About Uzbekistan

Samarkand: mosques, madrassahs, mausoleums
19 January 2018

In addition to the world-scale attractions of the Big Diagonal and the colorful ‘not for the tourist’ national mahallas, there are enough interesting "second league" places in Samarkand scattered all over the boundless one-story city.

There is a small Koshkhovuz street (Two Ponds) running from Registan to the north, named after the mosque standing there. The Mosque of Kosh-Khovuz was built in 1901, and it really has two ponds:

The Mosque of Kosh-Khovuz

The construction with the aivan in the background and the minaret of the "pre-Mongolian era" are historical:

And the cells of the second pond were added in 2002-2003. As a result, the mosque is a fairly large yard and a "ladder" of several buildings.

A little further there is another with similar large yard Mosque of Khoja-Ziemurod, which can be translated as the Mosque of Quick Fulfillment of Desires:

Mosque of Khoja-Ziemurod

It was also built in the late 19th century on a pre-Mongolian foundation - archaeologists found bricks with the stamp of the Great Seljuk Empire of the 11th and 12th centuries, in which Samarkand was only a large provincial city, and by the time of its collapse Khorezm became the center. According to a legend that is not very well known to tourists (apparently due to the obvious lack of convincingness), Tamerlane brought to Samarkand the relics not only of the Prophet Daniel, but of St. George the Victorious, whose mausoleum at this very mosque was allegedly destroyed by the Bolsheviks (in fact, it is based in the Israeli city of Lod). The belief says that the prayer in this mosque leads to the fast fulfillment of the most cherished desires, that is, it is probably built on the site of some shrine of pre-Islamic times:

Paintings of the aivan:

And the hall with the painted fan:

This couple of mosques you can inspect on foot as they are located around the Siab bazaar. For the following sights you’d rather take a taxi as they are quite far. The next pair of sights are couple kilometers to southeast of Registan on different sides of the busy Sadriddin Aini street. On the north side of the street stands alone Ishratkhana, whose name ("A House of Joy") neither does not fit in any way with its intended use (this is a former mausoleum), nor with a sad present look. Ishrat-Khana's meaning is a "house of enjoyment" expressing the idea of "enternal home for heaven life". The mausoleum is considered as a necropolis of women and children from the Temurids.

It is not exactly known when this nickname stuck to mausoleum, but most likely in 18-19th century, when the original purpose of the building was already forgotten and when it looked more cheerful - in fact, Ishratkhana was destroyed in the earthquake of 1903, when a huge dome fell and "cheerful" tiles fell off like tree leaves in the autumn:

Ishratkhana, perhaps, is the most little-known monument of the Timurid epoch: it was built in the 1450s-60s under the great-grandson of Timur Abu-Said over the grave of his daughter. The same Abu-Said (who, by the way, had to reconquer both Samarkand and Herat in internecine wars) built the mausoleum of Ak-Sarai near Gur-Emir, and most likely they were both built as burial vaults of Timurids, only Ak-Sarai was for "males", whilst Ishratkhana for "females."

Ishratkhana is also the last Timurid building in Samarkand, which was not affected by the Great Restoration: we already mentioned before that most ancient sights of Samarkand undergone the most ambitious restoration program in the USSR, and therefore the most controversial one. Among art critics, there are many who consider it the destruction of genuine antiquities, scornfully calling Bibi-Khanym or Registan "the architecture of developed socialism" or "absurd Soviet fantasies in disgusting post-Soviet performance." Some even say that Ishratkhana is the only worthy building of Samarkand, but as you can see, the restorers already started they work here:

The piece of decoration in one of the rooms is very similar to the replica. Although, Timurid tiles do not fade from time, that is theoretically it can a fragment of the past that has miraculously escaped destruction by the time. 

But the fragments of tiles in the drainage ditch are clearly authentic, made over five hundred years ago:

Across the street, exactly in front of Ishratkhana is Abdi-Darun, which means Abdi Inner. In Samarkand there was not only Uthman's Koran brought by Timur (now stored in Tashkent), but also the relatives of this caliph, and therefore the Prophet, the Abdi dynasty of theologians and kadi (sharia judges), whose founder Abdal Mazeddin lived in the 9th century. Being the relative of the Prophet is a serious matter, besides Mazeddin has also left a good memory of himself, so his grave is very revered, and at first it was one of the main shrines of Samarkand. From all sides Abdi-Darun is surrounded by the cemetery, a small section adjoins even from the side of Sadriddin Aini Street, which through the graves overlooks to modern minaret and a portal of the beginning of the twentieth century:

Behind the portal is a dry hauz (pond) and the mausoleum itself, at the base is the oldest building in Samarkand - the original cubic building with a sharp Khorezm dome was built by the order of Ahmad Sanjar, the ruler of the Seljuq empire. However, from that time only internal walls remained (so in the post about Gur-Emir the mausoleum of Rukhabad of the end of the 13th century was called as the oldest building in Samarkand), but what is visible outside is from the times of Ulugbek (that is, the beginning of the 15th century). 

Pay attention to the old plane trees as columns supporting the sky above the courtyard. The remaining buildings of Abdi-Darun are already modern, except for the mosque (1909) to the right of the mausoleum:

Behind the mosque is a garden, from which the aivan looks like the gates of Heaven:

But the name of Abdi Inner is not accidental - there is also Abdi-Birun (External) - it is quite far away from the center and is lost somewhere in the mahallas in the south of the city. That’s why they are called so: Abdi Inner stood within the fortress wall, and Abdi External - outside the city. 

Abdi-Birun itself is rather modest. According to one version it was built over the grave of Abdal ibn Yakub - a distant descendant and colleague of Abdal Mazeddin whom we mentioned above; according to another version, both mazars are related to Abdal Mazeddin, whose cult was once so massive that apart from the real grave, closer to the city, there was also a symbolic one in the open field for festive services, where tens of thousands of people flocked. The present mausoleum of Abdi-Birun was built in the 17th century on the site of the pre-Mongolian ruins by the Bukhara vizier Nadir, who also built the Lyabi-Hauz in Bukhara. 


The three main elements are clearly visible on the photo above - from right to left are dahma (podium with the grave), khanaqa (the abode of the Sufis) and apparently a modern minaret, stylized as a local pre-Mongolian architecture:

However, the largest ancient ensemble of the Samarkand suburbs is Khodja-Ahrar, which is about five kilometers from Registan at the road towards Urgut, Shakhrisabz or Karshi.

Hoja Akhrar

To see Khodja-Ahrar is worth at least for the sake of some of its gates, which are a light version of Registan’s Sherdor madrasa - in fact, it is sometimes called Sherdor-Birun, that is, Sherdor External. The lion pursuing the deer symbolizes authority pursuing good deeds, which is rather ambiguous. All three Central Asian buildings with such a clear violation of the Muslim canon were erected at about the same time - in the 1610s and 30s, and two of them - Khoja-Ahrar here and the Diwanbegi madrassah in Bukhara’s Lyabi House - had a common funder in the person of Nadir Diwanbegi. And the mystery of these non-canonical plots - both their appearance, and the fact that they were not destroyed in the following centuries - has not been solved until now.

Khoja-Ahrar was known in the world as Nasreddin Ubaidullah ibn Muhamed Shashi (Tashkent), a distant descendant of Arab theologians in Central Asia, he was born in 1404 near Tashkent, and was a Sufi mystic almost from the very birth: according to legend, his life began with fasting - only on the 40th day of his birth he touched his mother's breast. He had an absolute memory, but he did not study well, sometimes could fell into the Sufi trance even in the middle of the bazaar, and his father was not happy about it, so he sent him to the "secular" Madrassah of Ulugbek in Samarkand. He often fled from studies and hided in the mausoleums of Shakhi-Zinda, until one day he left for travels in and around Transoxiana and Khorasan, studied with the Sufi wise men of the Bukhara Order of Naqshbandiyya in Tabriz and in a secluded village in the Gissar mountains. By the middle of the century, Ubaidullah of Tashkent (who had returned to his hometown as an Ishana, that is, a mentor,) was known to the whole of Maveranahr, and the clergy made him his banner, the antagonist of the Khan-scientist Ulugbek. The ideological opposition of them was so obvious that when in 1449 Ulugbek was killed by the order of his son, opponents even suspected Ubaidullah to be the organizer behind the killing. Khoja-Ahrar preached the rejection of asceticism, believing that serving God is not the salvation of his own soul, but of the souls of the whole world, and therefore, the man detached from worldly vanity must lead the world and use its riches for good. By that time, he was fabulously rich, richer than all merchants and nobles, but he lived, ate and dressed modestly, he built madrassas and temples throughout the country, helped those in need and hunger. After the death of Abu-Said in 1469, Khoja-Ahrar became the de facto ruler of Maveranakhr and in fact triggered its decline: Samarkand of those times lost the role of the last stronghold of secular eastern science, which was replaced by an uncompromising Sharia. However, the days of its heyday were numbered anyway - thanks to the Turks, who blocked the Silk Road, and the Spaniards with Portuguese who invented the caravel ... Khoja-Ahrar died in 1489.

The view of the madrasah from outside, the khanaka is under the high dome. All this was destroyed in 1907 by an earthquake, and is being restored gradually since 1979. Lions on the portal, however, not the fantasy of restorers, but a replica from pre-revolutionary photographs.

After the earthquake, in 1907-09, a mosque with a pair of aivans was built:

Typically, the Samarkand micro-minaret (1909) at the beginning of a vast cemetery:

Around the house is a bunch of old plane trees, not thousands of years old, of course, like in Urgut, but the plates on the right indicate the 18th century:

There are  many old revered graves before the gate of the "common" cemetery between the mosque and the khanaqa:

Including the stela over the tomb of Khodja-Ahrar himself, installed in the year of his death (1489) and covered with the finest calligraphic carvings:

Courtesy to varandej

More news about Uzbekistan
Qashqadaryo and Surxondaryo regions

A short overview of Qashqadaryo and Surxondaryo regions of Uzbekistan located in the extreme south-east of the country. These are the regions that preserved their authentity and a daily way of life that has not changed since the Middle Ages. Brilliant experience for the tourists seeking something unusual, away from the beaten track. A journey to the true Central Asia of the previous era. 

02 February 2018
The history of Tashkent

People travelling to Uzbekistan mostly centre their tours on Samarkand and Bukhara, often omitting Tashkent. That's pity, as Tashkent's history is no less interesting and there are so many interesting things to learn. Follow our pages for the interesting facts about Tashkent

08 December 2017
Bukhara. Part X: Sitorai Mohi Khosa

The most famous landmark outside the Old Town of Bukhara is Emir's summer palace called Sitorai-Mohi-Khosa, which means "A Star Similar to the Moon". This is no longer a formidable citadel, like the Ark, but the usual estate with a park and outbuildings. 

28 May 2018
Did you know?

Uzbekistan is one of only two countries in the world to be ‘double landlocked’ (landlocked and totally surrounded by other landlocked countries). Liechtenstein is double landlocked by 2 countries whilst Uzbekistan is surrounded by 5!

Did you know that Uzbekistan lies in the very heart of Eurasia, the coordinates for Uzbekistan are 41.0000° N, 69.0000°

Uzbekistan is home to the Muruntan gold mine, one of the largest open pit gold mines in the world! The country has 4th largest reserves of gold in the world after South Africa, USA and Russia

Uzbekistan is the world capital of melons. They have in excess of 150 different varieties, which form a staple part of the local diet, served fresh in the summer and eaten dried through the winter.

It is Uzbek tradition that the most respected guest be seated farthest from the house’s entrance.

Tashkent’s metro features chandeliers, marble pillars and ceilings, granite, and engraved metal. It has been called one of the most beautiful train stations in the world.

The Uzbek master chef is able to cook in just one caldron enough plov to serve a thousand men.

When you are a host to someone, it is your duty to fill their cups with for the whole time they are with you.  What you must not do, however, is to fill their cup more than half-full.  If you do that as a mistake, say it is a mistake immediately.  Doing it means you want them to leave.  Wow!  Amazing, right?

To Uzbeks, respect means a whole lot.  For this reason they love it if, even as foreigners, you endeavour to add the respectful suffix opa after a woman's name; and aka after a man's.  Example: Linda-opa and David-aka.  You could also use hon and jon respectively.

Having been an historic crossroads for centuries as part of various ancient empires, Uzbekistan’s food is very eclectic. It has its roots in Iranian, Arab, Indian, Russian and Chinese cuisine.

Though identified with the Persia, the Zoroastrism probably originated in Bactria or Sogdiana. Many distinguished scholars share an opinion that Zoroastrianism had originated in the ancient Khorezm. Indeed, today in the world there were found 63 Zoroastrian monuments, including those in Iran, India, Afghanistan and Pakistan. Thirty-eight of them are in Uzbekistan, whereas 17 of these monuments are located in Khorezm.

One of Islam's most sacred relics - the world's oldest Koran that was compiled in Medina by Othman, the third caliph or Muslim leader, is kept in Tashkent. It was completed in the year 651, only 19 years after Muhammad's death. 

Tashkent is the only megapolis in the world where public transport is totally comprised of Mercedes buses. And due to low urban air polution it is one of the few cities where one can still see the stars in the sky.

You would be surprised to know that modern TV was born in Tashkent. No joke! The picture of moving objects was transmitted by radio first time in the world in Tashkent on 26 of July 1928 by inventors B.P. Grabovsky and I.F. Belansky.

Uzbekistan is the only country in the world all of whose neighbours have their names ending in STAN. This is also the only country in Central Asia that borders all of the countries of this region

Uzbeks are the third populous Turkik ethnicity in the world after Turks and Azeris (leaving both in Azerbaijan and Iran)

Did you know that there was silk money in Khiva? Super interesting right? Of course, but the best part of having silk money was that it could be sewn into your clothing.

Famous Islamic physician Ibn Sina (Avicenna in the Latin world) who was born near Bukhara was the one of the first people to advocate using women’s hair as suture material – about 1400 years ago.

Uzbekistan has a long and bloody history. The most notorious leader of Uzbekistan was Timur (or Tamerlane) who claimed descent from Genghis Khan. His military campaigns have been credited for wiping out some 5% of the world’s population at the time.

If you have thought that some of the Islamic architecture in Uzbekistan resembles that from Northern India, then that is because Timur’s great great great Grandson, Babur Beg, was the founder of the Moghul Empire that ruled much of India for almost four centuries! Babur’s great great Grandson was Shah Jahan, who built the Taj Mahal.

Uzbekistan was once a rum producig country. There is still a real arboretum in Denau (city near Termez on the border with Afghanistan), grown from a selection station that studied the prospects of plant growing in the unusual for the Soviet Union subtropical climate of Surkhandarya region: only here in the whole of the USSR sugar cane was grown and even rum was produced!

Uzbekistan has been ranked one of the safest countries in the world, according to a new global poll. The annual Gallup Global Law and Order asked if people felt safe walking at night and whether they had been victims of crime. The survey placed Uzbekistan 5th out of 135 countries, while the UK was 21st and the US 35th. Top five safest countries:

  • Singapore
  • Norway
  • Iceland
  • Finland
  • Uzbekistan
Exchange rates
100 RUR
14493.87 UZS
100 USD
1261479.5 UZS
100 EUR
1352269.09 UZS
100 GBP
1599556.2 UZS
Weather in cities