The fabled silk road city of Samarkand
Samarkand is home to Uzbekistan’s greatest architectural monument, the Registan, once the centre of power for one of history’s most bloodthirsty tyrants. The secrets of Central Asia, it seems, are dark and forbidding.
Before finding the Registan, however, I needed to find my hotel, the Mini Inn Shakhname. When the taxi driver and my fellow passengers couldn’t find a hotel I started frantically reading my guidebook in the moving car, and ended up finding the hotel just in time to empty my stomach in the gutter. Quickly recovering (thanks to the kind hotelier and her green tea), it was time to discover what culinary delights this city had in store. The hotel owner’s son, Rajab, drove me to a nearby beer garden where I found a delicious dinner.
Waking the next morning I went out to visit the Registan and the city’s other mosques and shrines. My first stop was the Gur Emir Shrine, an interesting mud-brick construction from the outside, but housing a glittering, bejewelled ceiling on the inside. It marks the final resting place of Timur, also known as Tamerlane, one of the most powerful leaders in Muslim history, and indeed world history.
A self-styled latter-day Genghis Khan, Timur led one of the most fearsome armies to victory in Central Asia. He ruled from Samarkand with an iron fist from 1370 to 1405 when he died. It is estimated 17 million people, or about 5% of the world’s population at the time, were killed during his grab for power and subsequent reign. Walking around his grave site inspired a sense of awe, and reminded me that no matter how grand a life we think we live, in the end we all return to the earth one sense or another.
Nearby, the Registan was being visited by a foreign delegation, so was sealed off to the outside by the militant Uzbek police for the morning. Further afield was the city’s biggest mosque, with soaring arches and blue tiled frescoes. Arriving back at the Registan, I waited another hour for the gates to open, during which time I was told off by the whistle-toting Uzbek police for sitting on a patch of grass; “you look like a poor person!”. Well, that wasn’t too far from the truth, actually!
The Registan (the ‘g’ is like the g in ‘reggae’) is actually a large public square where public gatherings and executions were once held; it’s hemmed in on three sides my madrassas, or theological schools. Unfortunately, because of the delegation, the square was partially obscured by a podium, but I found this lovely picture online;
Easy to see why it is considered one of Uzbekistan’s premier tourist attractions. The Registan was finally opened and I, along with the crowd of ancient, under-dressed Italian tourists who had gathered, were admitted restricted entry, which was enough to appreciate the regal interiors of the buildings.
The Registan was once the centre of Samarkand city under the rule of Timur in the 15th century. From here Timur controlled his empire, which stretched from India to Turkey. Although is remembered by many in those places as a tyrant; he has been adopted by Uzbekistan as a national hero.
I spent the rest of the day wandering around the madrassas, gawking at the beautiful architecture, before making my way back to my hotel for the evening.