Tag Archives: Tamerlane

A Palace of Tamerlane

This morning was the beginning of a long drive to Termez which is about 20 miles or so from Afghanistan. On this part of the old trade routes camels were exchanged for horses because of the mountainous terrain. We began our climb and the terrain became more and more mountainous as we approached the pass that would give way to the plain on which Termez lies.


At the highest point we stopped for a local morning market. The attraction of the market gave me the incentive to try a few things: rhubarb with salt, dried yogurt, and an assortment of nuts and other local products.

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From there we continued on the road the Shakhrisabz which was the birthplace of Tamerlane. If military might is the criterion by which the greatest of a nation is judged then Tamerlane’s empire was great.  He was a a leader with military genius and was a master strategist as well. He forged the last great nomadic empire, and was feared because of his shock and awe tactics to quell rebellion and coerce loyalty. Scholars estimated he killed about 17 million people, that is 5% of the population of the world then. Up to his reign Christianity was strong in central Asia along the trade routes however Tamerlane devastated the Christian community and reduced it to a small community confined to Iraq.

We visited the Kok Gumbaz that is the blue domed mosque.


Behind the mosque is the Dorut Tilyovat which is the burial place for his family.

There is a grave marker of black stone that is said to be of a comet. Muslims come and pour water in a small indentation on the top, then drink it to get well. Our guide said the birds are not to be disturbed because locals believe they may be ghosts. Over the past few days I have learned that a lot of local superstition was assimilated into the practice of Islam in this region. She said that although Tamerlane used Islam to unify his large empire he also practiced magic.

From there we visited Ak Satay palace of Tamerlane whose empire stretched from Egypt to Kashkar which is in China today. There is little left of this enormous palace today except the remains of the monumental gates.

These gigantic gates are 40 meters high covered with mosaics. The palace was a project of 24 years with no expenses spared. The Spanish ambassador wrote a detailed description of the palace and it was of extraordinary opulence. My guide pointed out over the gates was inscribed: If you challenge our power, look at our building. My traveling companion made a remark, “Things have not changed much in that we build taller and taller buildings to demonstrate economic power.”

Tamerlane was a military genius whose very name struck fear in the hearts of the Arabs and Europeans alike yet today look at his buildings which are now in ruins. A sober reminder of the transitory nature of earthly power. All empires and nations are not given any promise that they will remain until the end of time.

We continued our journey through this mountainous region as my thoughts turned to those merchants whose caravans crossed this difficult terrain.

Samarkand: The Golden Journey

We travel not for trafficking alone
By hotter winds our fiery hearts are fanned
For lust of knowledge what should not be known
We take the Golden Road to Samarkand.

These words of the early 20th century poet James Elroy Flecker capture the magic of Samarkand that captivated Alexander the Great who spoke of Samarkand as a city with a beauty beyond imagination.

From that time on the very mention of the name of Samarkand or Marakanda as the Greeks would say, evokes the the same response as Shangri-la or Timbuktu in the mind’s imagination.

On the way to Samarkand we stopped at the Emir’s summer palace built by Russian architects in the early 20th century for the last emir. This was the first electricity that the Khanate had ever seen. From there we began a 5 to 6 hour drive that followed the old commercial trade road and stopped by a Sardoba from the 16th century which was a reservoir that provided water for the carvanserai. Across the road you can see the remains of a large caravanserai.

There has been a settlement here since the 5th century BC which was the walled capital of Sogdiana taken by Alexander in 329 BC. Samarkand was a key city on the Silk Road however it was destroyed by Genghis Khan in 1220. Timur, that is Tamerlane in 1370 made it his capital and within 35 years it was an economic and cultural center. And his grandson Ulugbek promoted its development as an intellectual center.

When I arrived I went immediately to the mausoleum of Tamerlane. The blue dome is amazing

and under the dome is the stone marker under which is his crypt. My guide remarked that on the stone of Tamerlane is inscribed: whoever opens this grave will be defeated by an enemy more fearsome than I. The Soviets opened the crypt in 1941. And the next day June 22 Hitler attached the Soviet Union.

Tomorrow I will spend more time at the Registan however to see it even if for a brief moment was like a dream.



This is thought to be the tomb of St. Daniel.


This is one of the most awe-inspiring complexes in central Asia. These three madrassas are some of the best preserved in the world.

Bukhara: the Home of Avicenna

In the 9th and 10th century, Bukhara was the capital of the Samanid state as well as a leader in religious and cultural affairs. One of its famous residents that would have an impact on the development of medieval theology and philosophy was Avicenna, that is Ibn Sini. He is thought to be one of the figures in Raphael’s painting of the philosophers in the Vatican Palace.

Although the old center has developed in such a way to attract tourists, the center remains an architectural maze of madrassas, Islamic theological schools and minarets, mosques, caravanserai and covered markets and the royal palace. These remants of the old city give an impression of the vitality of the city on the silk road.

Genghis Khan in 1220 destroyed the city and in 1370 it fell under the domination of Timur Samarkand.

In the morning I set out to enjoy the Mir Arab Madrassa and mosque from the 16th century.

Although most of the madrassas today are markets and hotels, this one is a functioning school. The tile work and double domes are striking.

The minaret built in 1127 was one of the tallest structures in central Asia at a height of 47 meters. Genhgis Kahn spared it. Notice the beautiful oramental brick work with blue tiles that would soon dominate Islamic art of Central Asia. Next to the minaret is a mosque built after Genghis Khan destroyed the earlier one. The Soviets turned it into a warehouse however in 1991 it became a functioning mosque.

These are doors to a caravanserai, that is a hotel for merchants and their carsvan animals and goods for trade

Bukhara005233The Ismail Samani mausoleum is the oldest monument in the city. It was covered with dirt so it escaped the destruction of Genghis Kahn.

This is the Chashma Ayub mausoleum built over a spring. The legend is that Job struck his staff on the gtound and a spring appeared. There is so much religious folklore which creates many places of pilgrimage.


From the market:

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