Sunday, April 12, 2020



Located on the ancient Grand Silk Road, Samarkand is one of the oldest (2500 Y) cities of the world. Kand-khand means pradesh-area and Mar means dessert, therefore, it was called Markanda in Greek. Sa mean semi, Sa-mar means semi desert area, therefore, it became Samarkand. The caravans passing through the route used to stay over night here, as there were many Sarais to serve them food, drink and to provide accommodations, therefore could be called Safar-kand, stoppage of the tour. Sama means Jama, where people assemble, sama bandhana is important for musical discourse, the place where caravans stopping and people were enjoining their food, drink, music, dance and stay, therefore, Samarkand. Similarly Tash means stones, the land of stones is called Tashkent.

Samarkand was first conquered by Cyrus the great (Achaemenid Empire), and was under the Sogdiana (the Turan-Turkmenistan of Kazakhstan, Tajikistan and Uzbekistan) Ksharaps. It was annexed by Macedonian ruler Alexander the Great in 328 BC. The area was the second homeland of Aryans of Ahura Mazda.  It was under Kushan (Bactria Greece origin) rule of Parthian tribe and was following Mahayan Buddhism. Kushan Empire was the centre point of the major civilisations. It was capital of Timurids for 140 years. One of the theories routs Chandra Gupta Maurya in Kshatraps, commanding areas around Taxila before his march to Pataliputra.

When East was growing in Arts and Culture following principles of Buddhism, Western Asia was growing under Mesopotamia civilisation, China with his art, handicrafts, silk and education, was searching for the markets, therefore, the Silk Road trade route was developed connecting East-Southeast-South Asia with Persia, Arabia, East Afrika and Southern Europe. Great Wall of China was extended for the trade protection. The silk route became a travel route of their economic, cultural, educational (astronomy), religious (Buddhism) and political interactions. It was a symbol of their peace, prosperity and growth. It became famous with silk carpet weaving of Bukhara. However, disease like plaque were spread along the road. But later invaders used the route for looting.

Samarkand was under Iranian and Turki rulers was conquered by Genghis Khan Mongol in 1220 AD and thereafter, it became a major centre for Islamic studies. It became capital of Timur in 14th century and remained as capital of Beks for 140 years before Babur conquered it for a short time.

There was a river flowing through the city but when it was dried up, the Registan (desert) Square was developed fo public proclamations and executions. Three Madrasahs (west-Ulughbek, centre-Tilya Kori-gold covered and east-Sher-Dor) were framed with Islamic architecture. Sher-lion is suggestive of big and royal. On the face of Sher-Dor madrassa, two tigers mosaics with rising Sun and the two deers mosaic in the centre create an Persian-Zoroastria-Hindu influence, as otherwise depiction of living beings is banned in Islam. Timur returned from India carrying building and stone and tilework workers with him, and they were used in making the Madrasahs. The light and sound show travels you through the historical journey of Samarkand.

Gur Emir Mausoleum is a landmark monument of the city is a burial place of Amir Timur, his spiritual mentor Mir Said Baraka, his sons Shah Rukh and Miran Shah and grand sons Muhammad Sultan and Ulughbek. The mausoleum is a fine example of medieval architectural craftsmanship of Turko-Persian art, a precursor and model for later Mughal architecture tombs in India, i.e., Humayun’s Tomb and Taj Mahal. The gilding work, mosaic of light and dark blue glazed tiles and paintings have enriched the mausoleum.

There is legend after the opening of the tombs by Russian authorities in 1941 to check the remains. Two days after the opening of the Timur’s tomb, Nazi Germany invaded Russia without declaring war 22 June 1941. Some people thought it was a curse of Timur. The remains were sent to Moscow for study but later were returned to Samarkand and were buried with full honour. That had enthused the Muslim soldiers who fought well and made the victory of battle of Stalingrad, the turning point of WW-II.

Bibi Khanym Mosque, one of the largest mosques of medieval period is a poetic presentation of architecture. There is a legend or a rumour that it was built by Timur’s famous wife Bibi-Khanym in honour of Timur’s trip to India. The architect fell in love with the queen and was delaying the construction. When the queen insisted for timely completion of the mosque before Timur’s arrival, the architect, mad in love, proposed to kiss her. In response the queen offered him her slave of his choice, stating example of painted eggs in different colours, looking different from outside but all are the same inside. The architect in reply brought two glasses, one he filled with water and another with white wine and replied the queen that both in appearance are the same but he doesn’t feel anything with water but wine gives him burn like the love. The queen allowed him to kiss and the architect completed the construction. But his hot kiss left a trace on her tender cheek. Timur was delighted with the beautiful gift but noticed the mark on tender cheek of his beautiful wife and when came to know the reason, ordered to bury the architect under the mausoleum.

In the north east part of the city, Shahi Zinda necropolis is the burial place of Kusamibn ibn Abbas, the cousin of Prophet Muhammad. It is known for its richest tile work. There is Ulughbek Observatory built is 1420, was destroyed in 1449 and was rediscovered in 1908.

The monuments of Samarkand couldn’t get place in the list of world heritage sites because of their renovation and restoration like replacements.

Tourists enjoy here the tastes of sweet fruits Grapes, Apple, Naspati (pear); tasty vegetables Pumpkin, potato, sweet potato, and delicious meal of plov (pulau), somsa (samosa), kebab, etc, with a flavour of Bukhara cuisine. And there are shops of Bukhara Silk Carpets and handicrafts. And if you go to Abdullah in Hujom Street a smiling smart General Manager will surely sell his silk carpet to you with high price but with better discount!

If get a chance to visit, don’t miss this old city located on the ancient Silk Road to appreciate the economic, cultural and political journey of Central Asia.


20 October 2019


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