Nadezhda Dukhovny
Nadezhda Dukhovny

Ancient and unique Uzbekistan – Qashqadaryo IV

If you already have come so far to see the wonders of Qashqadaryo there is another great city to visit in this region. Shakhrisabz means “Green City” and is one of the most ancient cities of Uzbekistan.

Shakhrisabz is also one of the most picturesque cities of Uzbekistan with a historical center included in the UNESCO World Heritage Sites. Shakhrisabz is the birthplace of the great commander Amir Temur, also known in the western world as Tamerlane.

The main attraction and pearl of Shakhrisabz is the Aksaray palace. Here are 10 facts about the history of the construction of this grandiose architectural monument of the Timur era.

This photo is courtesy of The Ministry of Tourism of the Republic of Uzbekistan

 

 

 

 

 

 

  • Construction of the palace began in 1380 and was completed in 1386, but finishing work continued until 1404. The majestic palace was built in memory of Amir Temur’s mother Takinahotun. Only part of the monument has survived to our time.
  • Prominent masters from Khorezm, Iran, and other countries took part in the construction of the palace. For example, in the decoration of the vaulted arch, the name of the stone-cutter Muhammad Yusuf Tabrizi is repeated twice. A unique masterpiece of architecture, built over 20 years and now in a dilapidated state, to this day amazes guests of the city with its majesty and grandeur.
  • The building was originally 73 meters high. From a small pool located at the top of the palace roof, water flowed down lead pipes through a boardwalk, forming a waterfall from it. A technical, architectural, and artistic solution was successfully developed in the palace, combining water purification, air exchange, as well as the balance of light and shadow.
  • Golden sand was used in the construction of the foundation of the Aksaray palace. The foundation was located deep from the surface and consisted of several layers that embody sophisticated techniques designed for building strength and moisture permeability.
  • The color scheme of the walls of Aksaray combines historical, philosophical, and religious themes, and in the interpretation of Kufiс inscriptions, decorative ornaments and Islamic patterns in the “girikh” style gave the building a majestic and magical meaning.
  • On the pedestal, decorated with natural patterns in seven different colors, there are inscriptions with the content “Emir is the shadow of Allah on earth”. On the obverse of the front dome in the form of an elongated hexagon, the Arabic inscription “Justice is the basis of the state and the motto of rulers” is repeated six times. In the outstretched front wing of the Aksaray in the Arabic Kufic style, wise sayings such as “If you doubt our greatness, look at the castles that we have built” and “Reason relies on its actions, ignorance on its dreams and hope”.
  • As Babur wrote, in the middle of the palace there was a swimming pool, and opposite – a domed hall for receiving guests, a small room for advisers was located nearby, luxurious awnings could be seen in the courtyard, and inside the palace, there was a harem and the residence of the emir.
  • A lion and a sun were depicted on the entrance arch of the palace reception, as well as the coat of arms of the state of Timur in the form of three rings. Inside and on the sides of the dome, in the corner towers, openwork patterns of girikh in the form of shields are laid out of bricks. These patterns, made of polished bricks and zirconia, painted turquoise, formed a light blue composition of ancient Sufi sayings.
  • The Aksaray Palace received its legendary name due to the fact that the colors on the facade and domes of the palace change in the moonlight. The word Aksaray means ‘Moon Palace’.
  • In 1707, the Bukhara Khan Ubaydullakhan lived in the palace, and this gives reason to understand that at that time the front portal had not yet been destroyed.
  • In 1973-75, archaeological research was carried out in Aksaray, and in 1994-96, conservation work took place, in 2002, under the auspices of UNESCO, in connection with the celebration of the 2700th anniversary of the city of Shakhrisabz, the palace was partially reconstructed.

A tall man with dark hair knelt before the lord, showing his respect and maintaining his dignity. He aroused the interest of Amir Timur with his behavior and unusual appearance. The Spanish guest was extremely polite and showed no surprise, although this new world shocked the Spanish grandee.

The journey of the Spanish diplomat Rui Gonzalez de Clavijo began in 1403 from the port city of Santa Maria. There was a long road ahead, full of adventure and danger. He and his several assistants with a diplomatic mission went to the distant lands of Maverannahr, where the great and powerful Amir Timur ruled. The Spaniards were interested in establishing diplomatic relations with Tamerlane. Indeed, at the turn of the XIV-XV centuries, the threat of the Ottoman conquest loomed over Europe. And the power of Timur stretched from the shores of the Black Sea to the Indus River.

The path of de Clavijo ran through the Mediterranean Sea, through Italy, Greece, the coast of Asia Minor, Constantinople, and up to Trebizond. At the last destination, de Clavijo was forced to stay for the winter. Then he continued his journey through Sultania and entered the eastern caravan route. On this path, the Spanish delegation, before overtaking Samarkand, passed through Tehran, Nishapur, and Balkh. It is known that the eastern branch of the caravan road was controlled by Amir Timur.

Throughout his journey, Rui Gonzalez kept a diary, in which he described in detail the progress of the trip. His work “The Life and Deeds of the Great Tamerlane, with a Description of the Lands of His Empire”, became an excellent source, telling about important historical events and clearly demonstrating the way of life of that time. From the diary, you can find out in detail how the meeting of the diplomat went and about the personal impressions of the Spaniard.

The natives of Spain entered the territory of modern Uzbekistan through the Sogdiana Iron Gate in the Surkhandarya region. There they were hospitably greeted by emissaries and, according to Timur’s decree, were supplied with fresh horses every day.

This photo is courtesy of The Ministry of Tourism of the Republic of Uzbekistan

 

 

 

 

 

On August 28, 1404, diplomats drove up to the large city of Kesh (now Shakhrisabz). The author in his diary describes the city as a flat area surrounded by fast streams and green gardens. The city itself was protected by a defensive wall. De Clavijo gives a detailed description of Timur’s homeland. The luxury of the palace and mausoleums amazed the Spaniard. Here is how he described the Dorus-Saodat Complex in Shakhrisabz: “This mosque and tomb are very rich and decorated with gold, azure, and tiles, with a large area with trees and ponds. Every day, by order of the seigneur, twenty boiled rams are sent to this mosque in memory of the souls of the father and son of Amir Timur buried there”.

The Spaniards managed to visit the Ak-Saray palace complex: “There were so many rooms that you couldn’t tell right away, the decoration was gold, azure and different colors, worthy of surprise even in Paris, where there are so many skilled craftsmen.”

Until the end of the 14th century, the city of Shakhrisabz was called “Kesh”, but this ancient city had other names: “Dilkesh” – “Rejoicing Heart”, “Kubbat al-ilm wa al-adab” – “Dome of Science and Education”. The city received such names for a reason. Since ancient times, it was famous for its scholarship, the spirit of enlightenment, recognized scholars and interpreters of hadith that lived and worked here: the mentor of Amir Temur’s father and the commander himself – Shamsuddin Kulol, the famous Muslim scholar-muhaddis and mufassir Abu Abdullo Muhammad ibn Ismail Al-Bukhari, and hadith scholars Abu Muhammad al-Keshiy, Abdulloh Muhammad as Samarkandy.

This photo is courtesy of The Ministry of Tourism of the Republic of Uzbekistan

 

 

 

 

 

In the heart of Shakhrisabz, next to the necropolis of the Barlas nobility of the XIV-XV centuries, there is the Dorut Tillovat ensemble – a memorial complex and an architectural monument, which was formed in 1370-1371. The name of the complex is translated as “House of Reflection or Meditation”. Today you can see three buildings of this ensemble – a cathedral mosque and two mausoleums, united by one courtyard. In 1904, an entrance was built – darvozakhona, and in 1917 the courtyard was equipped with hujras. The memorial complex began to form after the death of the famous religious figure Shamsuddin Kulal. The Sufi held a high position in society, he bore the title Amiri Kalol, which means “Great Emir”. In addition, Shamsuddin Kulol was the mentor of the Bukhara Sufi teacher Bahauddin Naqshbandi. His activities took place mainly in Nessef (Karshi) and Kesh (Shakhrisabz).

This photo is courtesy of The Ministry of Tourism of the Republic of Uzbekistan

 

 

 

 

 

Having a high title, Shamsuddin Kulol led a modest and righteous life, remained in good health, and did not want to build a mausoleum for himself. He came from a family of potters. But after his death in 1371, Amir Temur issued a decree on the burial of the sage and ordered to erect a marble tombstone over him. The burial place of the Sufi leader is still an important place of pilgrimage. His burial was discovered by scientists during the clearing of the inside of the tomb. Then fragments of a tombstone were discovered, decorated with inscriptions and ornaments of the flora. Near the burial of Kulol, you can see another burial, presumably resting next to him the father of Amir Temur.

This photo is courtesy of The Ministry of Tourism of the Republic of Uzbekistan

 

 

 

 

 

The second graceful mausoleum was erected in 1437-1438 and is called “Gumbazi-Seyidon” – “Dome of the Seyids”. This mausoleum was built on the site of the cemetery of the Seyid dynasty by order of Ulugbek and was intended for representatives of the Timurid dynasty. Some tombstones of the XV-XVII centuries contain the names of the Termez Seyids. Also, slabs from Termez and Kabul were brought here. The Dorut Tillovat ensemble includes the Kok Gumbaz (Blue Dome) mosque. The mosque was erected in 1435 on the site of an earlier construction of the pre-Mongol period. Friday Cathedral Mosque stands out for its beauty and architectural decoration. Quranic quotes can be seen on the outer dome. The portal is decorated with geometric brick mosaic ornaments. The Dorut Tillovat ensemble is another reason to see the ancient Shakhrisabz, to get acquainted with the original culture and rich history of the Kashkadarya region.

This photo is courtesy of The Ministry of Tourism of the Republic of Uzbekistan

 

 

 

 

 

This city, immersed in greenery and flowers, rightfully got its name “Green City”.

Walking around the center of Shakhrisabz, you can see many souvenir workshops located in old madrasahs or just along the road. Craftsmen are ready to offer a huge variety of handicrafts, such as good-natured grandfathers with watermelons, carved boxes, and a huge variety of fabrics!

When you come to Shakhrisabz, do not forget to try the local cuisine! The honorable second line in the list of the most delicious dishes, after pilaf, is taken by tandoor-kabob. And it so happened historically that the best tandoor-kabob is made in the Kashkadarya region! This dish came to us from that very antiquity when most of the inhabitants of Central Asia were nomads. Due to the fact that people were constantly on the road, chefs had to invent new, faster, and more convenient ways to prepare food. Then a special way of cooking tandoor-gosht was invented. To begin with, they dig a hole in the ground with a depth of no more than 1 meter and the same diameter and put the firewood there. While the firewood burns to coals, the chef cuts the mutton into large pieces while sprinkling it with salt and special spices and put it on skewers, which are dipped into a pit that was hot by this time. A plate, called a felt mat, is placed on top of the pit and covered with a thick layer of earth. The main feature of this cooking method is the branches of the juniper coniferous tree, which are placed in the hearth for aroma and added as spices. The delicious taste of this dish cannot be confused with anything! Having tried it once, you will never forget it!

In September 2018, the International Folk-Art Festival was held in Shakhrisabz for the first time. The festival is going to be held in the city every two years.

The main highway passes through Shakhrisabz – the great Uzbek tract, repeating the route of the great Italian traveler Marco Polo.

In the Kamashinsky district of the Kashkadarya region, 45 km. from the city of Shakhrisabz, there is the Maidanak astronomical observatory with the largest one-and-a-half-meter telescope in Central Asia. The observatory was opened in 1970. Now it is a fully equipped station with the most modern equipment. The observatory belongs to the Mirzo Ulugbek Astronomical Institute and cooperates with foreign scientists in the study of astronomy.

This photo is courtesy of The Ministry of Tourism of the Republic of Uzbekistan

 

 

 

 

 

The observatory is located at an altitude of 2650 meters above the Hissar mountain range. The unique geographic location, ideal atmospheric conditions and a powerful telescope allow the astronomical observatory to accurately observe the movement of changing stars and galaxies, study clusters of celestial bodies, and track changes in quasars and supernovae.

As one of the best observatories in the Northern Hemisphere, it can rightfully be proud of the discoveries made here: more than 80 asteroids, four comets and a new minor planet. The minor planet was named “Samarkand” and was included in the International Catalog of Minor Planets. It was discovered by Uzbek astronomers in July 2010. The small planet is known to revolve around the Sun with a period of about four years between the orbits of Mars and Jupiter.

An impressive territory has been allocated for the observatory – about 40 hectares. In the wide-open spaces among the mountains, the sky seems especially low, and the stars seem so close. Here you can see fossils of marine animals, an ancient dormant volcano, and the freshness of the air and the magnificent landscape are just mesmerizing.

A great name is associated with the Qashqadaryo region. Ad this name is Tamerlane. Timur Taragay ibn Barlas was born on April 9, 1336 in the small village of Khoja-Ilgar. The name Temur is translated from Turkic as “iron”, which in many respects influenced his strong-willed character and further fate. He was a brave and courageous young man, his parents and mentors raised him as a real warrior. Despite the wound in the leg that he received in battle, he had remarkable strength and until the last days he personally participated in all campaigns and battles. Therefore, historians called him the Great Lame.

Successful marriage to the daughter of Genghiside Sarai Mulk Khonim gave the opportunity to get a worthy title of the khan “guragan”, which is translated from Turkic as “son-in-law of the khan”.The main goal of Temur was to overcome the fragmentation of Mawarannahr and to unite these lands into a single state. Despite its origin, he was able to oust the Mongols from Mawarannahr and to unite the lands into one large state. He made Samarkand the capital of his empire – a desolate city near the ruins of the ancient capital of Sogdiana – Afrosiab. Here, he soon began the construction of defensive walls, the citadel and his residence.

By the beginning of the XV century, Amir Temur created a huge empire, his possessions stretched from the Volga to the Caucasus, from Central Asia to India. As a wise commander, he created an ideal army to protect his lands. The reign of Temur had lasted for 35 years (1370-1405).

During a campaign to China in 1404, passing the city of Otrar, Amir Temur caught a cold and suddenly died.

The great commander and statesman has left us a huge legacy, ranging from literary works and Code of State administration to the unique masterpieces of the ancient architecture that have gone down in world history. He lived and worked, conquered the lands, and created his story – the story of a great man.

Another name comes to mind when speaking about the Qashqadaryo region.

Abul Mu’in al-Nasafi, known in the Islamic world as the “Sword of Truth,” was one of the scholars who contributed greatly to the spread of the teachings of Moturidi, founded by Abu Mansur Moturidi. Growing up in a well-educated family, most of Nasafi’s ancestors were well-known for their great potential in the field of law.

In particular, the works of Abul Mu’in al-Nasafi are highly regarded in the Muslim world, despite their well-founded denials of various sects that misinterpret Islam.

This photo is courtesy of The Ministry of Tourism of the Republic of Uzbekistan

 

 

 

 

A lot is known and preserved till today about this great scientist. In particular, there are the valuable manuscripts of Abul Mu’in al-Nasafi’s Bahrul Kalam at the Juma al-Majid Cultural and Heritage Center in Dubai, the Al-Zahiriya Library in Damascus, the Maktabat al-Awqaf in Baghdad, and the famous Doru-l-Kutub in Cairo.

This photo is courtesy of The Ministry of Tourism of the Republic of Uzbekistan

 

 

 

 

 

You can arrive in the beautiful city of Qarshi by the Afrosiyob high-speed train, and head for the Abul Mu’in al-Nasafi complex, which is about 30 kilometers from the city.

This photo is courtesy of the Press Service of the Territorial Administration for the Development of Tourism in the Qashqadaryo Region

 

 

 

 

 

This shrine is one of the most important places for the followers of “fiqh” and a unique treasure for the Islamic world.

This photo is courtesy of the Press Service of the Territorial Administration for the Development of Tourism in the Qashqadaryo Region

 

 

 

 

 

 

Did you know that the cave “Afrosiyob” mentioned in Firdavsi’s “Shohnoma” is located in the village of Kul, Kashkadarya region? Also, have you seen with your own eyes the 4 stone houses left over from the Stone Age and still preserved above the mountain where the cave is located? Have you ever heard that there is a stone dungeon in front of the cave and it was later closed by the locals? If you never did, you just must visit the village of Kul in Shahrisabz district, Qashqadaryo region.

This photo is courtesy of the Press Service of the Territorial Administration for the Development of Tourism in the Qashqadaryo Region

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

The way of life of the villagers, their unique traditions, the preservation of the common culture of the Tajik and Uzbek peoples, which dates back to the distant past – all that attracts the tourists to this place. In the village of Kol, there is a cave Afrosiyob, described by the locals in the work of Firdavsi “Shohnoma”, which is located at a height of 5-7 meters above ground level.

The cave has entrances and exits, and on the top of the mountain, there are 4 stone houses that have been preserved since the Stone Age. This means that this place has long been one of the cradles of human culture. From that time a group of people living in Shakhrisabz later spread to the surrounding areas.

 

These stone houses are located at the top of a high mountain, where it is not possible to walk. There is a stone dungeon in front of the cave which was closed by the locals some time ago. It is clear from the construction of the prison here that the first legal views and forms of punishment of ancient mankind appeared in Shakhrisabz.

In the houses of 4 blacksmiths and 7 carpenters in the village of Kul, there are unique meals you might want to taste: “Rivoch oshi”, “Lotingon” (flour, water, butter), and “Kashk” (stone, wheat, meat, peas, beans, and spices), as well as to take master classes on “local potatoes cooked in sheep’s butter”. There are several guest houses in the village if you would like to stay.

There is a 12-kilometer pass from the village of Kol to the village of Gilan, and in the same direction which allows seeing wild nature. At the same time, the provision of tourists with “reserve food” from the village of Lake will further increase their interest in this tourist destination.

Another landmark of the region is Langar Ota Shrine, a miracle in the mountains.

This photo is courtesy of the Press Service of the Territorial Administration for the Development of Tourism in the Qashqadaryo Region

 

 

 

 

 

 

There is a shrine Langar-ota in the village of Langar, located 25-30 kilometers distance from the village of Kyzyltepa in the Kamashi district in the Gissar mountain ranges. One of the most honored copies of the Quran in the Kofi script, the Great Langar Quran, has been found in this world-famous cultural heritage site.

Abul Hasan Ishqi, a sheikh of the Ishqiya sect of mysticism, his son, Muhammad Sadiq, and his grandson, Abul Hasan Akhund, are buried in Langar Ota mausoleum. The medieval historian Ibn Khawqal said that this rural area belonged to the Siam district, which was part of the Kesh province in ancient times, and that the name of the district was very popular, especially after 776 AD.

According to Professor T. Nafasov, the word “langar” means “camp”, “stopping place”. The remains of ancient ships are believed to be found above the Langar shrine. Traces of water also confirm that a river once flowed around this place.

Besides, the eastern part of Qashqadaryo – the present-day Kitab, Shakhrisabz, Yakkabag, Kamashi, and Guzar districts, is called Gava belong to the ancient civilization Sogd, according to the Avesta.

The Langar Ota shrine is indeed an ancient place, as evidenced by the monuments, the Quran, which has survived for centuries, and the relics. Also, the inscriptions preserved inside the mausoleum are not found in any other shrine. Surprisingly, the tombs are placed vertically at the top of the tombs and are very finely crafted.

The columns and walls of the mausoleum and the nearby mosque have been repaired at various times, and the door and window bars have been replaced. There are 11 pages of the Holy Quran on deerskin, measuring 30×50 centimeters. In ancient times, 9 stones weighing a ton and more were dedicated to the sheiks and were placed on the right and left sides of the entrance to the mausoleum.

Where did the Oqsaroy stairs lead?

The Oqsaroy Palace, located in the historic center of Shahrisabz, is one of the most visited tourist attractions in the region. Taxis take an hour and a half to the Oqsaroy, 110 kilometers from Karshi. If you come through Samarkand, it will take half an hour.

This photo is courtesy of the Press Service of the Territorial Administration for the Development of Tourism in the Qashqadaryo Region

 

 

 

 

 

It is said that the stairs of the Aksaray are misleading every time you go up, and in ancient times they led you to the fountain at the top of the building. This fountain was unique in its time and was a slogan that amazed the Spanish ambassador.

This photo is courtesy of the Press Service of the Territorial Administration for the Development of Tourism in the Qashqadaryo Region

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

We have reliable information and beautiful descriptions of the construction of the Oqsaroy from historical sources, including the works of Zahiruddin Babur and Clavijo Gonzalez. Among the buildings built by Amir Temur as a masterpiece of architecture, the Oqsaroy is the tallest, most beautiful, and majestic, more than 70 meters high, built between 1380 and 1405, which testifies to the architectural perfection of the monument.

This photo is courtesy of the Press Service of the Territorial Administration for the Development of Tourism in the Qashqadaryo Region

 

 

 

 

 

The majesty of this ancient palace amazes everyone.

About the Author
Nadezhda Dukhovny was born and raised in Uzbekistan and made aliya in 2005. She holds an MA in Linguistics from Tel Aviv University and works in translation. She has a true interest about her motherland and would like to tell more about that fascinating country to make Israeli readers familiar with another culture from other part of the globe.
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