We managed to resolutely resist Samarkand’s Crown Jewels, the Registan. That was for day 3, with today being dedicated to Amir Timur the Great.
We would be driving 80km south over the hills and via a bustling market to Timur’s birthplace of Shahrisabz in Kashkadarya province, whilst that evening we would also take in his final resting place.
We arranged a taxi through our hotel (actually the receptionist’s brother-in-law) and we set off at ten to head to Urgut Market. Urgut was the type of place that shouts hustle and bustle.
Urgut Market, Samarkand
A vast amount of cars were parked up by the time that we arrived at eleven. Typical of such places, just about anything was for sale. The market was part in the open, part under cover and was divided into zones of shops & stalls all selling the same stuff. Textiles, clothing, shoes, sweets, vegetables, machinery, homeware etc.
We spent forty-minutes viewing the goings on. I was most fascinated by the barbecue area, where shoppers literally fought each other to get served burnt meat slapped inside pita bread. The zone was filled with smoke and chatter.
Despite the unpleasant surroundings, this was also a place to gather and talk. The lucky ones had white plastic chairs to perch on, the rest just stood in the dirt.
I think we would still be there trying to get served had we wanted to partake, but left the locals to it and headed off once more.
were soon winding our way high up into the hills with some spectacular views of the valley below.
We stopped at a roadside market for a comfort break. The market was almost exclusively selling dried fruit and nuts, with a number of identikit vendors showing their wares in sacks & wicker baskets.
We arrived at Shahrisabz (meaning blue dome) to find a landscaped area that had been extensively renovated to make the complex look as if it had been built very recently as opposed to actually being the 15th Century buildings constructed in honour of Timur.
We wandered around the revered site, but were pretty bored to be honest. The Kok Gumbaz Mosque was very nice inside, however the rest seemed just too bland. A definite example of when it it is best to leave a site to its semi-ruined state.
Perhaps it was a case of ‘after the Lord Mayor’s show’ as I am sure that if this had been the first site of its type we had seen, we would have been suitably wowed.
The city was also a cafe desert. We found one with a very decent view, but all they had to offer was tea and supermarket cakes contained inside cellophane wrappers, which we consumed hungrily all the same.
We both agreed whilst on the 150-minute journey home that it hadn’t really been worth the effort.
Thankfully the evening activity was more to make up for that.
We arrived at the Timur mausoleum after dark and found the structure to be most beguiling under its floodlights.
Gur-e Amir is Persian for “Tomb of the King”. This architectural complex with its azure dome contains the tombs of Tamerlane, his sons Shah Rukh and Miran Shah and grandsons Ulugh Beg and Muhammad Sultan. Also honoured with a place in the tomb is Timur’s teacher Sayyid Baraka.
The construction of the mausoleum itself began in 1403 after the sudden death of Muhammad Sultan, Timur’s heir apparent and his beloved grandson, for whom the new mausoleum was intended.
Timur had built himself a smaller tomb in Shahrisabz, near his Ak-Saray palace. However, when Timur himself died in 1405 whilst on his military expedition to China, the passes to Shahrisabz were snowed in, so he was buried here instead.
Ulugh Beg, another grandson of Tamerlane, completed the work. During Ulugh’s reign the mausoleum became the family crypt of the Timurid Dynasty.
There were some official looking guards around, but they did not seem to care that Hamish & I just wandered in ticketless. We were on our own and uneasily felt we could be locked inside at any moment.
If the exterior was wonderful, the interior was absolutely stunning, especially the main mausoleum room of the Timurid Dynasty.
The clanking of a large set of heavy iron keys told us that it was time to depart. We had been spellbound by the grandeur of the place.
Gur-e Amir occupies an important place in the history of Persian-Mongolian Architecture as the precursor and model for later great Mughal architecture tombs, including Gardens of Babur in Kabul, Humayun’s Tomb in Delhi and the Taj Mahal in Agra, which was built by Timur’s Persianised descendants, the ruling Mughal dynasty of the Indian Sub-continent.
We went to bed very happy that night, delighted with what we had just seen and also looking forward to finally visiting the Registan the next morning.