About Uzbekistan

Samarkand: at the foot of Afrasiab
17 January 2018
Samarkand: at the foot of Afrasiab


As in Bukhara, the sights in Samarkand are grouped in a well-marked Big Diagonal from the southwest to the northeast: Khodja-Ahrar, Russian Samarkand quarters, Kuk-Sarai and Gur-Emir, Registan Square, Bibi Khanum Mosque near the Siab Bazaar, and further Shakhi-Zinda, Khodja-Daniyar, Ulugbek Observatory and the ancient bridge through Zerafshan behind the Chupan-Ata hill. The essence of these diagonals is clear - the ancient trade road, along which the Central Asian cities grew. But if in Bukhara it resembles a chain with strong links, in Samarkand a Big Diagonal is dotted line 10 kilometers long, the centuries of decline and a long-gone prosperity – the ups and downs that Bukhara never knew.

In the last part we came to the foot of Afrosiab, a gigantic site of the pre-Mongolian Samarkand, where Genghis Khan committed such atrocities that people were afraid to settle there for all subsequent centuries, so that the ruins left by Mongols with unburied bodies and sterile earth were gradually formed into a flat hill. In this part we will go from Bibi-Khanym along the Afrosiab foothill, past the fantastic necropolis of Shahi-Zind and the grave of Saint Daniel.

Afrosiab is really big, in a form of an irregular triangle about 2 kilometers across. Its name was never the name of an ancient city - Samarkand was always Samarkand, and Afrosiab was the name of the evil king from Persian legends who ruled the dark nomadic Turan ... Iran and Turan in ancient legends are like Gondor and Mordor, the good and evil half of the oecumene, and the abode of Afrosiab meant the Heart of Turan. In the legends, the Iranian hero Kay-Khosrow killed Afrosiab and gave the throne to his son, thereby uniting Iran and Turan, but it is not exactly known when this name was assigned to the Samarkand hill, before or after the Mongols. In the depths of the site there are large excavations, remains of buildings like the citadel, Juma mosque and city gates, called Bukhara and China gates. Above the area near the Siab-bazaar there is a piece of the wall preserved, though it is too "fresh" for the pre-Mongolian times - most likely it is a piece of the 18th century city wall, and Afrosiab was not inside it, but outside. Pylons with replicas of frescoes mark the street, which leads out somewhere through the edge of the ancient settlement.

If you go under the bridge and up Shakhrisabz Street towards the giant Bibi-Khanym mosque on the other side of the bazaar, this kind of panorama will open. On the southern edge of the site stands a small but stunningly elegant St. Khidr Mosque - that's how its name Khazret-Khizr is translated:

St. Khidr, although not mentioned by name in the Qur'an (with him the nameless "servant of Allah" is identified) is the hero of the Muslim apocrypha, who possessed the gift of foresight and performed strange things, the most famous of his deeds, which remains an eternal philosophical dilemma - the murder of a child destined to be a terrible tyrant and murderer. But Khidr was not gloomy, rather he reminded Basil the Blessed, wise but not serious, and there are many legends about him in Central Asia. According to some of them he is immortal and still wanders somewhere in the mountains. Khidr is considered the patron of travelers, and the mosque of his name stands at the gates facing two most frequented routes: Afrosiab gates facing towards Mecca, and Samarkand gates towards steppe, Russia and China.

By the time of its founding, it is the oldest mosque in Samarkand - it is believed that it was laid in 712 by Kuteyba ibn Muslim on the site of the destroyed Zoroastrian temple. The current building of the 19-20th centuries is the quintessence of the architecture of the late Samarkand: similarly, only squashed by houses, look like here most mosques in the mahallas. The main building under the big dome was built in 1854, the aivan was completely reworked in 1884 and 1899, but the most interesting is the minaret and the portal tower with a small dome: the master Abdukadyr Bakiyev erected them in 1919, when the Civil War raged around. These are examples of the architecture that some call "under-opened Uzbek modern," like some buildings in Khiva and Bukhara.

Aivan is an unusual step-shaped - perhaps its different parts were built in 1854, 1884 and 1899, and because of its location, the aivan reminds a loggia. The size of the mosque is 30 by 16 meters:

When you see such ceilings for the first time you lose the gift of speech from the feeling that this is one of the most beautiful spectacles in your life. Even after when you see them for the tenth time you can’t help admiring. But one has to be a specialist to be able to decipher "by sight" the local symbols, because there is no less information in Muslim ornaments than in Christian murals.

The dome of the mosque

For a small fee you can climb up the minaret, but from there you can see not too much and the panorama is almost the same as from the aivan. Well, except that the panorama of the Afrosiab hill with the teeth of clay ruins ... but it was here where the first Samani ruled and where studied in madrassas Omar Khayyam.

On the other side, the mahallas of the present Samarkand are stretched, unidentified domes loom against the background of the Zerafshan range:

And in the middle - a Muslim cemetery, cut off from Afrosiab by Tashkent street - here it is no longer pedestrian. The blue domes are Shakhi-Zinda, the necropolis of the Living King, one of the most impressive places in Samarkand:

Its painted domes from another point:

We’ll approach Shakhi-Zinda under the slopes of the cemetery hill. It is significant that the necropolis is the only thing that the Samarkand people continued to use after the destruction of the old city, which itself became a mass grave.

The strange name Shahi-Zinda - "The Living Tsar" - is associated with a long-standing legend: allegedly, fifty years before Kuteiba, missionaries led by Kusam ibn Abbas who was a cousin of the Prophet came to Turan along the Great Silk Road. In 676 they arrived to Samarkand and Kusam held several dozens of meetings with the local Zoroastrian nobility, converting some 70 of the city's most famous people to Islam. However, later on, the hill-people from the Zerafshan range attacked Samarkand, the last stronghold of the Muslims was the same hill, and in the battle Kusam ibn Abas either was pierced by an arrow or his head was cut off. Then, however, the unforeseen happened: somehow Khidr himself turned out to be among the Muslims and with his help the dead missionary got up, picked up his head and went into some crevice, and no matter how the pagans searched, they could not find him. This is how Tsar Kusam lives from that time under the mountain, and next to him the mausoleums of the Samarkand nobility grew up for centuries.

At the main gate - excavation of the bath of the 15th century:

The gate itself and the gate mosque (1434-35), over which the Two-Dome Mausoleum rises:

Scheme of Shakhi-Zinda against the background of tiles. In total there are 11 mausoleums standing in three groups.

The Gate and the Two-Dome Mausoleum are at the Lower Group. Interestingly, in addition to religious citations, many mausoleums were inscribed from secular sources - ruba'i of Omar Khayyam, excerpts from the Persian epic "Shahname" and even the aphorisms of Socrates. There are many people in Shahi-Zinda, and mostly not foreign tourists but local pilgrims:

At the entrance, in addition to the mosque, there is also the madrassa of Davlat Kushbegi (1813-15, the "kushbegi" - the vizier) on the left, and the mosque has aivan of the 19th century:

Two-dome mausoleum, view from the other side of the platform above it. The personalities of those who rest in these mausoleums have long been forgotten, and the Two-Dome was associated with Uljai-Turkan, the sister of Hussein and Timur's beloved wife, who reconciled militant emirs after they took the Samarqand throne. But she died in 1367, and soon Timur spifflicated with Hussein. Later died Jahangir, Timur's favorite son from Uljay, to whom he built a huge mausoleum in Shakhrisabz, and Muhammad-Sultan, the grandson along the same family line to whom Timur built Gur-Emir, where he eventually was buried himself.

And this could well be the grave of Uldjay, modest enough, since in the year of her death Tamerlane has not yet captured half the world. According to another version, the astronomer and mathematician Kazymzade Rumi, the mentor of Ulugbek, was resting here ... but modern scientists found here the burial of a woman, who died at least half a century later than Uljay. In other words, total mystery…

Meanwhile, behind the gate begins the most intense Middle Group of mausoleums. On the left, the mausoleum of Emir-zade (mysterious Prince, who died in 1386) and Shadi-mulk (Timur's niece who died in 1372), to the right Toglu-Tekin (who died in 1376, the mother of a some Hussein – not clear whether the brother of Uldjay or some other noble) and hidden behind it the mausoleum of Shirin-bike - Timur's sister, who died in 1385. A fantastic view, the air itself here seems bluish-greenish. All four mausoleums were built almost simultaneously, in the same style, and by style it is clearly visible that in three of them women rest:

Looking to mausoleums of Shadi-mulk (left) and Shirin-bike (right) from one to the other. On the facade of the latter you will find the quotations from Socrates, here is the translation of only one "Truly, the people of this world are like birds rejoicing ...", but I think there are phrases more sensible and deeper there.

One of the most impressive elements is the snake column with tile scales on the mausoleum, either Emir-zade or Togl-Tekin (on it the quotes from Shakhname). The interior is worthy of an external decorations - on the right dome of Shadi-mulk mausoleum, the oldest Timurid building:

And this is the dome of Shirin-bike mausoleum

However, the most impressive in the shrine of Shirin-bike is absolutely stunning pictures, so unusual in the ornaments of the Islamic world.

The greater part of Shakhi-Zinda’s Middle Group is occupied by the Khatun-Malik square, which formed on the site of mausoleums destroyed by time. Looking back, at the high mausoleum of Shirin-bike is Octagon seen - another mausoleum built over the graves of the 14th century in the days of Ulugbek.

Inside it rather reminds a gazebo than the crypt:

Going further. The nearest to the left is called the mausoleum of Usto Ali Nesefi, which can be translated as the master of Ali from Kashkadarya (Nasaf - the ancient name of this river and region), that is, the architect eclipsed his customer here. Next is the Unknown mausoleum with a green portal and unfinished burial vault of Emir Burunduk. The large building on another side is the resting place of Kusam ibn Abbas himself, and the foundation before it is the remains of a 11th century mosque:

The facade of the usto Ali mausoleum (master Ali), one of the stars inscribed with the names of 12 Shiite imams – despite the fact that then Sunnism prevailed not only here, but also in Iran:

And its interiors. And after all, the buried nobleman clearly wanted to immortalize himself with all this beauty, not the architect ...

Mausoleum of Burunduk who was a mysterious ally of Tamerlane with a typically Mongolian name. Strange polyhedron on its roof is just a "stump" from the unfinished dome, they did not have time to finish the construction:

The square is literally dotted with tombstones of different epochs, maybe even pre-Mongolian:

And behind them is chartak, that is a portal of 4 arches under the dome in different directions, leading to the Upper Shahi-Zinda group (although formally refers to the mausoleum of Burunduk):

In the chartak on the right there is an open door, carved out of elm by master Yusuf from Shiraz in 1404-1405! Of the numerous carved doors of Central Asia, it is one of the oldest and one of the most beautiful. Looking at it one would never guess about so many centuries. The door of Khazret-Khizr mosque that was mentioned above this post is slightly more than a hundred years old but looks little better:

Under the Chartak, behind this door, from the main "street" of Shakhi-Zinda, a corridor goes deeper into the abode of Kusama ibn Abbas, the original building of Shakhi-Zinda (1334-36), completed in the year of Timur's birth. Here, too, is a large 16th century mosque, which the corridor seems to be skirting around:

Taking you to the mausoleum with some unusual, almost European decoration. The paintings remind Bukhara suzane:

In a separate room, the "ziggurat" gravestone of Kusam ibn Abbas himself, made in the era of Tamerlane. The question is what for a gravestone if Kusam according to belief is alive? But firstly, in Central Asia it was not rare to have tombstone placed without actual grave, it was just a symbol, and secondly the essence of the legend is revealed in the inscription: "Do not regard dead those who were killed on the way to Allah - they are alive!".

At the end of Shahi-Zinda, above Kusama ibn Abbas is a small courtyard. To the left, the mosque and the mausoleum of Tuman-aka (1399-1405) who was Timur's wife, and this is the remains of what is left from the madrasah built for her, where Tamerlane for some reason slept after the Indian campaign; on the right is Unnamed mausoleum, despite its namelessness one of the most beautiful in the complex, and ahead is the mausoleum of Khoja-Ahmed built in the 1340s, the oldest building of Shakhi-Zinda in its original appearance:

And the very image with extensive decoration of the walls and the most complicated calligraphy is not only stunningly beautiful. After all, in a similar way - a figured brick, carved terracotta - most of the buildings of pre-Mongolian Central Asia are decorated, such as the mausoleum of the Samanids in Bukhara, the mausoleum of Aisha-bibi in Taraz, or the mausoleum of Uzgen in Kyrgyzstan. There is a version, perhaps a true one, that all of their decor was painted and covered with glaze, and the current severe sand color is an inheritance of Soviet restorers who did not have all the knowledge and destroyed themselves the last clues for the original appearance. Perhaps the pre-Mongolian Central Asia looked more like this, corrected for the fact that in those days it was not the current green-and-blue colors that were popular here, but the red and yellow colors.

Be that as it may, Shahi-Zinda is generally the cradle of the preserved Central Asian architecture, from here it grew into giant buildings such as the Bibi-Khanym mosque or Ahmed Yasavi's mausoleum in Turkestan - the Timurid style, the face of Central Asia, later only varied by other dynasties (and reached its peak in the 17th century, when the Registan and the best madrasahs of Bukhara were built). View of the mausoleum of Khodja-Ahmed from Tuman-aka mosque:

... Having passed Shahi-Zinda in reverse historical order, we’ll head to Ulugbek observatory (better catch a taxi) under slopes of Afrosiab hill, and from there go back to the grave of Saint Daniel. 

Saint Daniel, or Daniyar as he is known locally is neither more nor less than the Prophet, one of the biblical prophets who lived a thousand years before Muhammad and for half a millennium before Christ. Daniel came from a noble Jewish family, and his life fell to the times of the Babylonian captivity. In Babylon, he came to Nebuchadnezzar as the interpreter of dreams - but not straightforward: first the Babylonians threw him into a pit with lions, but the lions were more conscious than the Babylonians and saved the prophet's life. "The Book of Daniel" is one of the Holy Scriptures (which in turn is part of the Old Testament), is historically valuable in describing the life of Babylon during the time of Nebuchadnezzar and Belteshazzar, philosophically it matters with questions of earthly and divine authority, and its key image is a stone that fell from the mountain, crushing an idol of many noble metals - was inspired by the king's dream and is an allegory of the "son of man" (stone), who will come from the kingdom of God (the mountain) and crush pagan kingdoms (an idol where every metal symbolizes some state).

Daniel survived until the death of Belteshazzar and taking of Babylon by "king of kings" Cyrus the Great. Daniel acquainted him with the prophecies of his predecessors, where the "king of kings" was mentioned very transparently, after which Cyrus ordered the liberation of the Jews from captivity and the restoration of the Jerusalem temple. Daniel himself, like the first ancestors of Bukharian Jews, stayed in Iran, interpreted the dreams of Cyrus and Darius and died as an old man in the city of Susa (nowadays Shush), in southern Iran. But that was at the time of the founding of Samarkand, and relict of the Prophet were brought here in times not so long by Tamerlane of course - indeed, Daniel, like all the Prophets before Jesus, was revered by all three Abrahamic religions. According to legend, after burial at the foot of the hill with a tomb, a sacred spring appeared, and the water in it is really very tasty:

According to the legend, since the greatest saints are not dead, they continue to grow after death, and for 2500 years Daniel stretched to 18 meters. That's what his grave looked like at the end of the 19th century, with a whole forest of poles, which in Uzbekistan are marked by the most revered graves. The current mausoleum (on the photo above) was built on top of it at the beginning of the twentieth century:

Characteristically, at the entrance to the mausoleum, the rules of conduct are set out in Uzbek, Russian and English, and it is said in a separate paragraph that the grave does not need to be circled around and pilgrims do not need to leave coins and other offerings nearby, but the local people after the prayer, all as one led by the mullah were doing exactly that! Still, the scale of pagan vestiges in Central Asia amazes.

The third element of the mazar (shrine), in addition to the mausoleum and spring, is an old almond, which dried up in times immemorial, but suddenly revived and blossomed after the visit of Patriarch Alexy II in 1996.

But the legend of St. Daniel being buried here raises many questions. Apart from Samarkand and Shush, there are at least 4 other graves of Daniel - Malamir in the same Iran, Babylon, Kirkuk and Mikdadiya in neighboring Iraq, but canonical version is that the grave is in the former Susa. Tamerlane, like Genghis Khan, had a taboo to the war with the dead, devastating living cities, they did not touch the graves - therefore it is unlikely that Tamerlane would dismember the relics and take out their fragment. Even the place for the grave is strange - even if there was only a handful of earth from the Susa grave of Daniel in the sarcophagus, why was the Mazar built in a desolate for 150 years Afrosiab and even with the opposite to city side? This also explained by some legends - whether the horse here stood up, stopped by an invisible force, or whether this place looked like Daniyar's grave in Susa. But if so - why, in the end, Tamerlane did not erect a magnificent mausoleum over it with the help of the architects from the same Susa? It seems that this place was venerated long before the Tamerlane campaigns, but it could well have been identified with the grave of Daniel, who, for example, allegedly accompanied Cyrus the Great in the heart of Turan ... Behind the almonds - something very similar to the ark for the icon.

The way back takes you a long time along the empty hill, through the weeds and deep ravines:

In the distance the former citadel is seen. Now there is the pasture here, in the land are found innumerable antiquities like fragments of ceramics that gave rise to a new tradition in the twentieth century or frescos that have been distributed through museums, but how much more is still there? And how impressive is the fact that over the past centuries no one has ventured to settle here.

Courtesy to varandej

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