Although the history of Samarkand stretches back 2700 years, it reached its zenith under Tamerlane and his grandson Ulugbek in the 14th and 15th centuries.
The next stop was the tomb of Saint Daniel the prophet. How did the relics of Daniel get to Central Asia? Jewish tradition and pre-Islamic Syriac tradition held that the prophet Daniel was buried in Susa Iran. The Muslims accepted this tradition and the Muslims and Christians and Jews would pilgrimage to the site. In the 15th century Tamerlane tried to conquer Syria to no avail but according to my guide he was told that Daniel was the patron giving protection. So he took either a leg or arm and interred it at Samarkand. On that day a spring of water appeared so to this day Muslims come for the holy water and to pray at the tomb.
There is another miracle. He also brought back a pistachio tree however it died 100 years ago. Several years ago the Russian Orthodox patriarch came to venerate the tomb and brought holy water from Russia and sprinkled it on the tree. The next year it was very much alive.
Shakhi Zindi is a mausoleum complex. Shakhi Zindi means living king. On the journey the guide has shared many legends about holy men in Islamic hagiography. Muslims come to tombs of holy men to pray. This legend is that Kusan ibn Abbas who was the cousin of Mohammed was buried here. He preached Islam but was beheaded however he took his head in his arms and walked into the wall that then closed behind him so he is still living there.
The Bibi Khanym mosque was named after the wife of Tamerlane who built it in the 14th century. He had conquered parts of India so he brought back precious stones on the backs of 90 elephants. He wanted this to be the largest mosque in Central Asia however it was built is such haste that it was not well constructed so it fell into disuse.
Later in the afternoon I went back to the Registan which was the heart of ancient Samakand. I stood in awe as I gazed at the three madrassahs of the Timurid dynasty. There is no way to even begin to describe this incredible Islamic architecture. Thus I will share a few photos that try in a most inadequate way to capture such beauty.
This morning I received an email with this quote: “Anyone who keeps the ability to see beauty never grows old.” That quote keep echoing in my mind as I stood in awe in the presence of such architectural beauty. I thought of how much beauty is being destroyed by fanatics of today such as ISIS and of yesteryear such as Thomas Cromwell who at the time of the English Protestans destroyed almost 90% of England’s artistic heritage, and how much in years past; and yet when you encounter such beauty the human does not grow old rather beauty brings joy and youthfulness to the human spirit. Whenever I stand in awe in the presence of beauty it confirms my belief in human exceptionalism!