Afrasiyab (Afrosiyob) is an ancient site of northern Samarkand which was occupied from 500 BC to 1220 AD. Today it is a hilly grass mound located near the Bibi Khanaum Mosque.
Afrasiyab is the oldest part and the ruined site of the ancient and medieval city of Samarkand. It was located on high ground for defensive reasons, south of a river valley and north of a large fertile area which has now became part of the city of Samarkand.
The habitation of the territories of Afrasiyab began in the 7th-6th century BC, as the centre of the Sogdian culture.
The area of Afrasiyab covers about 220 hectares, and the thickness of the archaeological strata reaches 8–12 metres. Archaeological excavations have been carried out in Afrasiyab since the end of the 19th century. In the 1920s it was extensively excavated by the archaeologist Mikhail Evgenievich Masson who placed artifacts found at the site in the Samarkand museum. His archaeological study revealed that a Samanid palace had once been located at Afrasiyab. It was again actively excavated during the 1960-70s.
Bibi-Khanym Mosque is a famous historical mosque in Samarkand, the name comes from the wife of 14th-century ruler, Amir Timur.
After his Indian campaign in 1399 Timur decided to undertake the construction of a gigantic mosque in his new capital, Samarkand. The mosque was built using precious stones captured during his conquest of India. According to Ruy Gonzáles de Clavijo, 90 captured elephants were employed merely to carry precious stones, so as to erect a mosque at Samarkand — Bibi-Khanym Mosque. Construction was completed between 1399 and 1404. However, the mosque slowly fell into disuse, and crumbled to ruins over the centuries. Its demise was hastened due to the fact it pushed the construction techniques of the time to the very limit, and the fact that it was built too quickly. It eventually partially collapsed in 1897 when an earthquake occurred.
However, in 1974 it began to undergo reconstruction by the Government of Uzbekistan. The bazaar at thefoot of the Bibi-Khanym has changed little since 600 years ago.
Gur-e Amir is Persian for “Tomb of the King”. This architectural complex with its azure dome contains the tombs of Tamerlane, his sons Shah Rukh and Miran Shah and grandson Ulugh Beg and Muhammad Sultan. Also honoured with a place in the tomb is Timur’s teacher Sayyid Baraka.
The earliest part of the complex was built at the end of the 14th century by the orders of Muhammad Sultan. Now only the foundations of the madrasah and khanaka, the entrance portal and a part of one of four minarets remain.
The construction of the mausoleum itself began in 1403 after the sudden death of Muhammad Sultan,Tamerlane’s heir apparent and his beloved grandson, for whom it was intended. Timur had built himself a smaller tomb in Shahrisabz near his Ak-Saray palace. However, when Timur died in 1405 on campaign on his military expedition to China, the passes to Shahrisabz were snowed in, so he was buried here instead. Ulugh Beg, another grandson of Tamerlane, completed the work. During his reign the mausoleum became the family crypt of the Timurid Dynasty.
The Registan was the heart of the ancient Samarkand. The name Registan means “Sandy place” in Persian.
The Registan was a place of public executions, where also people gathered to hear royal proclamations, heralded by blasts on enormous copper pipes called dzharchis.
The three madrasahs of the Registan are: Ulugh Beg Madrasah (1417–1420), Tilya-Kori Madrasah (1646–1660) and the Sher-Dor Madrasah (1619–1636). Madrasah is an Arabic term meaning school.
Ulugh Beg Madrasah
The Ulugh Beg Madrasah has its imposing portal with lancet arch facing the square. The corners are flanked by the high well-proportioned minarets. Mosaic panel over the entrance arch is decorated by geometrical stylized ornaments. The square-shaped courtyard includes a mosque, lecture rooms and is fringed by the dormitory cells in which students lived. There are deep galleries along the axes. Originally the Ulugh Beg Madrasah was a two-storied building with four domed darskhonas (lecture room) at the corners. The madrasah was one of the best clergy universities of the whole Moslem Orient of the 15th century. Abdurakhman Djami, a prominent poet, scientist and philosopher studied there. Ulugh Beg himself gave lectures there. During Ulugh Beg’s government the madrasah was a center of secular science.
In the 17th century the ruler of Samarkand Yalangtush Bakhodur ordered the construction of the Sher-Dor and Tillya-Kori madrasahs. Sher-Dor (Having Tigers) Madrasah was designed by architect Abdujabor. The decoration of the madrasah is not as refined as that on the 15th century – “golden age” of Samarkand architecture. Anyway, the harmony of large and small rooms, exquisite mosaic decor, monumentality and efficient symmetry – all these put the structure among the best architectural monuments of Samarkand.
Ten years later Tilya-Kori Madrasah was built, the name means “Gilded”. It was not only the place of training students, but also it played the role of grand mosque. It has two-storied main facade, vast courtyard fringed by dormitory cells with four galleries along axes. Mosque building is situated in the western section of the courtyard. The main hall of the mosque is abundantly gilded.
The ancient trading dome Chorsu is situated right behind the Sher-Dor Madrasah. Now it is well restored. The existence of the trading dome at this place confirms the information that Registan was medieval Samarkand’s commercial center and the plaza was probably a wall to wall market. During the Soviet epoch, the site was restored, which included digging down 3 meters to its original level to expose the buildings’ full height.
Samarkand (from Sogdian: “Stone Fort” or “Rock Town”) is the second-largest city in Uzbekistan and the capital of Samarqand Province. The city is most noted for its central position on the Silk Road between China and the West, and for being an Islamic center for scholarly study. In the 14th century, it became the capital of the empire of Timur (Tamerlane), and is the site of his mausoleum (the Gur-e Amir). The Bibi-Khanym Mosque remains one of the city’s most notable landmarks. The Registan was the ancient center of the city.
Shah-i-Zinda (Persian meaning “The Living King”) is a necropolis in the north-eastern part of Samarkand.
The Shah-i-Zinda Ensemble includes mausoleums and other ritual buildings of 9-14th and 19th centuries. The name Shah-i-Zinda is connected with the legend that Kusam ibn Abbas, the cousin of the prophet Muhammad was buried there. As if he came to Samarkand with the Arab invasion in the 7th century to preach Islam. Popular legends tell that he was beheaded for his faith. But he took his head and went into the deep well (Garden of Paradise), where he’s still living now.
The Shah-i-Zinda complex was formed over nine (from 11th till 19th) centuries and now includes more than twenty buildings.
Ulugh Beg observatory
In 1420, the great astronomer Ulugh Beg built a madrasah in Samarkand, named Ulugh Beg Madrasah. It became an important center for astronomical study and only invited scholars to study at the university whom he personally approved of and respected academically and at its peak had between 60 and 70 astronomers working there. In 1424, he began building the observatory to support the astronomical study at the madrasah and it was completed five years later in 1429. Beg assigned his assistant and scholar Ali Qushji to take charge of the Ulugh Beg Observatory, which was called Samarkand Observatory at that time. He worked there till Ulugh Beg was assassinated.
However, the observatory was destroyed by religious fanatics in 1449 and was only re-discovered in 1908, by Uzbek-Russian archaeologist from Samarkand named V. L. Vyatkin, who discovered an endowment document that stated the observatory’s exact location.
Bukhara from the Soghdian βuxārak (“lucky place”), is the capital of the Bukhara Province (viloyat) of Uzbekistan. The nation’s fifth-largest city, it has a population of 263,400 (2009 census estimate). The region around Bukhara has been inhabited for at least five millennia, and the city has existed for half that time. Located on the Silk Road, the city has long been a center of trade, scholarship, culture, and religion. The historic center of Bukhara, which contains numerous mosques and madrassas, has been listed by UNESCO as a World Heritage Site. Ethnic Tajiks (Persians) constitute the majority in Bukhara, but the city long had a population including various ethnic minoritie.
The title Po-i Kalan (Persian meaning the “Grand Foundation”), belongs to the architectural complex located at the base of the great minaret Kalân.
Kalyan minaret. More properly, Minâra-i Kalân, (Pesian/Tajik for the “Grand Minaret”). It is made in the form of a circular-pillar brick tower, narrowing upwards, of 9 meters (29.53 ft) diameter at the bottom, 6 meters (19.69 ft) overhead and 45.6 meters (149.61 ft) high. Also, known as the Tower of Death, as for centuries criminals were executed by being tossed off the top.
Kalân Mosque (Masjid-i Kalân), arguably completed in 1514, is equal to the Bibi-Khanym Mosque in Samarkand in size. Although, they are of the same type of building, they are absolutely different in terms of art of building.
There is little known about its origin, although its construction is ascribed to Sheikh Abdullah Yamani of Yemen, the spiritual mentor of early Shaybanids. He was in charge of donations of Ubaidollah Khan (gov. 1533-1539), devoted to construction of madrasah.
Ismail Samani mausoleum
Ismail Samani mausoleum (9th-10th century), one of the most esteemed sights of Central Asian architecture, was built in the 9th century (between 892 and 943) as the resting-place of Ismail Samani – the founder of the Samanid dynasty, the last Persian dynasty to rule in Central Asia, which held the city in the 9th and 10th centuries. Although in the first instance the Samanids were Governors of Khorasan and Ma wara’u’n-nahr under the suzerainty of the Abbasid Caliphate, the dynasty soon established virtual independence from Baghdad.
Chashma-Ayub is located near the Samani mausoleum. Its name in Persian means Job’s spring due to the legend according to which Job (Ayub) visited this place and brought forth a spring of water by the blow of his staff on the ground. The water from this well is still pure and is considered healing. The current building was constructed during the reign of Timur and features a Khwarazm-style conical dome uncommon in Bukhara.
Lab-i Hauz (Persian meaning by the pond) Ensemble (1568–1622) is the name of the area surrounding one of the few remaining hauz (ponds) in the city of Bukhara. Until the Soviet period there were many such ponds, which were the city’s principal source of water, but they were notorious for spreading disease and were mostly filled in during the 1920s and 1930s. The Lyab-i Hauz survived because it is the centerpiece of a magnificent architectural ensemble, created during the 16th and 17th centuries, which has not been significantly changed since. The Lyab-i Hauz ensemble, surrounding the pond on three sides, consists of the Kukeldash Madrasah (1568–1569), the largest in the city (on the north side of the pond), and of two religious edifices built by Nadir Divan-Beghi: a khanaka (1620), or lodging-house for itinerant Sufis, and a madrasah (1622) that stand on the west and east sides of the pond respectively.
At the moment, it is the most cosmopolitan city in Uzbekistan, with large ethnic Russian minority. The city is noted for its tree lined streets, numerous fountains, and pleasant parks.
Since 1991, the city has changed economically, culturally, and architecturally. The largest statue ever erected for Lenin was replaced with a globe, complete with a geographic map of Uzbekistan over it. Buildings from the Soviet era have been replaced with new, modern buildings. One example is the “Downtown Tashkent” region, which includes the 22-storey NBU Bank building, an Intercontinental Hotel, International Business Center, and the Plaza Building.
In 2007, Tashkent was named the cultural capital of the Islamic world as the city is home to numerous historic mosques and religious establishments. Tashkent also houses the earliest written Qur’an, which has been in Tashkent since 1924.
Due to the destruction of most of the ancient city during 1917 revolution and, later, to the 1966 earthquake, little remains of Tashkent’s traditional architectural heritage. Tashkent is, however, rich in museums and Soviet-era monuments. They include:
• Kukeldash Madrasah. Dating back to the reign of Abdullah Khan (1557–1598) it is currently being restored by the provincial Religious Board of Mawarannahr Moslems. There is a talk of making it into a museum, but it is currently being used as a mosque.
• Chorsu Bazaar, located near the Kukeldash Madrassa. This huge open air bazaar is the center of the old town of Tashkent. Everything imaginable is for sale.
• Telyashayakh Mosque (Khast Imam Mosque). It contains the Uthman Qur’an, considered to be the oldest extant Qur’an in the world. Dating from 655 and stained with the blood of murdered caliph, Uthman, it was brought by Timur to Samarkand, seized by the Russians as a war trophy and taken to Saint Petersburg. It was returned to Uzbekistan in 1924.
• Yunus Khan Mausoleum. It is a group of three 15th century mausoleums, restored in the 19th century. The biggest is the grave of Yunus Khan, grandfather of Mughal Empire founder Babur.
• Palace of Prince Romanov. During the 19th century Grand Duke Nikolai Konstantinovich, a first cousin of Alexander III of Russia was banished to Tashkent for some shady deals involving the Russian Crown Jewels. His palace still survives in the centre of the city. Once a museum, it has been appropriated by the Ministry of Foreign Affairs.
• Alisher Navoi Opera and Ballet Theatre, built by the same architect who designed Lenin’s Tomb in Moscow, Aleksey Shchusev, with Japanese prisoner of war labor in World War II. It hosts Russian ballet and opera.
• Fine Arts Museum of Uzbekistan. It contains a major collection of art from the pre-Russian period, including Sogdian murals, Buddhist statues and Zoroastrian art, along with a more modern collection of 19th and 20th century applied art, such as suzani embroidered hangings. Of more interest is the large collection of paintings “borrowed” from the Hermitage by Grand Duke Romanov to decorate his palace in exile in Tashkent, and never returned. Behind the museum is a small park, containing the neglected graves of the Bolsheviks who died in the Russian Revolution of 1917 and to Ossipov’s treachery in 1919, along with first Uzbekistani President Yuldosh Akhunbabayev.
• Museum of Applied Arts. Housed in a traditional house originally commissioned for a wealthy tsarist diplomat, the house itself is the main attraction, rather than its collection of 19th and 20th century applied arts.
• History Museum the largest museum in the city. It is housed in the ex-Lenin Museum.
• Amir Timur Museum, housed in a building with brilliant blue dome and ornate interior. It houses exhibits of Timur and of President Islam Karimov. The gardens outside contain a statue of Timur on horseback, surrounded by some of the nicest gardens and fountains in the city.
• Navoi Literary Museum, commemorating Uzbekistan’s adopted literary hero, Alisher Navoi, with replica manuscripts, Persian calligraphy and 15th century miniature paintings.
Khiva is a city of approximately 50,000 people located in Xorazm Province, Uzbekistan. It is the former capital of Khwarezmia and the Khanate of Khiva. Itchan Kala in Khiva was the first site in Uzbekistan to be inscribed in the World Heritage List (1991). Khiva is split into two parts. The outer town, called Dichan Kala, was formerly protected by a wall with 11 gates. The inner town, or Itchan Kala, is encircled by brick walls, whose foundations are believed to have been laid in the 10th century. Present-day crenellated walls date back to the late 17th century and attain the height of 10 meters. The large blue tower in the central city square was supposed to be a minaret, but the Khan died and the succeeding Khan did not complete it, perhaps because he realized that if completed, the minaret would overlook his harem and the muezzin would be able to see the Khan’s wives. Construction was halted and the minaret remains unfinished to this day.
The old town retains more than 50 historic monuments and 250 old houses, mostly dating from the 18th or the 19th centuries. Djuma Mosque, for instance, was established in the 10th century and rebuilt in 1788-89, although its celebrated hypostyle hall still retains 112 columns taken from ancient structures.
It also is the site of the Sheikh Mukhtar-Vali Complex, a mausoleum nominated for World Heritage status in 1996.