Tuesday, April 7, 2015

Samarkand. Bibi-Khanym Mosque and Siyob Bazaar.

 Bibi-Khanym Mosque.

The Registan Ensemble. What an amazing place!  It was bittersweet to leave but Valentina promised there were more wonderful sights ahead of us so off we marched.

We walked along the side of Sher-Dor to reach a pedestrian only thoroughfare.  In Silk Road days, this was a road that connected the Registan to the city's main bazaar and it still does so today.


Standing on the thoroughfare, looking back at Sher-Dor Madrasah, on the left.

Today was a Tuesday so there were only a few non-tourists out and about.  Tourist wise, we're early in the season so we've been very lucky that the tourist hotspots are relatively empty as well.  According to Valentina, the government is still continuing to renovate the area around the Registan.  It already looks good to me so I can't imagine what other improvements they are planning on putting in - perhaps some seating??


Located stone's throw from the Registan, between Sher-Dor and Tilya-Kori madrasashs was a small brick building.


If I remember correctly, Valentina said that in Silk Road days, it served as a currency exchange.  Makes sense given that you have traders coming from all parts of Central Asia and beyond that a business handling currency exchange exists.


From the walkway, I finally was able to get a front on view of the mosque of Tilya-Kori!


It was a short walk before we arrived into a newly developed commercial area.  This is the section that connects the Registan to the Bazaar.


I appreciated that all the buildings are low in height and built with brick to match the madrasahs in the Registan - it all blended in nicely. 

I was enjoying the walk although it would have been fun to have been here on the weekend when I 'm sure it's a popular spot for locals - great place to come for people watching!


Most of the stores sold items that obviously catered to tourists but few of them were open for business.  Perhaps it's because it's still too early in the tourist season?  Too bad though because I did see a few things that I would have loved to have taken a closer look at.

As we walked, we chatted with Valentina.  She came to Samarkand decades ago on a brief visit and fell in love with the place.  She never left.  Like Sergey, she has a passion for this city and it comes out with every word she speaks.  I like her.


We diverted from the walk to check out a bakery....tucked inside a courtyard.  For a moment, I thought we were having our lunch break.  It was about that time.  Following Valentina through the courtyard, I was momentarily distracted by the sight of the domes.   Valentina said the belong to Bibi-Khanym Mosque....our next destination after our bakery detour.


Working right inside the front door of the small he family owned and operated bakery was the patriarch, mixing up the dough for a batch of traditional Uzbek non.  As someone who likes to bake, I was fascinated by what he was doing - the ease with which he manipulated the dough reflected years if not decades of kneading it.  Making great bread is both a skill and an art. I wanted to put my hands in to feel the consistency and texture so I can work towards creating that same texture when I make my bread.  He looked so hard at work, I didn't want to interrupt him.


Standing near the older man was a younger man who was putting the formed loaves into the tandir for baking.  I could feel the heat emanating from that big clay oven!



From the bakery, we continued our walk towards Bibi-Khanym Mosque.  Its side portal entrance, which was closed, is a feature unique to this mosque.


The fluted dome of Bibi-Khanym Mosque.


Across from the mosque is a small building under renovation.  According to Valentina, that is the mausoleum of Bibi-Khanym.  Although the door was open, we didn't go inside.


Situated next the mausoleum is a small cemetery.


Across from the mausoleum is the front entrance of the mosque.  The first thing that struck me about the entrance was its massive size!


I waited for Pat to get a bit ahead of me before I snapped this photo.  I wanted her at some distance for perspective so you can see just how big the entrance is!



Bibi-Khanum was Timur's Chinese wife and his favorite wife.

There seems to be differences in opinion as to who ordered the mosque to be built.  Some accounts have it that, flush with plunder from conquering Northern India in December 1398, Tinur ordered the construction of the mosque.  It was to be the biggest, the grandest, the most beautiful mosque of any that existed at that time.  Other accounts have it that as Timur devastated Northern India, Bibi Khanym ordered the construction of the behemoth mosque to surprise the conqueror on his return to Samarkand.

According to all accounts, the best architect was brought over from Persia and the best slave-artisans labored to build the mosque.  Additionally, nearly 100 elephants were imported from Indian to haul the wagons laden with the marble used in the construction of the mosque.

It also seems to be universally agreed that the construction of the mosque was rushed.  Soon after its completion, bricks were already falling and the mosque was beginning to crumble.

An earthquake in the 17th century caused more damage.  After that the mosque inside Tillya-Kori Madrasah became the city's cathedral mosque and so Bibi Khanym was further neglected.  To add insult to injury, Bukharan emirs stripped it for building supplies and in the early 19th century, Tsarist offices used the mosque as a stable & cotton market before the Soviets began reconstruction in 1974.  It's still being worked on today.

There's also a legend tied to this mosque and it involves a kiss.  It goes that the architect fell in love with Bibi Khanym and managed to persuade her to allow him one kiss.  But the kiss was given with such passion that it left a mark for Timur to see.  Timur could not tolerate the infidelity and had Bibi Khanym thrown to her death from the top of one of the minarets. The architect escaped by growing wings and flying away to Mecca from the top of the other minaret.  It was believed that from that day forward, Timur commanded all the women in his empire cover their faces with veils, lest they tempt men to covet their neighbors’ property.  Remember, back in those days, women were considered to be chattel.

One thing can is universally agreed upon - this place is huge!  The front entry portal soared 35 (115 feet) meters around an 18 (59 feet) meter tall, flanked by two 50 (164 feet) meter tall minarets.  But you don't need dimensions to tell you  that this mosque is huge - your eyes will show you!

On the other side of the entry portal is a central courtyard where two dome capped mosques stand facing each other.  At the far end, is the main mosque.


In the center of the courtyard is a large lectern made of Mongolian marble donated by Ulugbek. 


The lectern once held the large Osman Koran, a 7th century treasure that was brought to Samarkand by Timur.  The Koran was taken St. Petersburg in 1873 when the Russians removed the lectern.  It was subsequently returned to Tashkent by the Bolsheviks and placed in the library at the Khast-Iman Complex where we fortunate to have been able to see it. 

As we watched a group of local Uzbeks standing and praying around the lectern, Valentina told us of two traditions about this stand.

The first is that a woman who crawls under the stand will have lots of children.  Apparently, this is a popular tradition with young couples hoping for a family.  The second is that iw you wish for something and then walk around the stand three times, your wish will come true.   Pat and I both jokingly told Valentina that walking under the stand would not deliver children to us....unless there was divine intervention of some sort!  Neither of us chose to walk around the stand either.


Neither of the two mosques was open so all we could do was walk around the courtyard and take in the views.


In the corner, near the entry door of the mosque, a local painter had set out a few of his works for sale.  Pat and I checked out his offerings.  His name is Sharipov Toir and I bought his painting of a pomegranate tree which represents the tree of life.  My first souvenir from Central Asia!

That's Pat, in the white shirt and hat, walking toward the artist's stand.

I read somewhere that the use of turquoise-blue tiles on yellow-brown brick
is a classic Samarkand design - it represents the contrast of sky and earth.

The facade of the mosque is covered in elegant geometric patterns.

After our brief visit to Bibi-Khanym, it was time for lunch.  We ate at a nearby restaurant that serves traditional food to tourists.  Both Pat and I settled for plates of plov - we hadn't had any since we were in Tashkent.   As we ate, the restaurant owner came by our table and put down complimentary bowls of sumalak.  Uzbeks  really love this stuff; it's still and acquired taste for me.

Valentina chose to eat with the owner who had had his severely learning disabled son with him.  Valentina has a soft spot for the child; she has a very tender heart.


After lunch, we walked next door to a clothing shop that is owned and run by the restaurant owner's wife.  She had some very nice pieces there - all made of locally hand woven materals.  If I was still a working gal, I might have bought a piece but these days, my daily outfits reflect my much more casual, retired lifestyle!

From the shop, we took the short walk to the Siyob Bazaar which has stood in this same location since the time of Timur.

What?  A shuttle?  Why didn't we see this sooner?  Not that I would have taken it.

Entry to the bazaar.

Inside the covered bazaar, we just strolled out and checked out what was for sale.  This was our fourth visit to a Central Asian market and the what was being sold looked very familiar.   As with Chorsu Bazaar in Tashkent and Panjshanbe Bazaar in Dushanbe, the market here was very clean - there's no trash lying around all over the place or icky wet spots on the floor.

Rock sugar.  Very popular in Central Asia!

Beans, grains and rice.


That's Bib Khanym Mosque.  You can see just how close it is to the market.

Pickled veggies.  Central Asians gotta have them!

The rice man.  They sell a lot of different varieties here - both

Eggs are sold individually here so price is per egg.

.  Quail's eggs are popular for making plov.

Sunflower seeds are a popular snack item. There are two varieties - white and black.

Beans and lentils.  I've not had any dish with them but I see a lot for sale in the markets.

The spice man.  A friend of Valentina/s. Neither Pat nor I were in need of any so we just politely took a look

Looking down from the second floor.

She's busy peeling onions to remove the flaky, outer skins.  Produce has got to look good!

Herbal medicine.

Dried herbs.

A curious and very friendly young boy.

Another view of Bibi Khanym.

After a brief walk through of the covered bazaar, we headed outside.  I had told Valentina that I was interested in buying a chekich, the tool that the bread makers stamp the center of the non loaf with.  One of my Facebook friend, Sharon, who has been to Samarkand had told me that I would find the best selection of chekich here.  Valentina promised to take us to the housewares section to look for them.

Dried flowers that are burned as incense.

Straw brooms.  I love these brooms - very practical, functional and sustainable.  Too bad they're too big to fit in my suitcase.

We eventually found a row of houseware vendors selling chekich - different sizes with different patterns.   We price compared several vendors and finally settled on one with a good selection at decent prices.   For 10,000 som, I got my second souvenir!


My medium sized (about 6.5 centimeters 2.5 inches in diameter) chekich with a simple flower pattern.

Outside, there were more veggie sellers.

Red and green radishes.  They're huge in size here.

The plant nursery.

Vendors who sell outside pay a smaller fee but they don't have a guaranteed spot.

You don't need a sign to tell you what's for sale....

....the bread carts will be your sign.

The women are always proud to show off their bread.

I noticed quite a few people here, mainly women, with a grill of gold teeth. 
According to Valentina, it was fashionable to do this a while back.  I presume
as a sign of wealth.  The woman standing in the back didn't mind lfashing a bit
of her golden smile.

This woman also proudly posed, holding up a loaf of non, for a photo.

Two very pretty loaves. These would be eaten for special occasions.

We decided to buy a few apples. We've not had a whole of fruit to eat since we've been in Central Asia!

After the bazaar, we met back up with Shavkat and took a very short ride to our final sightseeing destination of the day - a necropolis....but we're in Samarkand so it's not just any necropolis!  It turned out to be one of the highlights of the day for me!