Samarkand, in Uzbekistan, is one of the oldest cities in Central Asia. It has a rich history dating back over 2,750 years and has been an important center for trade, culture, and scholarship in the region. It was a prominent city along the Silk Road, the ancient network of trade routes that connected the East and West.
It has a history of being conquered and ruled by various empires, including the Persian Empire, Alexander the Great, the Islamic Caliphates, the Mongols, and the Timurid Empire. The city’s most famous ruler was Timur a Turco-Mongol conqueror who made Samarkand his capital in the 14th century. architectural legacy of this period, with its stunning buildings and monuments, is still visible today.
Samarkand’s historic center, with its many architectural wonders, has been designated as a UNESCO World Heritage Site. The article below provides an overview of the most fascinating landmarks which includes structures like the Registan, Gur-e Amir (the mausoleum of Timur), Bibi-Khanym Mosque, and Shah-i-Zinda, a street of mausoleums, and much more …
The city is also famous for its contributions to science, literature, and culture during various historical periods. Samarkand was home to scholars and scientists who made significant advancements in mathematics, astronomy, and medicine. Beyond this, you’ll discover a great culture, and delicious food, and meet very friendly people 😊
The Registan is the most iconic and recognizable landmark in Samarkand. It is a grand public square dating back to the 15th century when it served as the central square for the Timurid dynasty.
It was not only a hub for trade and social gatherings but also a place for royal proclamations and festivities.
The Registan is famous for its three madrasahs (Islamic educational institutions) that frame the square.
Here is a short overview of those three wonders.
Built by Ulugh Beg, a Timurid ruler and a renowned astronomer and mathematician. The madrasah features a large blue dome and intricate tilework.
The madrasah was built in the 15th century by Ulugh Beg, a Timurid ruler and a renowned astronomer and mathematician. It was established as an educational institution, and it also served as a center for scientific and cultural activities during its time.
The madrasah provided instruction in various fields, including Islamic studies, astronomy, mathematics, and other sciences. The internal courtyard is clearly a paradise for photographers, especially with the help of a beautiful model (thanks Shaknoza 😊).
The Sher-Dor Madrasah was built in the 17th century during the rule of the Shaybanid dynasty. It is the youngest of the three madrasahs in the Registan complex.
If you wonder about the absence of people, I managed to get in before the opening, which involved some conversations & more with the (friendly) police 😇.
Tilya-Kori Madrasah & Mosque Tila- Kari
The Tilya-Kori Madrasah is celebrated for its grand and majestic architecture. The name “Tilya-Kori” means “Gilded” in reference to the gold decoration on the madrasah.
The Tilla-Kari Madrasah, is part of the Registan complex was built as well in the 17th century during the rule of the Shaybanid dynasty.
The mosque features a grand central dome, along with smaller domes and a portal with a beautiful iwan (vaulted hall).
The Tilla-Kari Mosque served both religious and educational purposes, with the madrasah providing Islamic education to students. The mosque was a place for prayer and worship.
Registan light show
The three Registan madrasahs (Ulugh Beg Madrasah, Sher-Dor Madrasah, and Tilya-Kori Madrasah), and the central courtyard, are illuminated with carefully designed lighting every evening.
The lights highlight the intricate tilework, geometric patterns, and architectural features of these historic buildings.
Nighttime light shows at Registan Square are popular among tourists and locals alike. Timing is not always fully clear but seems to be around 1 after sunset. ish
They provide a special way to experience this iconic location in Samarkand and appreciate the architectural and historical significance of the monuments in a captivating and enchanting manner.
Uzbek folkloric show
The yard of Sher Dor Madrasah in Registan Square serves as the stage for a folk show that is worth attending.
Performers typically wear colorful and elaborate traditional costumes that are representative of Uzbek culture.
Folk shows include storytelling through music and dance. This is both fun to watch and photograph (despite challenging/ poor lighting 😢)
Performers may act out scenes from Uzbek folklore, historical events, or traditional tales, conveying cultural narratives and messages.
Shah-i-Zinda is another remarkable historical and architectural complex located in Samarkand. This complex is known for its stunning collection of mausoleums and tombs and is one of the most important pilgrimage sites in the city.
The earliest structures date back to the 11th century, while the complex continued to expand and evolve through the 19th century.
The name “Shah-i-Zinda” translates to “Living King” or “The Living King” in Persian. This name reflects the belief that an Islamic holy figure, Qusam ibn Abbas, who was a cousin of the Prophet Muhammad, is buried at this site and is considered to be “living” in the spiritual sense.
The mausoleums and structures at Shah-i-Zinda are renowned for their intricate tilework, geometric patterns, and vibrant colors. The blue domes and turquoise tile mosaic designs are particularly captivating. Each mausoleum has its own unique design and historical significance.
Shah-i-Zinda is considered a sacred place, and many of the mausoleums are the final resting places of prominent figures in Islamic history. Pilgrims and visitors come to pay their respects and seek blessings. The site is alive with the sounds of devotion and prayer.
The main path through Shah-i-Zinda is often referred to as the “Avenue of Mausoleums.”
It is a narrow, winding corridor lined with various mausoleums, each with its own history and stories to tell. One of the most well-known is the tomb of Qusam ibn Abbas.
Like the Registan, Shah-i-Zinda is also designated as a UNESCO World Heritage Site.
For photography, I recommended visiting early morning at the opening, for the best light and to enjoy the site almost empty.
Walking distance from Shah-i-Zinda, the Hazrat Khizr Mosque (or Khizr Khan Mosque) Is named after Khizr, a revered and legendary Islamic figure, often associated with water and considered a symbol of eternal life and rejuvenation.
It was originally constructed during the 8th century, although the present-day mosque reflects later reconstructions and renovations.
The Hazrat Khizr Mosque is a place of pilgrimage for many devout Muslims in the region. It is believed that the waters flowing beneath the mosque have healing and purifying properties, and pilgrims often come to partake in these blessings.
For travel photography lovers, the Mosque terrasse is the best spot for a sunset overview of the Bibi-Khanym Mosque (see below) – you need to negotiate a bit with the guards to stay slightly after closure 😢
The Bibi-Khanym Mosque, also known as Bibi-Khanum Mosque is one of the most important and iconic landmarks in Samarkand.
The Bibi-Khanym Mosque was built in the 15th century during the reign of Timur (Tamerlane), a prominent Central Asian conqueror and ruler. It was named after Timur’s favorite wife, Bibi-Khanym.
The mosque is celebrated for its grand and majestic architecture. It was one of the largest and most impressive mosques in the Islamic world during its time, serving as a symbol of Timur’s power and the magnificence of his empire.
The construction of the Bibi-Khanym Mosque was a massive undertaking, involving thousands of laborers and artisans.
It is … huge.
The mosque complex included not only the mosque but also a courtyard and various other structures, including a madrasah (Islamic school) and bazaar area. It is another absolute paradise for photography 😊
Over the centuries, the mosque suffered damage from earthquakes and the effects of weathering. Extensive restoration efforts have been made to preserve and restore its historical and architectural significance, for the pleasure of pilgrims, visitors & photographers 🤩.
Observatory of Ulugbeck
The Ulugh Beg Observatory is named after its founder, who was a prominent astronomer and ruler of the Timurid Empire in the 15th century, He and his team conducted systematic and precise observations of celestial objects, including the positions of stars and planets. These observations were used to create a star catalog and a comprehensive set of astronomical tables.
Ulugh Beg’s is considered one of the most important observatories in the Islamic world during that time.
Ulugh Beg’s work at the observatory had a lasting impact on astronomy and mathematics. He made several groundbreaking discoveries, including accurately measuring the length of the tropical year, and his contributions to science are still celebrated today.
The Aksaray Mausoleum, also known as Aksarai Mausoleum or Aksaray Khanaka was built in the 14th century during the reign of Timur (Tamerlane). It was constructed as a burial place for Timur’s two grandsons.
The mausoleum contains the graves of Ulugh Beg, a grandson of Timur (the renowned astronomer mentioned already), and Muhammad Sultan, another grandson of Timur.
Next to Aksaray is the Amir Temur Mausoleum, part of the Gur-e Amir (or Gur-i Amir) Complex.
If you like travel photography, it is best to visit for sunrise. (great light & almost no people)
This is the final resting place of Amir Timur (Tamerlane) the Turco-Mongol conqueror and the founder of the Timurid Empire, which had its capital in Samarkand.
The mausoleum is celebrated for its grand and majestic architecture. It features a large dome and a signature turquoise-tiled exterior. The interior is adorned with intricate tilework, geometric patterns, and inscriptions.
In addition to Amir Timur, the complex also houses the graves of his sons, including Shah Rukh and Miran Shah, as well as his spiritual adviser, Mir Said Baraka.
The Gur-e Amir Complex holds immense cultural and historical significance, not only as a mausoleum but as a symbol of Timur’s reign and the Timurid dynasty. It has influenced the architectural styles of other monuments in the region.
So, I hope that this overview of the main landmarks of the “Pearl of the East” on the famous Silk Road will engage you to get there 😊.
If you are interested, you can read my articles about the two other wonders of the Uzbek Silk Road.
Khiva (article to come very soon 😊)