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Samarkand

Samarkand - Crossroad of Cultures is an over 3,000 years old city located at the crossing of trade routes in Central Asia.

It became prosperous as an important centre of silk trade in the 2nd century. During the 14th century, it emerged again under the rule of Timur the Lame. Its Timurid architecture became a worldwide influence in Islamic art and architecture.

The designated area covers three parts of the city:

- the archeological site of Afrosiab (2nd century BCE - 13th century CE)

- the medieval Timurid city (14-19th century)

- the 19th century European quarter

Map

Visit May 2010

Samarkand is the site of the iconic Registan - the "sandy place" surrounded on three sides by Timurid madrasahs. You can sit on a bench on the fourth, open, side and take it all in: the turquoise tiles, the slender minarets, the imposing facades. The place attracts a lot of Uzbek tourists too. The madressahs can best be admired from the outside, as their interiors are completely taken over by the souvenir business. Only the middle (Tilya Kori) is worth a visit for its completely gilded interior including golden mosaics.

Somehow it had escaped my attention before that Samarkand has several other grand monuments than this Registan. Probably the best sight of my whole Uzbek/Turkmen tour was Shah-i-Zinda. This is a mausoleum complex, where the tombs are housed in the most ornamental little buildings. They feature all the mosaics and glazed tiles Samarkand is famous for, but on a more touchable scale than at the Registan. The place is also full of Uzbek pilgrims and daytrippers, creating a lively atmosphere (imagine visiting this wonderful site on your way from grocery shopping - I saw many Uzbeks carrying their round breads with them).

The tomb of Timur (Gur Emir Mausoleum) is the third site worth mentioning. On the inside it has the feel of an European cathedral, with the tombs in the middle under a cupola and older Uzbeks praying around it.

There are other notable monuments, for example the Ulughbek Observatory which now is closed for renovation. Besides the Timurid monuments the nomination also covers the archeological site of Afrosiab and the 19th century Russian quarter. Samarkand as a whole is very much a Russified city without much "Silk Route" atmosphere.

Community Reviews


Frederik Dawson - December 2011

Samarkand is the reason why I decided to visit Uzbekistan, when I booked the ticket at Uzbekistan Airline office; I saw the poster of the very beautiful Registan so I asked the travel agent that should I trust the poster? The agent immediately said "You will see the better one at the real place!" After that Samarkand became the paradigm of my Uzbekistan itinerary. I arrived Samarkand in the evening, the traffic congestion greeted me with unexpectedly surprised, after a peaceful week in Khiva and Bukhara, Samarkand really reminded the chaotic life of modern urban!

I started my city tour at the Gur Amir Mausoleum, the resting place of Tamerlane; for exterior the beautiful blue mosaic dome was just amazing, and for interior the golden mosaics inside the building were just breathtaking, and in my opinion one of the most beautiful Muslim mausoleum I've ever seen. After the mausoleum, I went to Ulughbek Observatory, a ruin of very impressive ancient observatory, its museum was nice; however, many insightful information from my guide made me question the accuracy of the exhibition and object displayed. Then I continued my trip to see the famous Registan. With high hope and excitement, I found all magnificent three buildings complex to be exactly what I wanted to see, there facades were just magnificent with bright and colorful mosaics. However I was deeply disappointed with the bad status of the interior mosaics and glazed tiles inside the courtyard, seem that Uzbek used their whole money to maintain the outside of the buildings, except the gilded ceiling of Tilya-Kori madrassah was truly outstanding and truly one of my favorite of Registan complex. Then I saw Bibi-Khanym Mosque, claimed to be the largest mosque in the ancient time. Its gigantic size and tiny details of mosaic were impressive. Later I went to Shah-i-Zinda complex, the royal necropolis of Tamerlane family. The complex was just truly beautiful with beautiful mosaic art that maybe better than the Registan. Also with its modest size, I could see more details of mosaic and glazed tiles easier than other places and that made me really loved Shah-i-Zinda for its superb quality of art.

In my travel life, I never seen a place that so colorful with mosaic and glazed tiles that similar with Samarkand before except the famous Gaudi's work in Barcelona and the royal temples of Bangkok, but they were totally different arts and should not be compared. Also its history behind were also interesting with countless of legends of the Silk Road and Tumarid dynasty. For me, Samarkand was truly the world class site and one of the most enchanting UNESCO world heritage sites I ever visited.


Solivagant - June 2005

Samarkand is the largest of the WHS cities of Uzbekistan (c half million population). Possibly as a result it lacks much of the “eastern atmosphere” which can be sensed in Bukhara or Khiva – instead its glories consist primarily of 4 architectural wonders, any one of which on its own would justify a WHS inscription

a. The Registan ensemble

b. The Bibi-Khanym Mosque

c. The Shahr-i-Zindah tombs

d. The Guri Amir Mausoleum

Even if you are not a great lover of Islamic architecture these are all well worth seeing/experiencing. If you go with a guide beware of the “shared ticket price” scam! In theory you are allowed to return to any of these buildings several times during the day of the ticket – but you need to show the ticket! However you may find that the guide and ladies on the gate do not issue a ticket (many tourists will not ask or care) and share the money the guide has available. We weren’t able to persuade the ladies to issue a ticket but we did make sure that they would let us in again later that day!

There are other buildings worth seeing too – I particularly liked the Ulughbek Observatory with its 30mtr astrolabe partially set deep into the ground – an impressive example of the intellectual and scientific credentials of this part of the world before the European Renaissance. This is in fact on Uzbekistan’s Tentative List

Samarkand is undoubtedly one of the great “destinations” of the world.


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Site Info

Full name: Samarkand - Crossroad of Cultures

Site History

  • 2012 - Name change

    From "Samarkand - Crossroads of Cultures" to "Samarkand - Crossroad of Cultures"
  •  
  • 2008 - Reinforced Monitoring

    Threatened by new roads and buildings
  •  
  • 2001 - Inscribed

    Reasons for inscription
  •  
  • 1996 - Revision

    Component parts such as Afrasiab and Ulughbek Observatory appeared on T List (1996)
  •  
  • 1991 - Referred

    Bureau - Awaiting USSR to propose a new site based only on Muslim monuments
  •  

Locations

The site has 5 locations.

  • 'Afrosiab Archaeological Area Region of Samarkand,
  • 'Medieval Timurid and European Cities Region of Samarkand,
  • 'Namazgoh Mosque Region of Samarkand,
  • 'The Ensembles of Abdi-Darun and Ishrat-khona Region of Samarkand,
  • 'Ulugh Bek's Observatory Region of Samarkand,

Connections

The site has 32 connections.

Architecture

  • Cenotaph Gur Emir Mausoleum: jade cenotaph of Tamerlane
  • Muqarnas Shah-i-Zinda
  • Square Kufic Bibi Khanum Mosque
  • Timurid Architecture The Gur-i Amir, the Bibi Khanum mosque, and the Shah-i Zindeh mausoleum complex (commissioned by Timur himself), plus two important examples of Timurid architecture from the period after Timur: the madrasah and observatory of Ulugh Beg

Constructions

History

Human Activity

Individual People

  • Alexander the Great He conquered it in 329 BC.
  • Genghis Khan 
  • Ibn Battuta 
  • Timur 
  • Travels of Hyecho While most of the nominated monuments did not exist during Hyecho's time, the Afrosiab archaeological area was highly developed. It is also mentioned in the nomination file that Arab rulers turned ancient temples into mosques. "Only in Samarkand is there one monastery and monk, who does not know how to revere the 'Three Jewels'. In these countries of the Hu people, both the beard and hair are cut. People like to wear white caps made of cotton." - From the Diary of Hyecho
  • Travels of Xuanzang 

Religion and Belief

  • Jewish religion and culture Gumbaz Synagogue and Jewish Mahalla
  • Mosque Bibi-Khanym Mosque (1399-1404), Sunni
  • Russian Orthodox churches outside Russia In the European Quarter
  • Shia Islam Shrine of Kusam ibn Abbas. Cousin of Mohammed. Situated within the Shah-i Zinde complex. The name Shah-i-Zinda (meaning "The living king") is connected with the legend that Kusam ibn Abbas, the cousin of the prophet Muhammed was buried there. .. He came to Samarkand with the Arab invasion in the 7th century to preach Islam. Popular legends speak 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." (Wiki). Practice of Shia Islam is severely constrained within Uzbekistan but this site is listed in Wiki under "Holiest sites in Shia Islam".
  • Tombs of Biblical Figures another supposed location of the Tomb of Daniel. The "Khodja Daniyar" mausoleum (an alternative tradition is that it is the tomb of an early muslim preacher) See

Timeline

  • Built in the 13th century "The historic town of Samarkand illustrates in its art, architecture, and urban structure the most important stages of Central Asian cultural and political history from the 13th century to the present day". Registan Square was identified as the centre of the new city after the destruction of Afrosiab in 1220. Its heyday came with the Timurids in the 14th and 15th century.

Trivia

WHS on Other Lists

  • U.S. Ambassadors Fund  Preventive Conservation of the Collections of the Afrosiab Site Museum near Samarkand (2006), Preservation of 11th-Century and Later Korans in the Collection of the State Museum of Cultural History (2002)

World Heritage Process