Samarkand: A golden journey worth taking

Samarkand – is this a city or a fairy tale come true?

For many centuries, Samarkand has sparked the imagination of poets. Amongst them was James Elroy Flecker, the author of the famous poem “Golden Journey to Samarkand”. Its mystique also remains unbroken today, mainly due to the breathtaking beauty of its four major sights: Registan, Bibi Chanum, Gur Emir and the Shohizinda Necropolis We actively have to force our awe struck jaws to close again. Taking pictures and exploring the hidden treasures of the vast sights becomes an addiction which fully absorbs us. We will not explore anything else in that city.

This said, we also feel that despite the beauty of the individual sights, Samarkand as a city lacks a bit of character and context. The main sights are connected by a “touristic alley”, but the alleys next to this touristic path have been closed off. Off-the-beaten-path highlights are hard to find in Samarkand, but the amazing main sights make more than up for this circumstance.

1. Registan

The Registan, which translates to „sandy square“, is surrounded by three huge madrasas. Madrasa is the Arabic word for any type of secular or religious educational institution and not limited to Koran schools. Samarkand was known as a center of knowledge and as a meeting point for scholars to the whole world from the 15ths to the 17ths centuries. Fun fact: The Uzbek emperors were not very strict about the Islamic laws, which forbids the depiction of man and animal, and the entry arc to one of the Registan’s buildings displays the well-known mosaic of two tigers having caught some goats.

travel tipp infoTip: In the small supermarket on the “tourist highway” between Registan and Bibi Chanum you can buy cheap, fresh Uzbek Baklava.

2. Bibi-Chanum

The Bibi-Chanum mosque was one of the largest and most splendid in the 15th century Islamic world. The legend is full of emotion and fantastic elements: When Amir Temur was fighting a war far away from Samarkand, the mosque’s architect fell deeply in love with Temur’s favorite wife, Bibi Chanum. He bargained a kiss out of her stating that by all means he could not finish the building without it. When Temur found out, jealousy took over. He ordered the architect to him with the intention to kill him. Knowing well what fate was waiting for him, the architect built himself a pair of wings, jumped off the mosque’s minaret and flew away to another town.

3. Gur Emir

The Gur Emir mausoleum is a place where some Uzbek emperors as well as their close friends and family found their last rest. Most interesting about this mausoleum is also that it offers a window into Samarkands recent past. In contrast to the other three major sights, it is not yet completely restored. Therefore it showcases the desolate state in which all of these magnificent buildings were until their quite recent restoration. Broken, dust colored bricks and stone piles lie around like a 3D puzzle from an alien nation. We felt a huge respect for the fabulous work the restorers have done in Samarkand! The already restored parts and mosaics of the mausoleum are equally awe-inspiring.

4. Shohizinda

Shohizinda Necropolis will become our favorite of the four breathtaking beauties. We approach the necropolis from the backside via a large cemetery. Through a small gate facing Bibi Chonem mosque we enter the graveyard that spreads out over the dried out grass and gravestone covered hills. The gravestones surprise us: Most of them depict a photorealistic picture of the persons buried here. Quite different from graves in Germany. We exit the cemetery and enter the Shohizinda Necropolis on the opposite side. Many princesses, emperors and their beloved are buried here under those beautifully tiled crypts. The settling sun paints the turquoise spires and mosaic facades in a surreal light. Words are falling short of describing the experience.

We let the images speak for themselves…

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