Timur’s scholarly grandson, Ulugh Beg, was more interested in the stars above then following in his grandfathers footsteps in the battlefields below. His life’s ambition was to make his city of Samarkand the center of Islamic education and did this by inviting many other scholars to teach, study and conduct research inside the Registan.
Kazu-Zade Rumi, a Turkish mathematician and astronomer, was one of the most famous. He researched and calculated the stars alongside Ulugh Beg, and helped develop a more accurate catalogue of the stars above them. He now lays to under two Cupolas and the stars here in Samarkand.
History, largely written by conquerors, depends on what side of it you’re on. How are you remembered Timur? A military genius who was fluent in Persian, Mongolian, and Turkic? A blood thirsty butcher responsible for the death of 5% (at the time) of the world’s population? Or fondly as pictured here in Shakhrisabz as ‘Amir’ for your commissioning of many architectural wonders and patron to the arts? If one could only peak into your diary and wonder how you saw the world.
Ambitious warlord, patron of the arts and or just a bloodthirsty and vengeful tyrant? Timur the Great or Timur the Terrible. His reign centered here in Samarkand where many still revere him. He now lays to rest under a tombstone made of jade whose inscription reads: “When I rise from the dead, the world shall tremble.”
I’ve always been entranced by the vibrate tile work exteriors on historic buildings across much of Central Asia and Iran. But why so much blue? Isn’t green the color of Islam? Turns out that in many cultures and languages, there is little to no distinction between the two. Ask a Japanese person what the colors of a stop light are and they’ll more than likely respond “Red, Yellow, and Blue”. In Persian based languages (the Lingua Franca of this part of the Silk Road), the color seen here in the tiles is ‘Kok’ (as in the ‘Kok Gumbaz Mosque’ or ‘Blue Dome Mosque’ in Shakhrisabz). The same could be said for green tea (‘Kok Chai’) as well. Perhaps my eyes are deceiving me and it’s St. Patrick’s Day in disguise.
Partially restored tiles from the Kuhna Ark in Khiva, Uzbekistan. Before or after? Which do you prefer?
On the streets of old Khiva
Zakāt, or giving alms, is an important part of of many religions and cultures and is frequently left on tombs of historic figures throughout Central Asia. 200 Uzbek Som (UZS), the 3rd largest bill of the state, is worth about $0.07 USD at 2850 UZS to the dollar (black market rate). One hopes their prayers were picayune and laconic…
Details in the ornate overload of Isfandiyar Palace, Khiva.
The area around Dishon-Qala in Khiva is ubiquitous Central Asia: every view contains layers of history to be sifted through at any moment. What arrests your vision first? The ancient fortress in the background? Perhaps the playground with prominent Soviet ‘Cosmonauts to the Stars’ theme? Or perchance the newly painted color scheme reflecting the thoughts and desires of the present day?
Old ships rest on the bottom of what was once the harbor in Moynaq, Karakalpakstan. The Aral Sea has retreated hundreds of kilometers to the north leaving a vast seabed exposed to the blazing sun in its wake. When will humanity learn the consequences of its actions?