Our Visit to Samarkand

Me Standing in front of the Bibi Hanum Mosque

Samarkand is one of those exotic names like Babylon, Rome, Carthage, Athens, etc. that ring throughout history. It is one of the three famous Silk Road cities in Uzbekistan and the closest to Tashkent. I am always amazed at visiting places that have such an ancient history. It was captured by Persian King, Cyrus the Great in 550 BC, and Alexander the Great conquered the city in 329 BC. It reached its zenith over 600 years under the reign of Tamerlane, or Timur as he is known here in Uzbekistan from 1360 – 1405. Tamerlane should be more well known in the West as he was the last of the Tartar/Mongolian warriors that basically conquered a land territory ranging from Europe to China. I liked how the Syrian historian Ahmed ibn Arabshah described Timur after he destroyed Damascus, “This Bastard to Lay Waste Azerbaijan and Irak” and he referred to him as “satan” “demon”, “viper”, “despot” and “wicked fool”. Arabshah was right in many ways, Timur and his armies probably killed and enslaved more people than Hitler and Stalin combined. But this happened such a long time ago that today, he is revered as a great leader here in Uzbekistan. The Western name, Tamerlane, comes from “Timur The Lame” which alludes to his arm and leg being crippled during battle.

Inside a Madrassa on the Registan

Samarkand was the capital of his empire and he turned it into the greatest Islamic city of its time. He enslaved artisans, architects, artists, gardeners, etc. to make the city full of huge mosques, madrassas, palaces, lavish gardens, etc. Visiting the city in 2022, 617 years after his death, some of this grandeur still exists, but it would have been awesome to travel back in time and see it then.

We toured the final project he completed before his death, the Bibi Hanum Mosque. The mosque was restored at various times in the past 600 years as it fell into disrepair shortly after Timur died. Besides the size, it is the artistic touch, the Timurid architectural style, that used turquoise (the color of the Turks) shapes and patterns that make it unique and breathtaking. I learned about Kufic script, an ancient Arabic font that you can see in the many buildings in Samarkand. We stayed at the Bibi Hanum Hotel and the first photo below of the dome is taken from our room.

We had a relaxing visit showing my brother and sister-in-law around this beautiful, desert city. Of course we needed to see the famous Registan (sandy place in Persian). This is a central plaza with madrassas (Islamic schools) on three sides that were built after Timur’s death by succeeding Khans. Andy is a coin collector and bought some cool coins from the 1800s and 1700s Russian empire at one of the shops in the Registan. We ate at our favorite restaurant in the city, Platan and had an early night due to their jet lag. We bought some of the famous Samarkand bread at the market.

Andy and Chantal on the Registan

I highly recommend reading historian Justin Marozzi’s chapter on the city in his book, “Islamic Empires: 15 Cities That Define a Civilization” is an excellent read to understand Timur and his place in history. The chapter on Doha and Dubai really helped me get a better understanding of those cities and I hope to visit other cities featured in his book someday.

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