Tuesday, April 7, 2015

Samarkand. The Registan.

Looking up at the domed ceiling of the mosque of Tilya-Kori Madrasah.  Its extravagant beauty took my breath away!

From Gur-e-Amir Mausoleum, it was less than a 5 minute drive to get to the The Registan - we could've have easily walked here. In fact, on our pre-breakfast walk this morning, we had hoped to make our way here but going by the neighborhood streets was not the way. Shavkat drove down the main road and voilà, in a matter of minutes, we had arrived. Shavkat pulled over for us to get out. We crossed the street to the platform that overlooks the ensemble of the three madrasahs.  I am finally here!!  To this place that I have seen countless images of.  As Valentina talked, all I wanted to do was gaze at each building and take it in all the stunning detail.  


Tilya Kori Madrasah was standing straight in front so that was the easiest of the madrasahs to focus in on.  I am so thankful that today is a bright sunny day - it's perfect for walking about.


Fortunately, Tilya Kori was located within enough distance for my zoom lens to capture the detail above the entry portal.  Wow!


Then, it was time for photo ops.  First, I took a photo and then she took one of me.


Before we left the platform, Valentina pointed out that it is possible to climb to the top of one of the towers of Ulugbek Madrasah.  Sure enough, looking through my zoom lens, I could see a tiny figure on the top of the tower, peering out into the distance.  It must be quite a view from that high vantage point.  I made a mental note to explore if we had time.


We followed a group of Uzbek women as we walked the path leading to the madrasahs.  They were dressed in a style that we had seen pretty much everywhere we've been so far in Uzbekistan.  No, Uzbek women are not a fashionable lot.


The fluted dome of Sher-Dor Madrasah.

We arrived at Sher-Dor Madrasah first.  I recognized it from its fluted domes the images tigers and human like faces that adorn the facade above the arch of the entry portal. 


The tigers are depicted pursuing a small white deerlike animal. Of course, Valentina mentioned that they are unusual as human and animal forms are prohibited in Islamic religious art.  According to Valentina, what we see as a face on the back of the tiger is actually a representation of the sun which supposedly refers to Uzbekistan's Zoroastrian past.  But why do they appear on an Islamic building?  Hmmm.....



Valentina to a small door, located on the far left side of Sher-Dor Madrasah. She told us she was taking us to a carpet workshop that not only sells carpets but also trains young girls on the art of weaving Uzbek carpets.  A carpet workshop?  Yes, as I would soon find out, seeing carpets was not the real reason we were there.


We stepped inside a very small room that was lit only by a few lightbulbs.  The first thing I noticed were the cheap pashmina shawls hanging on a clothes rack.  Ignoring those, I looked around the room.  It was very pretty.


Then I looked up the walls, all the way to the ceiling and my jaw fell to the floor.  I was gasping in awe!



I was speechless at the extraordinarily beautiful sight above my head!  It looks like a domed ceiling but it's actually flat.


Though it houses a carpet workshop today, this small room used to be the main lecture room of Sher-Dor Madrasah, used mainly for special occasions with visiting scholars.  Unbelievably, during Soviet times, it was used as a powder magazine.  It was during that time that there was an accidental explosion that resulted in a fire that badly damaged the room.  Valentina pointed out that UNESCO decided not to restore the room in order to preserve the original decoration of the room.



Next it was on to listen to some traditional music.  Valentina took us inside Sher-Dor Madrasah.  First we stopped for a few minutes in front of the entrance portal where she told us about the swastika on the facade above the door. 

The swastika has a long history going back to around 10,000 BC.  Unfortunately, those thousands of years of meaning were stamped out in just one decade by the the Nazi party. Since the late 1930’s the world has known it as a symbol of hatred and totalitarianism and that's what Valentina was expecting as a reaction from us.  But I have seen the swastika used by many cultures so I was not surprised to see it here.

Since ancient times, the swastika has represented abundance and fertility, among other virtuous interpretations, for the Uzbeks.



We also paused to look at the star emblem on the tiled wall as wall as a symbol.  If I remember correctly, the design elements that look like stylized letters are indeed that.  Unfortunately, I don't remember what they say.


Valentina also pointed out another architectural design element that is unique to the Registan madrasahs -  the tiled coil that frames the arch of the portal.


Before entering Sher-Dor, I quickly snuck off to side of the entry door and snapped this photo of this half dome decorated with a marquana.  How beautiful!


Through the entry door we went and before us was the courtyard of the madrasah. 

Looking at the back of the entry portal.  You can see the sections of missing tiles.

The rooms and open spaces on the lower level now house souvenir shops.   I have to say that the vendors here are not very aggressive or annoying.  They will speak out to try and lure you to see their goods but they don't shout and they don't come after you. 


Valentina led us to a small shop.  Inside was a man whom Valentina obviously knew.  According to Valentina, he would be giving us a brief demonstration of various Uzbek musical instruments which the shop also sells.  Additionally, the shop supports a music school that presents music to deaf people who essentially *hear* the music by feeling the vibrations.


We listened to him play several different instruments - string and percussion. It was to be our cultural event performance of the day :-)






On our way out, I bought a CD.  I need a music track for my compilation slideshow so what better place to get it than on a CD.  The proceeds supposedly go to the music school.

Next, it was off to see something very special.  For that, we headed to Tilya-Kori Madrasah.

 



Inside, we headed for the madrasah's mosque.  What a gorgeous exterior but as we we soon find out, that was nothing in comparison to what we would see inside.


With barely a foot inside the door, this is what I saw when I looked up!  An extravagantly gilded interior awaited me.


I was immediately consumed by the all splendor around me.  I thought the lecture room at Sher-Dor was magnificent but this room surpassed it by a thousand fold.


Tilya-Kori (which means "decorated with gold") Madrasah was built (1646-1660) by the ruler of Samarkand, Yalangtush Bakhodur. It was not only a residential college for students but also served as the city's cathedral mosque.  No expense was spared decorating the mosque.  As you can seen, the main hall is sumptuously gilded.  Valentina called this place the Golden Mosque and it most certainly lives up to its name.



In the front was the mihrab, decorated in gold. Above the gold door was a marquana, also gilded.


To the right of the mihrab were the carpeted steps of the mimbar.



When we first entered the mosque, there was a man in quiet prayer.  I am sure he was so absorbed in contemplation that didn't hear a bit of the noise that was around him.  Nonetheless, I felt the need to be quiet for him.


But like many a mosque, the most extravagantly decorated spot is the ceiling and the one here did not disappoint.  I have looked up a many an Islamic domed ceiling and none have been as breathtakingly stunning as this one.  It is decorated with gilded relief work!  Surrounding it were four gilded marquanas.


Every angle from which you look at the ceiling, it is a glorious sight to behold.  If not for the fact that looking up was straining my neck and it was not possible to lay down on the floor, I could have stared at this magnificent ceiling for a lot longer than I did.  There was so much detail in the intricate design!  Just imagine what the artisans had to go through to produce this amazing piece of art.


Watch the video for a quick 1 minute 46 second tour.



Off to either side of the small prayer hall were two columned corridors with vaulted ceilings.


On one side, the corridor was filled with souvenir vendors along with a small display of old photos showing what the Registan Ensemble looked like before it was restored.  I loved seeing the photos and comparing what the madrasahs looked like back then to what they look like today.


Back outside, it was difficult to let go of the sumptuous interior I had just left behind.  Valentina gave us a few minutes to take photos.   Pat and I strolled around the center courtyard.




I wanted to get a front on shot of the mosque but a tree obscured the view.  The photographer in me wanted to chop it down. The gardener in me thought how lovely it would be to sit in the shade of the tree once the leafs out.  Forever conflicted.


I did, however, manage to get an up close shot of the dome.


The former rooms of the madrasahs now house souvenir shops.  I wasn't interested in looking at anything let alone buy so I just stayed on the outside.  Besides, the facade of the madrasah was so lovely to look at.



Valentina told us the story of one of her previous clients, a woman photographer from California who had come to the Registan with a photo in hand.  She wanted to take that exact photo and she and Valentina walked around until they found it.  Of course, Valentina had to show us the view and we had to take a photo of it - it was of the domes and minaret of Sher-Dor.  They do make for a very nice composition.

From Tilya-Kori, we went to visit the last of the three madrasahs, Ulugbek, which was built by and named after Timur's grandson.


The front facade of Ulugbek Madrasah was pretty plain but under the arched entry was a different story.  Here, the artisans made sure there was something beautiful to look up at as you passed through the door.



Valentina left us to explore more of the Registan.  Unbelievably, I didn't even step inside Ulugbek Madrasah.  We were momentarily distracted by a pair of young Uzbek women who wanted their photos taken with us.  No sooner had we bid them goodbye when a threesome of men approached us and asked if they could do the same.  We happily stood alongside them.  Chatting briefly with them afterwards, we found out they were from Afghanistan.  As friendly as ever, they suggested we visit their homeland.  We replied that we would love to but we didn't that Americans would be too welcome at the moment.  Someday.  I hope.

Pat wanted to go back to see the old photos of the Registan and I wanted to see the Golden Mosque so back to Tilya-Kori, we went.

When our time was up, we met back with Valentina who had found a bench by Sher-Dor. 


It was time to leave the Registan but there was more, much more, to come.....including what would be the highlight of Samarkand for me.


Onto Bibi Khanym Mosque and Siyob Bazaar!