Shakhrisabz - Home of Tamerlane

Trip Start May 14, 2009
Trip End Jun 15, 2009

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Hotel President Palace, Samarkand

Flag of Uzbekistan  ,
Tuesday, May 26, 2009

South of Samarkand in the hills of Kashka-Darya Province lies the charming small Uzbek township of Shakhrisabz. It is indeed the home of the great Tamerlame (Emir Timur) and it is one of the oldest cities in the world. Even the troops of Alexander the Great rested here on their travels. And although Tamerlame had made Samarkand his capital city, he always thought of Shakhrisabz as his home, even planning to be buried there. Tamerlame is certainly a great symbolic figure in Uzbekistan. With an army in excess of 100,000 and an empire stretching from Kashgar in west China to Egypt, we often wondered about the logistics of organising and mobilising an army of that size in those days.

Today Shakhrisabz has a population of 75,000 and is home to some of the most awesome ancient ruins of some of the great Tamerlane's most ambitious architectural projects.

The ninety kilometer trip from Samarkand to Shakhrisabz was very pleasant. Muxim was our guide for the day and like our other guides was very serious and informative about his work and the history of the region. The country we passed through on our way was lush and fertile looking with some wheat being harvested by hand scythe, mostly by women. We then climbed up a narrow road across hills with pretty apricot and mulberry orchards dotted between willows and poplar trees. Local street stalls sold fresh fruit, rhubarb, dried yoghurt, dried fruits and nuts. Cattle, donkeys and sheep leisurely wandered across and around the roads.

The road climbed up further into mountainous country over the 1,788 m Takhtakaracha Pass with wonderful views of the Shakhrisabz valley and interspersed with fabulous rocky granite outcrops. The Fan Mountains forming a border with Tajikistan were visible in the distance. With such a pleasant drive we started to feel well again.

The township of Shakhrisabz in its valley location was unbelievably hot. It was one of the most interesting visits we had. On entering the township we were immediately confronted by a huge bronze statue of Tamerlame and behind the extraordinary ruins of Ak-Saray, Tamerlame's summer palace. It seems that everything Tamerlame did was big. The crumbling ruins reveal the remains of a colossal building that began to be built in 1380 and using local white marble took some 24 years to complete. Apparently the original arch of this building had a span of more than 22 m. Although there is not much of this building remaining, it is still possible to see the gorgeous original filigree on the 50 m gates. Apparently the huge slabs of marble were moved by elephants which were transported here from India. Without cranes and modern equipment the creation of this building seemed almost unbelievable.

Devastatingly, the building was destroyed by a Bukhara Emir. It was a shocking piece of history to us. How could it take two years to destroy a building that took 24 to build? It seems like humans just never learn from history.

Our visit to Shakhrisabz also took us to the Tomb of Tamerlame’s eldest and favourite son Jehangir who died aged just 22 years. It is also the tomb of another son, Umar Sheikh. The Lonely Planet describes the tomb as melancholy and it certainly was. We also explored the crypt that was built for Tamerlame but was not to be his final resting place. Tamerlame contracted pneumonia and died unexpectedly in Kazakhstan in the winter of 1405. The passes to Shakhrisabz were snowed in and so he was buried in Samarkand.

In the afternoon we roamed around the Kok-Gumbaz Mosque. The architecture was beautiful and we were intrigued by the 1,000 year old plane tree. What a piece of history this tree must have seen.

Shakhrisabz was truly a special place, free of tourists and with wonderful atmosphere. We were sorry that we did not have more time to roam around the ruins on our own.
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