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Beautifully glazed and colored tiles

Beautifully glazed and colored tiles Registan square

Samarkand was founded in the 5th century BC and is probably the oldest town in Central Asia. In Arabic, it was called Marakanda. It prospered, being on the major trade route to China, the Silk Route. For a long time, it was the economic, cultural and intellectual center of Uzbekistan, but in the 16th century, the capital was moved to Bukhara, and many people left the city after a series of earthquakes.
The Russians made the city again more popular by their trans Caspian railway, and again the city was made capital o
Forbidden tiger or lion?f Uzbekistan, but again it was only temporarily, from 1924 till 1930. After that the honor was given to Tashkent. But long before that Samarkand was famous being capital on and off and often being the favorite city of well known rulers. In 1220, Samarkand was one of the cities on the devastating trail of Ulughbek observatoryGenghis Khan, the first worldwide tourist to enter history books. He left the city totally plundered. In 1370 the great Timur decided to make Samarkand capital of his empire, and called it, with the megalomania that is usual to rulers of his kind, "Centre of the Universe", a universe that reached from India to Turkey.
Timur's favorite grandson Ulughbek also reigned Samarkand during 40 years and, being more of a scholar, made it into an intellectual centre as well. Nowadays the Ulughbek observatory here still remembers us of him. The three storey observatory was built in 1420. After his death it was destroyed but the track was discovered again in 1908. The star charts he created were used by many in his time.

The Registan, (the word means "Sandy place") pictured on top of the page, must be the most famous and impressive site of Uzbekistan. In the early days, it must have been the center of business and trade and justice was carried out there. It has beautiful colors, gold, emerald and mostly deep blue in many glazed tiles.
It was still a sandy place in Timur's time, as only Ulughbek finished building. Now, it consists of three madrassahs (Islamic colleges): the Ulughbek madrassah on the west (1417), the Sher Dor (building with lions) madrassah to the east (1619) and finally the Tillya Kari (gold covered) madrassah, which was completed in 1660, in the middle. Ulughbek had the madrassah built that was named after him, and is said to have taught there himself. The other two Gur-i amirmadrassahs were built by Shaybanid Emir Yalangtush. The Shir Dor, as can be seen on the left, has an animal on the front that looks like a tiger but is actually a lion. Lion or tiger, they were both forbidden to be depicted by Islam and therefore it is a miracle that they are still there after all those centuries of Islam reign.
Timur was laid to rest in the Gur-i Amir, the "tomb of the ruler". The large tiled domes can be seen from almost all parts of the city and give you a sense of direction. It is an octagonal mausoleum and was completed in 1404. Also other members of his family, like his grandson Ulughbek, are lying here. On the tomb lies a piece of jade, brought from Mongolia by Ulughbek in 1425, and broken by Nadir Shah from Persia in his effort to steal it. In the jade it can be read that: "When I rise, the world will tremble." Unfortunately, the world already trembled without Timur coming to life, which partly destroyed another of his accomplishments, the Bibi Khanum Mosque.

Bibi Khanum MosqueThe Bibi Khanum Mosque is one of Timur's biggest projects, dedicated to his Chinese and chief wife Bibi (Saray Mulk) Khanum. Many legends are Shah-i-zindatold about this mosque, but they all center around the (extra-marital) relationship between Timur's wife and the architect who built the place, so she may have been his chief wife, but he was not her chief husband. The architect was beheaded after the mosque was finished. Maybe as a belated punishment to the unfaithful wife, the mosque was severely damaged in the earthquake of 1897. Actually it was so big, that it already started to fall to pieces soon after it was built.
Shah-i-zinda (meaning "The living king") is a lane full of monuments, mostly for Timur and his descendents. Nowadays it is still a place of pilgrimage, with many pilgrims mingled among the tourists. They visit the only grave that does not belong to Timur's family, namely Khusam-ibn-Abbas's, who is said to be a cousin of the Prophet Mohammed. The legend goes that he took his own head from his shoulder and hid it somewhere in here, thus giving it the name of "The Living King".