Nadezhda Dukhovny

Ancient and Unique Uzbekistan: Samarkand region III

This photo is courtesy of the Press Service of the Samarkand Region Tourism and Sports Department.

Talking about the Samarkand region, it is impossible not to mention the people whose personal life is directly related to this land. So, the first and most important of them is the great Amir Timur.

Timur Taragay ibn Barlas was born on April 9, 1336, in the small village of Khoja Ilgar. The name “Timur” is the Turkic for “iron”, which largely shaped his strong-willed character and further destiny. He was a brave and brave young man, his parents and mentors raised him to be a real warrior. Despite being wounded in the leg, received in battle, he possessed remarkable strength and until the last days personally participated in all campaigns and battles.

Amir Timur. This photo is courtesy of the Press Service of the Samarkand Region Tourism and Sports Department.

A successful marriage to a Chingizid’s daughter Saray Mulk Khonim made it possible to obtain a worthy title of  Guregen, “khan’s son-in-law”.

The main goal of Timur was to overcome the fragmentation of Maverannahr and unite these lands into a single state. He managed to achieve this goal. He made Samarkand the capital of his empire, once a desolate city near the ruins of the ancient capital of Sogdiana Afrosiab. Here he quickly begins the construction of defensive walls, a citadel, and his residence.

By the beginning of the 15th century, Amir Timur had created a huge empire. His possessions stretched from the Volga to the Caucasus and from Central Asia to India. Being a wise commander, he created an army of many thousands to defend his lands. Timur’s reign lasted 35 years (1370-1405).

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

Amir Timur. This photo is courtesy of the Press Service of the Samarkand Region Tourism and Sports Department.

The great commander and statesman left a huge legacy for us, ranging from literary works and Regulations for state administration to unique masterpieces of ancient architecture that have entered world history. He lived and worked, conquered lands, and created his own history – the history of a great man.

“Religion dissipates like fog, kingdoms are destroyed, but the works of scientists remain for eternity” (Ulugh Beg Mirza)

There is an unusual structure on one of the hills of the city of Samarkand. It was built over five centuries ago. This is Ulugh Beg’s observatory, which made a breakthrough in medieval astronomy.

Ulugh Beg’s observatory. This photo is courtesy of the Press Service of the Samarkand Region Tourism and Sports Department.

Mirza Muhammad Taraghay, better known as Ulugh Beg was born in 1394 to the family of Shah Rukh, the eldest son of Tamerlane. Already at the age of 16, he became the ruler of the vast territory of Maverannahr with the capital in Samarkand, but in history, he became not a formidable ruler, but a great scientist. Ulugh Beg Mirza was one of the most educated people in the world and was even a man ahead of his time. Perhaps not everything that Ulugh Beg did was understood by his contemporaries.

Ulugh Beg. This photo is courtesy of the Press Service of the Samarkand Region Tourism and Sports Department.

When Ulugh Beg was 8 years old, he accompanied his famous grandfather Amir Timur on a campaign to Asia Minor and Syria. Once, in the city of Maragheh, young Ulugh Beg saw the famous Maragheh observatory, which existed until the middle of the XIV century and was the largest astronomical observatory of its time. It contained about 400 thousand manuscripts and worked with over 100 astronomers. They say that since then Ulugh Beg has been passionately interested in astronomy.

Thanks to the extensive knowledge and power of the ruler, Ulugh Beg was able to create the most equipped astronomical center at that time.

The observatory was circular in shape. Its diameter reached 46 meters, and its height was at the level of a ten-story building. Although the structure was three stories high, each floor was ten meters higher. Inside, along the meridian line, Ulugh Beg built a quadrant – a large instrument 64 meters long and located at an inclination of 90 degrees. Before the invention of the telescope, such a quadrant served as an instrument for measuring the height of the stars above the horizon and for determining the coordinate of the point from which the measurement was carried out. Ulugh Beg’s quadrant at that time was the largest in the world, and therefore the most accurate.

The observatory consisted of two parts. The one that was underground has been preserved.

Inside of the Ulugh Beg’s observatory. This photo is courtesy of the Press Service of the Samarkand Region Tourism and Sports Department.

Ulugh Beg Mirza spent days and nights in his observatory. The result of the work was the “Gurgan Zij” – a stellar catalog in which the astronomer described 1018 stars and divided them into 38 constellations.

Ulugh Beg Mirza was able to calculate the length of the sidereal year with unprecedented accuracy – 365 days, 6 hours, 10 minutes, 8 seconds, and the error was less than a minute. He also determined the tilt of the Earth’s axis.

During his lifetime, Ulugh Beg’s scientific works were known all over the world. They wrote and talked about him in China and used his astronomical calculations.

After 200 years, British scientists were engaged in Ulugh Beg’s discoveries. His scientific works were translated into Latin.

Ulugh Beg is not only an astronomer but also a mathematician, educator, poet, and historian.

In the 15th century, he called on the people to education: “Knowledge should be possessed by a Muslim and a Muslim woman.” In his striving to enlighten the people, Ulugh Beg was very determined. For this purpose, he built madrasahs – higher educational institutions. This is how madrasahs were built in Bukhara and Samarkand.

One of them, known as the Ulugh Beg Madrasah, is part of the Registan Square ensemble in Samarkand.

Passion for science at that distant time turned out to be a dangerous business. Ulugh Beg Mirza turned religious leaders against himself, and the lack of military victories shook his authority. As a result, an uprising was organized, led by the eldest son of Ulugh Beg – Abdulatif.

The decisive battle between father and son took place in the vicinity of Samarkand. Ulugh Beg’s troops were defeated and he had to surrender. With the consent of Abdulatif, Ulugh Beg went to Mecca, but on the way, the traitors seized and beheaded the ruler. This happened on October 27, 1449.

After the death of Ulugh Beg, the observatory worked for another 20 years but was soon closed, and the building gradually collapsed. The observatory was opened in 1908. Archaeologist Vyatkin, using the documents found, was able to find Ulugh Beg’s observatory in Samarkand.

The name of another legendary personality is associated with the history of Samarkand. And even if this is only a legend, the Samarkand land can be proud of the fact that it is related to the most real biblical prophet. This prophet has several names. He is revered in world religions under various names. Muslims call him the prophet Khoja Daniyar, the Jews call him the prophet Daniel, and in Christianity, he is known as the prophet Daniil.

Daniel entered history as a predictor, interpreter of dreams, and advisor to the Babylonian king and Persian rulers. As a teenager, he was taken prisoner along with other Jews after Nebuchadnezzar’s conquest of Jerusalem. Almost immediately in Babylon, Daniel showed wisdom beyond his years, he had an excellent memory and quick learning. For his successes in science and art, he earned fame with the Babylonian king. Nebuchadnezzar invited Daniel to the service and often turned to him for the interpretation of his own dreams. He was his adviser and people’s judge, predicted the alternation of great empires and their decline, as well as the coming of Jesus Christ.

After the fall of Babylon, Daniel continued to serve under King Darius. Meanwhile, the prophet had many ill-wishers, and conspiracies were waged against him. The reason was Daniel’s denial of the imperial gods. He refused to pray for his Persian king. The conspirators managed to convince Darius to execute Daniel, and he decided to throw the sage into the den with lions. But Daniel miraculously survived, and his position at court became unshakable.

Daniel was a dignitary of another Persian king – Cyrus the Great. Under the influence of the soothsayer, the tsar released the once captive Jews, allowing them to return to their native lands.

Daniel decided not to return to his homeland and stay in Babylon. Having lived to a ripe old age, the prophet moved to the city of Susa (now the territory of Iran), where he died and was buried in the royal mausoleum.

There are several opinions about how the sacred burial of the biblical saint appeared in Samarkand. According to one of the legends, this happened after Amir Timur’s seven-year campaign in Asia Minor. He tried many times to take Susa – the place where the seer was buried. Contrary to custom, the great Amir Timur did not succeed in anything. From local priests, he learned that the city was guarded by the relics of St. Daniel. Then Amir Timur decided to negotiate with the townspeople about reconciliation, but on condition that he would take away part of the sacred relics to Samarkand.

The Mausoleum of Saint Daniyar. This photo is courtesy of the Press Service of the Samarkand Region Tourism and Sports Department.

When Amir Timur brought the relics of the saint and laid him to rest on the territory of Samarkand, his empire became more powerful and expanded from the Indus River to the shores of the Black Sea, and the city of Samarkand became its capital.

The Mausoleum of Saint Daniyar is a unique place located on a high hill in the outskirts of Samarkand near the bank of the Siab River. Mazar is one of the most famous cult burials. Inside it, there is an unusual tombstone, the length of which reaches eighteen meters. A spring with healing water flows near the mausoleum.

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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