Samarkand is the most ancient city in Uzbekistan and one of the oldest cities in the world. According to official historical sources, Samarkand existed already in the 8th century BC, but the first settlements appeared much earlier. For the first time, Samarkand is mentioned as the capital of the ancient state of Sogdiana, which existed until the 8th century. Then Samarkand was known under the name of Marakanda. This name was used in the works of ancient Greek and Roman historians. The true origin of the city’s name is still a controversial question. The etymology of the word “Samarkand” implies two roots: “kent”, which means “city”, and “Samar”, which can be translated in different ways. However, any interpretation often comes down to mentioning the wealth of the local land.
Like other cities with a rich history, Samarkand was under the rule of different kings and civilizations. It was conquered by Alexander the Great, after centuries it was under the power of the Arab culture, then it was destroyed by the Mongols. It is worth mentioning that when attacking Samarkand, Alexander the Great suffered his first defeat in a seven-year military campaign from the Sogdian national hero Spitamen. Samarkand was destroyed and built again, changed under the influence of new rulers and their cultures, brought up generations of scientists and artisans. Now many tourists around the world consider Samarkand to be their favorite city.
The real prosperity came with the power of Amir Timur and the Timurid dynasty. At that time, Samarkand became the capital, cradle of culture, and center of science. All eminent scientists of the Asian Middle Ages were connected with Samarkand. Under the Timurids, mausoleums and madrasahs were built, which have survived to these days in Uzbekistan.
The most important monument of the city is the Registan. This is an ensemble in the same style, which served as the central square in the Middle Ages. It includes three madrasahs: Ulugbek, Tillya-Kari, and Sherdor madrasahs. Ulugbek Madrasah is the very first and oldest building on the square. The madrasah was built by the order of the grandson of Amir Timur Ulugbek Taragay in the 15th century. Ulugbek was known primarily not as a ruler, but as a scientist and astronomer. At the time of its construction, Ulugbek Madrasah was the best and largest Muslim university in the East. The most advanced technologies were used during the construction: glazed bricks, geometric ornament, carved marble, calligraphic and floral motifs in the design. It is safe to say that the building was two centuries ahead of its time.
Sherdor Madrasah was built at the beginning of the 17th century by the order of the mayor of Samarkand Yalangtush Bahadur. According to the plan, Sherdor stands opposite to the Ulugbek madrasah and reflects it. The glaze, domes, and minarets are similar. The main difference between Sherdor and Ulugbek madrasah is tigers, owing to which the madrasah got its name – “sherdor”. It is translated as “decorated with Lions”. These animals are depicted above the main entrance on the background of the rising sun.
Tillya-Kori Madrasah is the latest building in the ensemble, built to the middle of the 17th century, which completed the design of the Registan Square. The architecture of Tillya-Kori is not similar to Sherdor and Ulugbek madrasahs and is distinguished by two wide frontal wings with arched inserts, as well as the absence of minarets. Although Tillya-Kori is in the center of the ensemble, the madrasah was not supposed to dominate, but rather to frame and complete the original idea. Besides, a mosque was built and decorated from the inside with golden glaze, which dominates the decoration of Tillya-Kori, which explains the origin of the name “tillya-kori” – “gilded”.
Bibi-Khanum mosque is located near the Registan Square. It was founded in 1399 and at first, had no name. The mosque was named Bibi-Khanum later in honor of Amir Timur’s beloved wife. The reason for this was the legend that Bibi-Khanum, wishing to surprise her husband, ordered to build a huge mosque, which had no analog. But the construction was delayed due to the fault of the most talented young architect, who was in love with the queen and asked her for one kiss. She refused, but he did not give up. Then she allowed him to kiss secretly her cheek and at the last moment covered her face with a handkerchief. But the kiss was so hot that it left a mark on her cheek. Then the architect disappeared and the construction of the mosque was not finished.
It was not at all like that. After a successful military campaign against India, Amir Timur ordered the construction of a huge cathedral mosque that could accommodate ten thousand people. After that, he left the country again, and upon arrival, he was extremely dissatisfied with the construction of the front portal – the mosque was not majestic enough. The architect was executed and the vaults were rebuilt. As a result, the mosque came out monumental, the forty-meter arched entrance portal amazes the imagination of tourists visiting Uzbekistan. By the way, at the time of construction, Bibi-Khanum was more than 60 years old and women were not allowed to the architects, therefore the legend of the loving architect is doomed to remain a legend.
Every Uzbek myth leads to the mention of the Timurid dynasty. In Samarkand, Tamerlane found his last rest in the Gur-Emir mausoleum, which is translated from Persian as “The tomb of the king.” The mausoleum is a solemn and at the same time graceful building with one magnificently decorated ribbed dome. Gur-Emir is picturesquely decorated, geometric arabesques on the outside speak of the greatness of the late ruler, and the interior is distinguished by gold trim, patterned vaults, and honeycomb niches in the walls. There is also a tombstone made from a single piece of precious green jade so dark that it seems black.
It is difficult to describe all the splendor of the examples of medieval Asian architecture. It is better to see everything yourself. Samarkand is a city full of architectural monuments. Among them: the Shakhi-Zinda mausoleum ensemble, the ancient settlement of Afrosiab, the Ulugbek observatory, the tomb of Khoja Daniyar, old mosques, modern museums and much more. A traveler will have to stay in Samarkand for a long time. Fortunately, there are hotels, cafes, and restaurants for tourists, as well as many inexpensive shops and an old town with a bazaar and friendly residents.