Samarkand – the Heart of Uzbekistan
Not far away, warm, exotic, cheap, and everyone speaks Russian. This is Samarkand – a hospitable Asian city in the heart of Uzbekistan, an amazing and original country with an ancient history.
After gaining independence in 1991, Uzbekistan renamed itself Uzbekiston. Tashkent became Toshkent and Bukhara became Bohoro. Only the ancient city of Samarkand has remained Samarkand by some miracle. This city of half million in valley of the river Zeravshan is almost 3000 years old, and during almost all this time it was considered as a key point on the Great Silk Road. Samarkand has repeatedly been the capital of the states that formed around this rich crossroads. The last time it was the chief city of the Uzbek SSR was from 1925 to 1930. After that the capital was moved to Tashkent.
Samarkand – the Heart of Uzbekistan
Timur and his team
Samarkand is inextricably linked with the name of Tamerlane, the great medieval military leader. Here they call him Emir Timur. It was Tamerlane who made Samarkand the capital of his state (and the Timurid Empire in the 15th century occupied almost all of Central Asia, the Middle East and the Caucasus) and turned it into a city of magnificent architecture, a center of education, industry, science and art. All the famous medieval buildings of the city are associated with Timur and his descendants.
In Samarkand on Registan street is the tomb of Tamerlane “Gur-Emir” – family mausoleum Timurids, who ruled here for over 100 years. In the evenings in the park next to this monumental tomb include colorful musical fountains, attracting tourists and locals here. Just a kilometer from the mausoleum stretches the city’s ceremonial square, the famous Registan architectural ensemble. There used to be the biggest university in Central Asia that consisted of three complexes of medieval educational institutions, where besides the Koran they studied mathematics, medicine and astronomy. Now these vast buildings – madrassah Ulugbek, Till Kari and Sherdor – perfectly restored, but instead of lectures, they sell souvenirs.
Timur and his team
Just off Registan Square stands the enormous Bibi-Khanum Mosque, which translates as “the eldest princess,” built in honor of Tamerlane’s chief wife. This khanum enjoyed the absolute confidence of the leader, although she did not give birth to any heir, and in general she became an elderly widow. Her role in the life of the great conqueror is not entirely clear, but, to all appearances, it was far from romantic. Rather, it was a marriage of convenience. It is not for nothing that local guides say that “bibi-khanym” actually means “madam grandmother.
Timur and his team
For many centuries, this mosque was in disrepair and by the end of the last century was almost completely destroyed – only the walls were left of it, there was no dome or minarets. All this was restored in recent years, during the independence of Uzbekistan. However, some Samarkanders are not happy with the fact that the new dome was one-third lower than the one that was built in the 15th century under Tamerlane. But even in the reduced form of the mosque is very large, and the people next to it look like ants. In the courtyard of the construction is a stone table with a stand for the Koran. It is believed that the object has the magical property of granting wishes and cures of infertility.
Next to the former Islamic university is the home street of Uzbekistan’s first president, Islam Karimov – Tashkentskaya, now called after him. There is also the school where he studied. And a little further up the hill, there is another important landmark of Samarkand – the Shahi Zinda mausoleum complex. From the top of the hill there is a breathtaking view of Registan, and just below there is a whole city of ancient crypts, more like palaces. Here, under the blue domes rests Uljai Khanum – the second and most beloved wife of Timur, as well as his sister and nieces, commanders of his army and other nobles of Samarkand, and around the extensive modern burial ground, where the marble and granite lie the relatives of the president, he himself, as well as thousands of ordinary people.
Between the palace complex Registan and the city cemetery Shahi Zinda next to the mosque Bibi-Khanim is the main city market – Siab. Here it is simply called Bozor. Samarkand bozor – the second largest in the country after the Tashkent. Its colorful bustle begins just behind the high wrought iron gates, where you will be greeted by gypsy beggars and friendly currency traders – well-dressed guys with huge bundles of cash in their hands. Under the big blue awning, under the small multi-colored umbrellas and just under the hot sun is a brisk trade. Skullcaps and turbans flash by, fruit and spices smell, brocades sparkle, silk glitters and velvet gleams softly on the counters. Green apricots rubs shoulders with yellow apricots, giant strawberries – with glossy cherries. Vendors of bright Uzbek textiles put on their most beautiful, grey-bearded men on trestle beds pour vodka from teapots into bowls in the hope that the Almighty will think it’s tea.
Here you can enjoy plenty of fruit and oriental sweets, try on many robes and tubeteikas, haggle for a painted shawl, and then relax on the teahouse veranda (here it is called “choyhona”) in the center of the bazaar. From up here, sitting in the cool shade over a plate of shurpa or lagman, it is nice to watch the local boys carrying on their heads whole pyramids of hot round tortillas, Uzbek girls with carts perform complicated maneuvers among the goods spread on the ground, and the cook in a cap rushes from the meat rows with a cow’s leg under his arm.
However, the Siab bazaar has not always been Samarkand’s main market. Five hundred years ago it was occupied by the dwellings of artisans and the whole trade was taking place nearby, in the Chorsu market. In the XV century it was the biggest trade center of Samarkand which was the capital of the region at that time. This ancient market place under the round dome, which has miraculously survived, is now used as an art gallery, where works of Uzbek artists are exhibited.
Uzbek food is very tasty and uncomplicated – the recipes for the most popular national dishes date back to ancient times, when the entire population of Central Asia led a nomadic lifestyle. In the XXI century cooking techniques have changed little. Cast-iron cauldron, clay tandoor and open fire at bonfire enable today to cook any authentic Uzbek dish, from beshbarmak to samsa. In Samarkand, there are many beautiful restaurants with rich menu, especially on the central street Registan. From morning till night, the tempters lure the tourists there, promising several sorts of pilaf, a wide range of kebabs, fish, mutton, horse meat and, of course, a full range of European dishes. However, you will rarely see locals there.
Samarkanders prefer to eat in the teahouses and taverns of the Old City, which at first sight look more like garages than catering establishments. You can get a full and very tasty meal for two (shurpa, lagman, shashlik, salad and tea) in these unpretentious eateries for the price of a cup of coffee in Moscow. There you will also learn that the real Samarkand plov is cooked and served in the morning, the best time is from 11 am to 1 pm. It is worth waking up at least once early in the morning to see the cook taking plov, which looks like a scheme of geological layers of the Earth in a section: core, mantle, Earth crust….
The most delicious pilaw in the city is considered to be free of charge and handed out at the market. Everyone who wants, but only on certain days. To find out the nearest date you can ask any Samarkand resident.
What to see and taste in Samarkand
Getting to know Samarkand, one of the oldest cities in Asia, under the guidance of Silk Road Samarkand Press Center, the organizer of the trip, caused a range of emotions for the ATOR Newsletter correspondent. We tell about the most striking locations, share impressions and author’s photos.
Samarkand is one of the oldest cities in Central Asia, the same age as Rome, the heart of the Great Silk Road and the capital of the great Tamerlane.
Because Samarkand knows how to give impressions, which one wants to grasp, put together and make something beautiful. And this city liberates the imagination of the one who looks at it, and allows everyone to imagine and search for personal meanings in their subjects.
Samarkand has many plots as bright as the clothes of the locals, as amazing as the blue domes of minarets and madrasahs propping up the sky, as juicy as the yellow carrots in the delicious Samarkand pilaf, as tart as freshly squeezed pomegranate juice in the 600 year old Siaib market, As immense as oriental hospitality, as comprehensive as the desire to buy up all the robes, carpets and pottery, and of course, as majestic as the centuries-old architectural masterpieces of the era of the great Amir Temur (Tamerlane).
THROUGH THORNS TO THE STARS
Tamerlane created a great empire in the lands of Central Asia and made Samarkand his capital. During the life of the great ruler, grandiose palaces, mosques and mausoleums were built in Samarkand.
The descendants of the Timurid ruler continued to thrive in the city. Ulugbek, Tamerlane’s grandson, was an outstanding astronomer and mathematician who in 1437 was able to calculate with unprecedented accuracy the duration of a sidereal year – 365 days, 6 hours, 10 minutes, 8 seconds, with an error of less than a minute. He also determined the tilt of the Earth’s axis.
The calculations were made in the largest observatory of the Middle Ages. To look at it, or rather at what has survived to this day – a cyclopean staircase with an arc of a giant quadrant can be seen on the Kuhak Hill on the outskirts of Samarkand. Already in Ulugbek’s lifetime his scientific works were known all over the world.
Ulugbek turned Samarkand into the intellectual center of the khanate. He built a madrassah on the main square of the city, which became the most prestigious educational institution of the Muslim world. On Registan Square, Ulugbek’s madrasah is on the left.
Much later, in the 17th century, two more madrasahs, Sher-Dor and Tillya-Kari Madrasah, stood next to each other. Together, these three spiritual schools form a single architectural ensemble, which is included in the UNESCO list.
During the day, the madrasah courtyards are filled with stalls of local artisans and craftsmen. Get ready to walk around endlessly, and unnoticeably spend all the contents of your wallet.
No, you can not resist. Here are the things that you understand at once, that if you do not buy them now, they will come to you in your dreams for a long time after.
Here is a grandiose collection of ceramics of dozens of different ceramic schools, traditional silk-ikats with geometric ornaments, skullcaps decorated with gold, silk embroidered bedspreads, camel hair shawls.
In between shopping it is worth visiting the calligraphy master class. The master will show you how to spell your name in Arabic. Try it again and you are unlikely to get any sense out of it. Ask the master to help you and he will take a reed pen and write exquisite letters on a piece of thin leather. And give it to you.
For those who want to buy designer clothes and all sorts of handicrafts, we suggest visiting the Samarkand Handicraft Center, located in a restored 19th century caravanserai. Many caravanserais in Uzbekistan have been converted into craft shops, boutiques or cafes.
In the evening, the views and sensations on Registan Square change, and when the musical light show starts, it’s a time of magic. You seem to look up and see a magic carpet flying silently over the square.
While it is on the way, you can chat with the locals, who will certainly come up to meet you during the show and tell you about their life and how proud they are of Samarkand and the country as a whole.
Information about his family, holidays, grand plans for the future came pouring out of the mouth of our interlocutor Batyr and the conversation ended with a waterfall of historical information. Batyr declared that the Uzbeks are very proud of Tamerlane and strongly recommended visiting the mausoleum of the ruler Gur-Emir.
THE TOMB OF THE RULER AND HIS FAMILY
The ancient tomb of the Timurids, Gur Emir (“the tomb of the lord”, “the tomb of the Emir”), which Tamerlane built for his beloved early grandson, Muhammad Sultan, is truly impressive.
The mausoleum is like a book, soaked in the darkness of centuries, which you greedily “swallow” in the same breath.
The first thing you notice in the mausoleum is solemnity. The ancient wooden door is covered with the finest carvings, the walls are covered with tiles in gold leaf, and the design is dominated by blue and gold colors that dazzle with their brightness.
In the center of the mausoleum rests Tamerlane, a little higher – his mentor Mir Sayyid Barak. It is also the final resting place of Tamerlane’s two sons and two grandsons.
There was once a popular film, “The Mystery of Tamerlane’s Tomb. The Curse of Tamerlane,” about the tomb of the lord and its uncovering by Soviet scientists in 1941, and about how this event supposedly led to the beginning of the Great Patriotic War.
Tamerlane’s jade tombstone bears the warning, “When I rise, the world will tremble.
Naturally, the film has many critics who point out that the opening of the tomb has nothing to do with the outbreak of war, since we know that Hitler’s plan was devised as early as 1940. Of course, there are also many who see this story through the prism of mysticism.
THE MYSTIQUE OF SAMARKAND
The architecture in Samarkand is really shrouded in a halo of mystery. It is especially felt in the necropolis of Shah-i-Zinda (translated from Persian as “living king”), where Tamerlane’s sisters, wives, children, military leaders and philosophers are buried.
However, the ancient cemetery is named after the brave warrior Qusam ibn Abbas, cousin of the Prophet Muhammad. According to legend, ibn Abbas came to preach in Samarkand in 640, where he spent 13 years and was killed by Zoroastrians while praying. But he did not “die.”
Versions of his salvation vary, such as this – he disappeared in a crevice that suddenly appeared in the split rostrum beneath him. The inscription on Kussam ibn Abass’s tombstone reads, “Those who are killed in the way of Allah, do not consider them dead: no, they are alive. “.
In the Shahi Zinda complex there is a sense of mysterious depth and audible silence. Every stone, every tree is silent here. And here you feel very light, everything around is illuminated by invisible light.
Want a long and leisurely stroll through the narrow medieval alley, on both sides of which stretch mosques and mausoleums 14-15 centuries, decorated with majolica tiles and carved mosaics.
Especially pleasing to the eyes are the azure domes, now coquettishly peeking out of the arches, now running away into the distance. Once Tamerlane declared blue the color of the country. Indeed, turquoise perfectly enlivens the sandy landscape.
On the territory of the complex there are shops with products of local artists, you can buy ceramic toys or a magnet with the image of a lion, carrying on the back of the sun.
The historical emblem of Iran – a lion with the sun on its back – is depicted on the entrance portal of one of the mosques (Sher-dor) on Registan Square. There are magnets depicting Afrasiab, the ancient town of Samarkand, which was razed to the ground by Genghis Khan eight centuries ago.
Today, only a scattering of hills covering an area of more than two square kilometers is left of the ancient settlement.
Against the background of a huge hilly plateau local residents on donkeys and cars (mostly Chevrolets, which are assembled in Uzbekistan) passing by look very picturesque.
And on the streets of Samarkand there are many chubby Isuzu cars. Samarkand automobile plant cooperates with it, producing local versions of assembled Japanese models. Every half an hour electric cars drive tourists and locals from the Registan Square to Bibi-Khanum Mosque.
BIBI-KHANUM AND SIAB BAZAAR
The dome of Bibi Khanum Mosque, named after Tamerlane’s favorite wife, has been compared to the beauty of the sky and the arch of the portal to the Milky Way.
It is indeed exquisite. And if you ask a local seller of tinkling whistles to play, it is doubly pleasant to enjoy the beauty of the place.
A two-minute walk from the mosque is the Siab bazaar, which for 600 years, like a magnet attracts its oriental hospitality and willingness to please guests with all kinds of delicacies.
The sound of whistles from the Bibi-Khanum mosque is replaced here by the noisy resounding of traders, inviting them into their shops.
What a lot of things here! Fruits, vegetables, dozens of varieties of nuts, an incredible amount of sweets, spices. And at much more attractive prices than the famous Chorsu market in Tashkent.
On the whole, Siyab bazaar is inferior to Chorsu except in architecture, but superior in color – both the sellers and the assortment.
Walking around Siab bazaar, you don’t even feel at home but at home. It is very clean and the streets of Samarkand are very clean, there are attentive sellers and almost childlike curiosity of the locals who asked who we are, where we are from and asked to take some pictures together.
Beautiful photographs are taken of brides and grooms. You can meet them in the park behind Registan Square, you can come any day, weddings in Samarkand take place every day.
And in the bazaar, be sure to take pictures and buy lepyoshkas.
In Samarkand they say: “It is a great sin to leave the city without a lepyoshka, and it is not a good reason to come to Samarkand without one”.
The legendary Samarkand lepyoshka can go back many hundreds of years. Its uniqueness is that it can stand for several weeks without spoiling. They bake this bread to this day using the same recipe.
Artisans in Uzbekistan also work the way their fathers, grandfathers and great grandfathers did. Almost everything is done in the old way, by hand, as carefully as it was done a hundred or two hundred years ago.
Therefore, any thing you buy in the handicraft shops will be unique. Great attention in Samarkand is paid to the preservation and revival of old techniques and methods.
In Samarkand there is a very interesting production – in the village of Konigil craftsmen again began to make silk paper.
Guests of the tourist village can watch the whole process. First, the branches of the mulberry tree (the same one whose leaves are eaten by the mulberry silkworm) are removed from the bark and the upper dark layer is removed.
Then the bark is boiled for a long time in vats to make it soft. The bark is then milled in mortars until it becomes mushy. This is done with a special mechanism, which is set in motion by a large shaft under the action of the stream of water in the creek.
The resulting mush of bark is mixed with water and then sifted through a sieve. The resulting thin even layer of future paper is put under the press for a few days. The paper is rough, so it is ground with a large seashell.
Production volume of paper that will last 200 years is small. It is used to make things, all kinds of crafts, passport covers, wallets and print books on this paper.
Of course, people in the village of Konigil are engaged in other crafts, the same ones their ancestors were engaged in.
Many are passionate about pottery. You can buy here clay products for very little money. For example, a clay pomegranate, the symbol of fertility and abundance, is only $3.
You can also pay in Russian rubles, but it is better to have the national currency Sum or dollars, also cards are accepted, but not everywhere.
By the way the shop offers tasty dried fruit compote.
In the village you can also take a master class on cooking Samarkand plov. Its peculiarity is the layering of ingredients in a cauldron and then in a plate.
That is, it is not mixed when cooking and the finished dish is also laid out in parts – first the rice, then carrots and on top of the meat. In total there are more than 150 types of pilaf in Uzbekistan, it is included in the list of Intangible Cultural Heritage of Humanity by UNESCO.
In the bazaars you can see how the national dish is cooked in giant cauldrons. You should come early in the morning, because by 10-11 am there is nothing left in the cauldrons.
Also Uzbek samsa, which is small, triangle-shaped, with meat stuffing, is definitely worth tasting. Manti are very tasty as well. They are usually served with the dressing of yogurt and greens, which is typical of Uzbek cuisine.
UZBEKS ARE VERY MUCH LOOKING FORWARD TO RUSSIAN TOURISTS
The Uzbeks love hot dogs too. At the very beginning of our journey, when we were on the train from Tashkent to Samarkand, it was this dish that two of the wagon neighbors treated me to. They also treated me to tea with incredibly tasty lemon and were very upset that my encounter with Uzbekistan would be so short.
“Tell your readers that Uzbekistan is waiting for them very much and is ready to surprise them, ready to enchant them with its oriental mystery, fascinate them with its antiquities. Soon a new airport and the Silk Road Samarkand resort will open in Samarkand. Also tell me that there is a lot of delicious food and the people are kind. If anything, you can give my phone number. Let them know they already have a friend in Uzbekistan,” a Tashkent resident told us.
In the next newsletter of “ATOR Newspaper” Artem Yegikyan, General Director of Silk Road Samarkand Tourist Cluster, will tell in detail about a great gift awaiting travelers in Samarkand in 2022.
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