleum.

 

 

 

The most spectacular site in Samarkand is the Registan, an ensemble of majestic medressas.

 

The Lonely Planet calls this one of the most awesome single sights in Central Asia. We agree.

 

The Registan square is flanked by three medressas. On the left side of the picture is the Ulugh Beg medressa finished by him 1420. He supposedly taught mathematics here.

 

If any of the facades or minarets appear to be crooked in the photos, they are.

 

Part of the Tilla-Kari medressa (completed in 1660) is visible in the right part of picture and…

 

 

…in the left part of this picture.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

On the right side of the picture is the Sher Dor (Lion) medressa dating from 1636.

 

 

 

The Ulugh Beg medressa.

 

Ulugh Beg (1393-1449) was a grandson of Timur who became sultan as well as an eminent scientist in the fields of astronomy and mathematics (trigonometry and spherical geometry). He greatly influenced western science.

 

He invited many astronomers and mathematicians to study at this medressa.

 

He redetermined the fixed positions of 992 fixed stars. His astronomical tables were use until the 19th c.

 

He wrote accurate trigonometric tables of sine and tangent values correct to 8 decimal places. In 1437 Ulugh Beg determined the length of the sidereal year as

365.2570370...d = 365d 6h 10m 8s (an error +58s).

 

He wasn’t a great administrator and because he was too secular, his own son beheaded him.

 

 

 

 

The Sher Dor medressa is decorated with roaring felines that look like tigers but are meant to be lions. This is a blatant violation of Islamic prohibition of depicting God’s creations.

 

 

 

 

 

 

The wonderful colors and patterns of women’s clothing in Turkmenistan and Uzbekistan make for great photos.

 

 

Inside the Tilla-Kari medressa.

 

 

Guess what nationality is being attracted?

 

 

Sher Dor medressa (this is the photo that was used for the website’s background).

 

 

 

Sher Dor medressa.

 

 

This is Bibi-Khanym’s 14th c. mausoleum.

 

Bibi-Khanym was Timur’s Chinese wife who ordered a mosque built while Timur was away. The mosque must have been something incredible in size and grandeur as it was one of Islam’s biggest mosques. It crumbled over time and collapsed entirely in an earthquake in 1897.

 

The mosque was across from this mausoleum.

 

 

 

 

We took this picture using the camera’s self timer.

 

 

 

Inside the tomb of the Old Testament prophet Daniel is a 54 ft long sarcophagus.

 

According to legend, Daniel’s body grows by half an inch per year and thus the sarcophagus has to be enlarged. His remains were brought here by Timur.

 

 

Shar-I-Zindah is an unbelievable avenue of tombs, each with more elaborate tile-work than the last!

 

 

 

The tombs belong mostly to Ulugh Beg’s family.

 

But there is also the grave of Qusam ibn-Abbas, a cousin of the Prophet Mohammed who is said to have brought Islam to this area.

 

 

Marvelous wall and ceiling decorations.

 

 

View from the inside one mausoleum across the passage way to the entrance of another one.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

The couple above are newly weds. They gladly posed when we found them later at the entrance. Note his long-toed shoes. We saw many young men wearing them.

 

 

 

This mausoleum city is an incredible sight.

 

 

We drove from Samarkand to Tashkent, Uzbekistan’s capital city.

 

On the way we crossed the Syr-Darya or Jaxartes, the eastern border of Transoxiana.

 

 

From Tashkent we flew to Fergana.

 

From there, we drove to Kokand, the capital of the Kokand Khanate in the 18th and 19th centuries.

 

The palace of the last Khan, Khudoyar, was completed in 1873 – just 3 days before the Russian tsar’s troops arrived, blew up the fortifications and abolished the Khan’s job.

 

 

 

 

The palace had 113 rooms and seven courtyards. Two courtyards and 19 rooms survive. An example of rich interior decorations is left.

 

 

The palace now houses the museum of Local Studies with jewelry, musical instruments and furniture.

 

On the right, our local guide (she’s Russian) shows us a traditional Uzbek cradle.

 

There are two attachments, one for boys and one for girls which enables cradled babies to urinate through a hole in the sheets, mattress, and bed frame into a pot below. The boy’s device is shown here and it looks like a smoking pipe. The girl’s device is similar but shaped to attach to her equipment. After placement, the baby is bundled tightly in blankets.

 

They’re still used today. We bought two at a local market (they’re definitely not a usual tourist item).

 

 

This is inside an active medressa showing some students.

 

 

 

Just outside the medressa was a busy food market. Ramadan had started and since it was close to sunset people were shopping for the big evening meal.

 

In the foreground is something like a tandoori oven with bread sticking on its walls.

 

 

This lady was selling good looking bread.

 

She really enjoyed having her photos taken.

 

 

Kids are the same everywhere.

 

 

Fergana is a big silk producing area.

 

The knowledge of making silk came from China where it dates back to the 4th millennium BCE. In 440 CE, a Chinese Princess arrived in Khotan carrying silk cocoons hidden in her piled up hair. Since then, silk production flourished in Central Asia.

 

Many of the farmers in the city accept a certain quantity of caterpillars and promise to grow them. This requires them to harvest mulberry leaves. Every home and streets are bordered with mulberry trees. As the caterpillars approach maturity they require pounds and pounds of mulberry leaves each day which requires each farmer to work ever harder to find enough leaves for them.

The mulberry trees can be stripped in late spring and by fall have branches full of leaves again, making this the perfect sustainable industry. The very best cocoons are set aside for the next year’s crop.

 

The silk worm cocoons are boiled to kill the larvae and then to obtain the approximately one mile long silk thread which is unraveled and transferred to spools as seen above.

 

 

Ikat weaver in an ikat dress.

 

 

Colorful market scene.

 

 

 

When one breaks the fast during Ramadan after sunset, one starts with this rich, sweet dairy goo. It’s being filled into jars on the right side. We would have loved to taste it but we didn’t dare for health reasons.

 

The Fergana valley has been the place of Muslim fundamentalist troubles in recent times. We didn’t see much of that but it was very clear to us that religious Islamic values, customs, rituals, observances oppressed during Soviet rule are coming back big time.

 

 

Live fish (looks like a carp).

 

 

Spice market in the capital city Tashkent. Juergen stocked up on the most fiery red pepper powder he could find.

 

 

That’s ‘Hot Dog’ written in the Cyrillic alphabet.

 

We were profoundly pleased to see the seminal cultural and culinary impact we’ve had on Central Asia.

 

 

The end