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On the plains of Central Asia there are many cities with hundreds of architectural monuments from various epochs. Among the most famous are Samarkand, Bukhara, Khiva, Shakhrisabz, Termez and Kokand. These cities were centers of science and art. Great architects created palaces, mosques and mausoleums, world famous monuments of ancient architecture, to memorialize Alexander the Great and Amir Timur. Many of these masterpieces did not survive, but by visiting those which have been preserved, it is possible to glimpse pages of history.

Modern monuments are being erected in all cities throughout Uzbekistan. During city tours we will visit some of them. Below is a description of some of the most famous ones.


Observatory of Ulugbek - Samarkand

Observatory of Ulugbek - Samarkand

Among historical monuments of Samarkand observatory takes particular place, constructed by Ulugbek in 1428-1429 on one of the hills on height, at the bottom of Chupanat altitude. By Babur’s words, which saw the observatory, it was three-storied covered with beautiful glazed titles building of round form 46 meters in diameter, 30 meters in height. In the main hall huge instrument was placed for observations of Moon, Sun, and other stars of the vault of heaven. Observatory was unique construction for its time.

The basis of observatory was giant goniometer (vertical circle), radius of circle was equal 40,212 meters, and the length of arc was 63 meters. The main instrument-sextant-was oriented with amazing exactness by line of meridian from south to north. Test establishments of modern astronomers Kastalsk and Sheglov are the evidence to it. Sizes of the main instrument, lucky construction, scientific knowledge of Ulugbek and his companion-in-arms provided amazing exactness of astronomic observations.

“Everything that observation and experience had known about planets movement, is delivered for keeping to this book”-Ulugbek was writing. In this work basics of astronomic observations are summarized, made by east scientists.

Exactness of observations of Samarkand astronomers is amazing because they were made without help of optical instruments, with unaided eye. Astronomic tables contents coordinates of 1018 stars. His catalog did not lose its value in our days. With amazing exactness made the calculation of the length of star year, which by Ulugbek’s calculation is equal to 365 days 6 hours 10 minutes 8 seconds. Actual length of star year by modern data is 365 days 6 hours 9 minutes 9,6 seconds. Thus the mistake is only less that one minute.

After Ulugbek’s death observatory was destroyed and robbed by religious fans. Only in 1908 archaeologist Vyatkin found first document where location of observatory was mentioned. Unfortunately only underground part of sextant and basis of the building were saved. By found documents scientists made the model of the observatory.

Remarkable scientific center was destroyed, valuable library was plundered, and scientists were chased away. Sheikhs announced the hill as the place of grave “Forty virgins” and built here mausoleum, place of pilgrimage, bringing big profits to hypocrites. Like this Samarkand priesthood was trying to suppress in people member of torch of science-Ulugbek and his observatory.

Afrasiab hill - Samarkand

Afrasiab hill - Samarkand

The ancient part of Samarkand situated on Afrasiab hill was named after legendary Turanian king. The settlement arose in the 8th - early 7th centuries B.C.; it occupied more than 200 hectares and was protected by river canals in the north and east and deep ravines in the south. In the time of the Achaemenids the city was encircled with a massive wall which had inside corridor and towers. Many scientists identify Afrasiab with ancient Sogdian capital - Marakanda destroyed by Alexander the Great in the 4th century B.C.

Samarkand rose again in the 4th-8th centuries when the Great Silk Road became an important trade route. Samarkand became the strongest of Sogdian princedoms. In the 5th-7th centuries it was governed by the Hephthalites and Turks. In the 7th-8th centuries Samarkand recognized supremacy of Chinese Tang dynasty. Four lines of new walls were built around Samarkand in that period. There were built Zoroastrian, Buddhist and Christian temples. The wall paintings in the royal palace are still safe. In the 8th century Arabian troops headed by Quteiba conquered Samarkand.

Registan Square - Samarkand

Registan Square - Samarkand

During centuries Registan Square was the center of Samarkand. The word Registan means “sand place”. There was a river running there many ages ago, before building the first Madrassah on the square. Years passed, the river dried out and left lots of sank there, that was the first place where the first Madrassah was built in the beginning of the 15th century and named Registan square. As the Madrassah was first built, all the holidays, parades, festivals and Sunday bazaars took place.

The ensemble consists of three Madrassah: Ulugbek Madrassah (15th century), Sher – Dor Madrassah (17th century) and Tilla-Kari Madrassah (gold covered)(17th century). Madrassah– is the Muslim high educational institution. Only the boys from reach families studied there. The training lasted for 10, 12, 20 years. It was up to the discipline the student selected. The main discipline for all of them was Learning Koran. The rest of the subjects were not obligatory and could be selected by students.

The Ulugbek Madrassah was built by the Ulugbek’s order and guidance. It lasted only three years from 1417 to 1420. When the medresse was constructed, Ulugbek gave lectures on mathematics and astronomy till his death.

Two years later, the ruler of Samarkand Yalangtush Bahadur ordered to build the copy of the Madrassah, and the second Sher-Dor Madrassah was built opposite it. The only difference was that it had two more winter teaching halls, but the main structure was the same as in Ulugbek Madrassah.

Several years later, the same ruler of Samarkand ordered the third Tilla-Kari Madrassah. It’s outward is the same as those two other medresses, but coming in you’ll see a one story building. To make the architectural ensemble, the architecture made two floors on the outside but only one inside. Madrassah was always built by one project – four-cornered yard with four terraces and cells along the whole perimeter. The main entrance was always locked with lattice and two other entrances were used by purpose. The doors in cell were always low because “Islam” means “obedience”, that is why everyone who entered or went out of cell always had to bow, it was like greeting and wishing health to everyone.

Only Tilla-Kari Madrassah was bult like medresse, but was used mostly as mosque; just looking at minarets can see this, Tilla-Kari has low minarets to call people to pray.

In 17th century Till-Kari mosque and Madrassah was the biggest mosque in Samarkand. Right up to 19th century Madrassah and Madrassah-mosque was used by purpose, and only from the beginning of 20th century till now they serve as monuments.

“Eden of Ancient East”, “Precious Pearl of Islam World”, “ Rome of East”, “Rui Zamin”-“Face of Earth”-with such magnificent names poets, historians, medieval geographers of Iran, India, China, Byzantium, Egypt called Samarkand.

Even though of such magnificent description Samarkand saw many sites of fire and destructions, which left their sign in history.

During centuries Samarkand was gained by different nomadic and half nomadic generations, which always were destroying, sacking, and leaving ruins after them. Samarkand saw three the largest tragedies.

1. The first ine is related to the time of Aleksandr Macedonian’s gains in 329 year BC; the city was fully destroyed, citizens were exterminated. After reconstruction of the city there was a development of different crafts, the east and Greek cultures mixed together, and this left its sign in the history of Samarkand.

2. The second tragedy is related to 8th century, when Arabs were gaining the Central Asia. Stating from 8th century Islam became main religion in Central Asia. Before that time there were different religions in Central Asia but the main was zoroastrism. And only Arabs with sword and fire, destroying people brought new religion Islam to Central Asia. And till now it is still main religion here.

3. Third tragedy is related to 13th century, when Chigiz han was gaining the central asia. When the city was destroyed, Samarkand ame to the new decline. And only in 14th century when Timur came to the power Samarkand was reconstructed. 14-15th centuries are called the Renaissance because Timur brought scientists from each aggressive crusade. In particular he was assisted in development of different sciences in Central Asia.

Samarkand reached the highest level of development only during Timur’s government, though he is described as cruel gainer in history. All this was happened because during 35 year he brought with him mathematicians, astronomers, architectures, and musicians from his aggressive campaigns to his country.

Architectures from many countries participated in the construction of many monuments. Various décor, and picture of rising sun with lions chasing after fallow-deers is the illustration of it. It is not allow illustrating animals and people in Islam. But Sher-Dor medresse is decorated exactly with pictures of animals.

What is concerned about decoration of the whole ensemble, here it is possible to see the difference in designing of tympanums of every medresse. If in Ulugbek medresse cable is often repeating, but in 17th century medresse no picture is repeated because it was prohibited in that time to repeat the pictures in architectures work. Geometric, letter design, and crockets were used in designing.

Tim Abdullah khan - Bukhara

Tim Abdullah khan - Bukhara

Tim Abdullah Khan is a covered marketplace (tim) built in 1577, along Bukhara's primary commercial spine between Taq-i Zargaron and Maghak-i 'Attari Mosque. Once known as the Tim-i Kalyan, or Great Market, this bazaar lies southwest of the Abdul Aziz Khan and Ulugh Beg madrasa ensemble. Shaybanid ruler Iskandar (1561-83) most probably commissioned this bazaar, although his son, 'Abdalah II (1583-98) is popularly believed to have built it. It was a center of Central Asia's famed silk trade through the centuries, and is the sole survivor of erstwhile Bukhara's six covered markets.

Tim Abdullah Khan is a self-contained, introverted market space, distinct from the famed crossroad markets (taqs) of Bukhara. Its square and symmetric plan features three grand entrances along the street façade facing west and three, relatively modest openings in the other cardinal directions. A large domed octagonal hall forms the building's center; it has four ancillary rooms built into its walls at the corners. Four passageways, one in each direction, lead out from the central hall to an octagonal gallery lined with small and large alcoves for merchant stalls. The vaulting of Tim Abdullah Khan is a multi-cupola composition, with nineteen domes built around the high central dome. This honeycomb-like composition rests on cross arches and shield-shaped pendentives. Eight clerestory windows admit light into the central hall, while lantern-shaped towers flood light into the main entrance vestibule.

Typical of Bukhara's commercial structures, Tim Abdullah Khan was constructed in a highly utilitarian manner, with little decoration. The simplicity of its design combined with the structural tour de force of its vaulting and its elaborate street façade substantiate greater scholarly attention for this market, which had a pivotal role medieval Bukhara's economy. Tim Abdullah Khan was once part of an extensive commercial and institutional network consisting of traveler inns (caravanserais), public baths (hammams), crossroad markets (taqs), theological colleges (madrasas) and mosques. These urban connections are no longer perceptible after the mindless demolitions and insensitive preservation attempts of the twentieth century. The building's eastern bay of domes show extensive structural damage that require immediate structural repairs.

Tok-i-Zargaron - Bukhara

Tok-i-Zargaron - Bukhara

On the main streets of medieval Bukhara they used to build domed shopping arcades. Three of them, built in the 16th century, have survived to the present day. Toki Zargaron (‘Dome of Jewelers’) is located at the intersection of two arterial roads next to Kalyan Mosque and Miri-Arab Madrassah. Tok means ‘an arch’ or ‘a vault’; this word was also used to call the street shopping arcades. The four vaulted passages of Toki Zargaron opened to Great Silk Road caravans to come in. The large ribbed dome with 16 windows stands on an octahedral base. And all around there cluster smaller domes topping craftsmen’s workrooms and shops. The spacious and cool halls under these domes accommodated over 30 workrooms and shops of jewelers who manufactured and sold here rings, earrings, necklaces, stamps, splendid settings for weapons…

The shopping arcade Toki Telpak-furushon (‘Dome of Headgear Salespersons’) comprised 5 streets fanning extensively. By means of cranked turnings skillful constructors transformed the streets into a regular hexahedral base. The central dome crowning Toki Telpak-furushon has a circle of windows. In the past the shops met the customers with abundance of turbans, fur hats, and skullcaps embroidered with silk and decorated with beads.

At the Y-intersection of two streets, one of which ran right to the city’s central square – Registan Square, there rises Toki Sarrafon (‘Dome of Moneychangers’). Recent archeological excavations showed that over a thousand years ago at the site of Toki Saraffon there used to be a building that had suffered heavy fire damage. The building was provided with a sewerage system; its residents used high-quality earthenware. The latest coins found there during the excavations date from the 10th century. Within 400 years, from the 11th through the 15th centuries, the building was reconstructed several times and was adapted at one moment for a ceramic workshop, at another for a glass-blowing shop. In the 16th century the dome of Toki Sarrafon was erected on the ancient baked brick foundations. Under its four intersecting arches there is a passage. The very name of the dome is evidence to the fact that in the Middle Ages Bukhara was one of the largest trading centers on the Great Silk Road. Here the local merchants could exchange their money for foreign currencies before leaving for far-away lands, whereas foreign merchants readily acquired Bukhara’s coins.

Today under the three ancient domes there is a busy life, too. Just like in the Middle Ages the structure houses craftsmen shops where tourists can buy a memory token of their trip: a skullcap with gold embroidery, a metal tray with beautiful engravings, a ceramic dish, a jewelry box with beautiful painting or carving…

Poi-Kalyan Ensemble - Bukhara

Poi-Kalyan Ensemble - Bukhara

It is the main ensemble in Bukhara center, situated on the way to trade crossing of "four bazars" and Poi-Kalyan means “the pedestal of the Great” (it means “the pedestal of Kalyan minaret”). Ensemble consists of 4 monuments: Kalyan mosque and Mini-Arab Madrassah – faced to each other with main fronts; between them is Kalyan minaret; to the south of Mini-Arab there is small Amir-Allimkhan Madrassah.

Kalyan Minaret – it is a great vertical pillar, rising above the city. To proclaim the appeal to the pray – azal, it was enough to rise mosque roof, as it was in first centuries after Islam establishment. The word “minaret” descends from “minor” – it is a place, where something is on fire, the fire was set in leading light like this, between them in ancient world there were vast many-storey towers, like Phaross light-house of 143 meters height, dating to 283 BC. Minarets played an exceptional role in architectual ensembles creating the city peculiarity.

In the beginning of 12 century – Arslan-khan ordered to transfer the minaret of old cathedral mosque far from fortress. When this work had been finished “someone overlooked the building”, minaret fell on the cathedral mosque and destroyed its 2/3. For the second time Arslan-khan ordered to built minaret. By inscription in turquoise majolica, under light cornice of Kalyan minaret, it was determined that it was finished in 1127. You can read “the name of Arslan-khan” on the half weight of stem. And it was found the name of master – Bano, whose burial place, local inhabitants pointed out between the next blockhouses. Kalyan minaret represents characteristic Maveranahr style of roundtrunk brick tower, decorated by the arch light. Its lower diameter – 9 meters, up diameter – 6 meters, total height is 45,6 meters. There is a brink-winding staircase inside trunk. Sixteen-arch light rotunda hangs over minaret trunk leaning on running out laying rows, decorated as stalactite cornice.

Lyabi-Hauz Ensemble - Bukhara

Lyabi-Hauz Ensemble - Bukhara

Architectual ensemble Lyabi-hauz is formed with three large monumental buildings: Kukeldash Madrassah in the north, khanaka and Nodir Divan-begi in the west and in the east. From the south the square was closed with Trade Street. The center of old Bukhara large ensemble became a reservoir.

The name «Laybi-khauz» means «at reservoir». According to the old legend, for a long time knan gardener Nodir Divan-begi could not buy a lot for planned building, where a house of alone woman was. Then all-powerful vizier ordered to built a channel under women's house, and the water began to washaway walls, unhappy women had to sell this lot. The khan hauz secretly was called «khauz of violence», what in arabian inscription gives numerical meaning of building date - 1620. The khauz rectangular (36 – 46 meters height), stretched from the east to the west, is buried in shadow of venerable chinaras. Its shores are formed with stair launch to the water, made from massive blocks of yellow limestone. In old times there was «tea bazar», there sold sweets, dainties, bread and made food.

Kukeldash Madrassah (1568 - 1569) is the largest in Bukhara (80x 60 meters). It is built on traditional diagram of eastern institution – boarding school. However for the first time in madrasah built in rabid, light, ventilated hujrs leaded by loggias on the free yard to the streets of city. They open on the second floor on side-facades. Living apatment is equipped with modern amenities, as Ulugbek Madrassah in Samarkand, butr there is three-part apartmenton the first floor, consisted of ayvan, housing and household apartments. In darskhana 4 crossing archs, stretched from corner to corner diagonally with netted décor, carry the light.

On the west side of Laybi-khauz is one more architectural monument. This is Nodir Divan-begi Khanaka (1619 - 1620). It is great multicells building with central cupola hall, with undeep niches on sides. In the building corners are living hydjras.

On the eastern side of khauz you can see a facade of curious architectual building – Nodir Divan-begi Madrassah. At first this building was built as caravan-saray in Madrassah, joined to main facade loggias, portal and corner towers. At this time second floor was built. On longitudinal axis, across from entrance peshtak is, traditional in caravan-saray, passage to the back yard, destined for pack cattle.

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