The most important museum of Samarkand is the museum of Afrasiab, located directly in the center of the ancient settlement Afrasiab. Here are collected artifacts found during excavations of the city, including the famous frescos from the palace of Varhuman (650/655 - 690 years). The museum, although small, but very important - everyone who is interested in the history of Sogdiana and ancient Samarkand should not miss it.
Sogdian ossuary and deformed skulls. It is not known from what concrete burials these skulls were taken, but deformations of skulls were practiced by many nomad tribes, for example, Sarmatians, Huns - all of them at different times controlled Samarkand.
The museum was built by the Armenian architect Bagdasar Arzumanyan in 1970, he also erected the building of the Erebuni Museum in Yerevan, so both museums look similar to each other.
The main exhibit here is the frescoes from the Hall of Ambassadors in Afrasiab. The palace with frescoes was discovered accidentally in 1965 during the road construction through the site of the ancient settlement. Now Afrasiab Museum sits on this road. The road, as expected, was laid cutting through the remains of ancient buildings, because of which many structures were seriously damaged. Including many murals of palaces and those frescoes that survived can now be seen in the museum. Unfortunately, the frescoes are hard to examine, they not only suffered badly, but the bad lighting in the museum also hinders.
The frescoes of the Hall of Ambassadors date back to the 7th century, which is known due to the fact that in addition to the images on the walls there were some explanatory inscriptions, in particular, the ruler of Samarkand of the 7th century - Varkhuman from Unash dynasty is mentioned. In 655 he sent the embassy to the Chinese empire of Tang in search of support against the Arab threat.
The painting of the southern wall is preserved best. Here is depicted a procession, possibly the arrival of a king and a princess to some country church. The best preserved are two characters on a camel and a string of possibly sacrificial birds. Sometimes this scene is interpreted as the arrival of the royal bride.
There is no general opinion even about birds, either geese or ostriches. By the way, waterfowl, the same geese were considered sacred in Zoroastrian Iran.
The drawing of procession. The princess / bride at the front, and the largest of all horse figure of Varhuman himself closes the procession.
Reconstruction of the south wall of the hall. Interesting is the presence in the procession of characters with bandages on their faces, these are some Zoroastrian ministers, they should not have defiled the sacred fire (or something else sacred) with their breath. We must admit that until now there is no clear opinion as to which religion was the main one in Sogdiana before the Arab invasion. Perhaps it was a mix of Zoroastrianism, Manichaeism, Christianity and Buddhism.
Painting of the western wall - reception of ambassadors. It was badly preserved, although it seems that the wall was specially restored by the Koreans (their ambassadors are present in the frescoes).
Sogdian officials meet with ambassadors. By style these images of officials are close to Byzantine frescoes, Christian saints and apostles were also drawn in such strings. And in their apparel they look like Byzantine aristocrats, long caftans embroidered with medallions and other outlandish creatures have become popular from China to Europe. In Russia, the aristocracy was depicted in this form until the early 18th century.
Ethnic types of Central Asia in the 7th century were diverse. On the frescoes one can see both the Iranian Europoids and the Turkic Mongoloids. The Varkhuman dynasty itself was rather Turkic, as Sogdiana joined the Turkic Khaganate in the 6th century, and the local Iranian elite was gradually replaced by the Turkic.
On the northern wall are women who look like Chinese, floating on boats. Most likely, local Turkic aristocrats copied the attire and manner of behavior of women in Tang China.
Drawing of the northern fresco.
Drawing of the northern wall. These hunters, looking like the Scythians, their frescos are very poorly preserved.
Reconstruction of the southern procession
Reconstruction of the Hall of Ambassadors in Afrasiab. This is how the palaces of Central Asia (and Iran, Babylonia) looked like - adobe walls covered with paintings, and wooden poles holding a wooden flat roof.
Frescos of later Islamic periods, for example, paintings from the 10th-century Karakhanid palace from the Citadel, have also survived in Afrasiab. Here we see a duck - a sacred bird of the Zoroastrians.
Running dogs. The dog in Zoroastrianism is the main sacred animal.
Apparently, this is a dachshund.
The carving for gypsum is the main element of decorating the walls in the Karakhanid and Seljuk mosques before the massive use of tiles in the 14th century.
Clay altar from Afrasiab.
After the frescoes, the main exhibits of the museum are ceramic funerary ossuary. As a rule, they date from the time not earlier than the 5th century AD.
Interestingly, crosses are often seen on ossuary, they decorate more than half of these terracotta boxes. What confirms the vast spread of Christianity in Central Asia in the 5-7 centuries.
Crosses similar to Georgian or Maltese.
Before being placed into the ossuary, dead bodies were processed in dachmas, where the flesh was decomposed and absorbed by animals, usually by dogs (which is why the dog is sacred in Zoroastrianism) and birds.
It must be acknowledged that in Sogdiana the cross is the most important symbol depicted not only on the ossuary, but literally on all subjects, for example, on ceramic ware. Of course, the connection of the Sogdian crosses with Christianity is not always justified, but rather it is a question of some Central Asian syncretism.
Samarkand in the Middle Ages became the main center of ceramic production in Central Asia.
The plan of Samarkand and the neighborhood. The ancient settlement of Afrasiab or Shahristan of ancient Samarkand is depicted in the center of the plan, it is a small object, similar to the heart and painted in red. Inside this heart there are several black lines, these are the numerous fortress walls of Afrasiab. Also on the plan is a black bold line of the outer wall of the Samarkand oasis - the divari kiyamat, its length is about 40 km.
Very approximate reconstruction of the aqueduct of Samarkand, that was bringing water to the city from the south in Kesh Gates area. According to the historians, the channel of the aqueduct was lined with lead.
Pipes of water supply or sewage from Afrasiab.
Ceramic water pipe from Afrasiab.
During the time of the Arab Caliphate, specialists in irrigation and construction of artificial water arteries were recruited in Central Asia, their engineering level was considered to be the highest, since in the Mesopotamia by the Middle Ages these skills were already lost.
Bricks and other building elements used in the 10th-12th centuries in Samarkand.
Clay mihrab from Afrasiab, 10th c.
Terracotta mousetrap from Afrasiab, 9th-12th centuries.
The brown formations, including holes of homes from long ago, make this an attractive preservation site to see.Read full
I'm not sure I would go here even with time to kill. I thought it was a bit of a waste of time, honestly, especially since I chose to walk, underestimating the distance from the Shah-i-Zindah...Read full
The history of Afrasiab is interesting as are the mosaic remnants but there isn't a lot to see. Worth a visit if you have time but not a "must see".Read full