I awoke to a beautiful day. Promising! I got directions to the train station ticket office to buy my ticket for onward travel. I found the office quite quickly and rapidly arranged for my train ticket to Bukhara in a couple of days.
Chores and errands out of the way, I now headed to Registan to begin my exploration of Samarkand.
Nothing can prepare you for a first glimpse of The Big Three medressas of Registan: Ulugbek on the left; Sher For on the right, Tilla Kari in between. It’s like seeing Venice for the first time or Notre Dame for that matter. With such an array of towers, domes and glistening mosaics, it’s an overwhelming emotional experience. I tried to imagine what it would be like seeing this on camelback after weeks in the desert. Probably the way I felt after grappling with so many transport hassles: Ah, it’s all been worth it!
Although many writers complain that it’s touristy I feel that it is in no way as touristy as so many European sites such as Venice or Florence or Dubrovnik. yes there were visitors that’s to be expected but it was hardly jam-packed or elbow-to-elbow. Also there were many women dressed in traditional clothes so I assume there are a lot of people from Uzbekistan visiting. That makes a big difference in fact. When people are coming to visit their own heritage it’s a whole different vibe from people coming to check an item off my bucket list. I had understood there were a lot of Russian visitors but I didn’t quite pick up on that.
I explored each medressa in detail taking my time to examine the fine workmanship. It was a little like the Taj Mahal in India that creates an overwhelming effect from a distance but also merits close examination of it’s fine detail work. In other words you could be five hundred yards away or or 5 inches away and you would still find it marvelous.
Samarkand flaunted its wealth by lavishing gold leaf on this mosque. The ceiling is actually flat but designed to look domed.
Part of the interior was devoted to a display of the traditional crafts, such as gold embroidery, that I was later to admire in Bukhara.
Finished in 1420, Ulugbek is the oldest medressa with a stunning mosque.
Notice the lions on top. This would be a very relaxed interpretation of Islam which normally prohibits the portrayal of living figures. Sher-Dor was built in 1636.
After Registan, I headed to the Bibi Khanym Mosque, also a monumental work. The sheer size and scale of these buildings just never ceases to amaze. This engineering marvel nearly collapsed in an earthquake in 1897 and was then rebuilt.
The interior courtyard contains a large marble Koran stand.
The mosque is also beautifully decorated.
Continuing along the paved paths, next stop was the Siob Bazaar and a surrounding area lined with small shops.
I stopped for a light lunch that was surprisingly good.
Then on to the Hazrat-Hizr Mosque where former President Karimov is buried. Considering his record, which caused heads to explode at Human Rights Watch, there was a steady stream of reverent visitors.
Shah i Zinda
But perhaps the most marvelous was the Shah I Zinda complex, an avenue of mausoleums that contains the finest tilework in the Muslim world.. To climb the steps and see those towering mausoleums one after the other, the outer walls covered in glowing blue mosaics left me gasping and now I’m grasping for words! Even photos can’t captured the effect.
The most beautiful interior is the Shodo Mulk Oko mausoleum built in 1372.
The tilework was so exquisitely done that it has barely needed restoration since it was built.
Linking all of these sites were extremely well maintained promenades lined with grass in flower beds. Now some will say that it was over done. I guess I can understand that but there are a lot of people that want to appreciate these incredible sights. What are you going to do? These monuments have to be protected and experience shows sadly that people left to their own devices may very well make off with some of these mosaics.
Truly, Samarkand is one of the wonders of the world.