Sunday, May 4, 2014

#679 Shakhrisabz, Uzbekistan

Ak-Saray Palace Gateway - 50m high
2000 feet high over the Takhtakaracha Pass south of Samarqand (#978) in Kashka-Darya province lies an unassuming Uzbek town that was hometown of one of history's most famous central Asian rulers: Timur the lame, a.k.a. Tamerlane (born 1336). Known as Kesh at the time, Timur gave the town its currently name, christening it 'Green Town' in Tajik. The beautiful constructions (or ruins of them) were all built by Timur or his grandson, Ulugbek.  
The Ak-Saray Palace just north of the center of town was Timur's summer palace, dubbed the 'White Palace'. Actually, very little is left, but what can be seen is magnificent: the 50m high pishtak (gateway) remains and is covered with fine unrestored zellij mosaic tiles. It is crumbling (although I saw it in 1997, so it may have been more restored by this point) and surrounded by the modern town. Probably the most ambitious project of his reign and taking around 24 years to construct using 'imported' Khorezm artisans, this majesty of constructions can be best appreciated with a climb up the 116 steps of one side of the collapsed arch.
Nearby are the brilliant blue domed Ko-Gumbaz Mosque built by Ulugbek in honor of his father and Timur's son Shah Rukh, the Mausoleum of Shiekh Shamseddin Kulyal completed in 1374 (spiritual tutor for Timur and his father Amir Taragay) and the Gumbazi Seyidan -- Dome of the Seyyids, completed in 1438 by Ulugbek as a mausoleum for his own descendants. The Khazrati-Imam complex lies further east and holds the remnants of a 3500m mausoleum finished by Timur in 1392, of which the most important remnant is the crumbling Tomb of Jehangir, Timur's eldest and favorite son who died at 22, who is joined by another son Umar Sheikh. The others are buried with Timur at Guri Amir in Samarqand, although the back alley holding the Crypt of Timur (discovered in 1963) hold two unidentified corpses.

This hidden gem is a beautiful study in Persian architecture's majesty, and being hidden away up a mountain makes it that much more rewarding. Apologies that pictures are not the best -- I was there in 1997!
Source: Lonely Planet Central Asia 4th Edition 2007

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