Suitcase and World: Samarkand. Shah-i Zinda Ensemble.

Tuesday, April 7, 2015

Samarkand. Shah-i Zinda Ensemble.

Our last sightseeing stop for the was at a necropolis. I have to admit that when I read that on the itinerary, I initially dreaded the visit.  Who want's to end their day with a visit to a cemetery.  Seriously.  Well, if you ever come to Samarkand, you MUST end your day here because this will be the highlight of your day!

Shah-i-Zinda is located just a short distance from Siyob Bazaar. We could've easily walked but to save time, Shavkat drove us there.

Shah-i-Zinda was founded to mark the site of where the Prophet Muhammed's cousin, Kusam ibn Abbas, supposedly "lives" in eternity.  The legend is that Kusam ibn Abbas was reportedly beheaded on a site near Samarkand’s wall during the 7th century Arab conquests of Transoxania. The story continues that carrying his head in hands and led by the prophet Khizr, Kusam ibn Abbas descended into a well, where he resides eternally in an underground palace as a “Living King.” A shrine dedicated to Kusam ibn Abbas marks the spot of the underground palace.

There is no fancy entrance, just a simple sign to let you know where you case, you didn't already know!

People must forget they are in a cemetery and should exercise respect.
Archeological studies indicate that the earliest structures of the Shah-i Zinda date from around the 11th century AD when the shrine dedicated to Kusam ibn Abbas and its adjoining buildings were located at an intersection within a populated area of ancient Samarkand....what is now the site of Shah-i-Zinda.

Archeological excavations have also revealed traces of an 11th century madrasah erected, opposite the shrine, by the order of the Karakhanid ruler Tamghach Bughra Khan (reg. 1052–1066).  However, it wasn't until after the Mongols conquered Samarkand in the early part of the 13th centtury that the site turned into a necropolis.

The first tombs that were erected clustered around the Kusam ibn Abbas's shrine.  The later structures descended the southern slope in a long alley that stretched for 200 meters (656 feet).  In total, there are about 40 funerary buildings about half of which have been excavated and reconstructed.

The bulk of the structures were constructed between 1370 and 1405, mostly for the female members of the Timurid family. The final section of the complex came to being  in 1434 - 1435, when Ulugbek erected a monumental gateway at the southern end of the alley, which provided a well-defined ceremonial entrance for the complex and linked the necropolis to the city.
The fact that Shah-i-Zinda was effectivly built up over several centuries has resulted in an interesting mix of architectural styles, methods, and decorative craftsmanship.

The funerary buildings at Shah-i-Zinda are clustered into three groups - lower, middle and upper.  The groups are connected by arched passages locally called chartaq.

Shah-i-Zinda  is entered through a high iwan, which together with two flanking halls forms the monumental entry gateway (dargah).  Known as the Dargah Abd al-Aziz, the gateway was named after Ulugbek’s son, Abd al-Aziz.  Surprisingly, neither Pat nor I took a picture of the iwan.  Clueless tourists :-)

We started our visit with one of the mausoleums in the lower group.  Built in the 15th century, it houses the tomb of Ulug Ulzhaoyim, one of Timur's wet nurses.

Here we got educated on the typical layout of a mausoleum at Shah-i Zinda - square tomb chamber, covered with a double shell dome and fronted by an arched portal (pishtaq) facing the alley.  Beneath the tomb is  the crypt (sardab), where the actual grave is located. While the mausoleum's portal is typically clad in elaborate tile decoration, the other sides are left plain or simply decorated with geometric designs in brick. A typical interior is adorned with tile mosaic or carved and painted plaster.

From the lower level, we took the steps up to the middle group of buildings.

As I approached the top of the steps, I got a glimpse of what was to come.  I could already see the stunning tile work.

Before proceeding, I took a quick look back at where I had come from.  A view of two domes caught my attention.

The twin domes of the building known as the Anonymous Mausoleum III,
formerly known as Qazizadeh Rumi Mausoleu.

The middle group consists of the mausoleums that date back to the last quarter of the 14th century - first half of the 15th century.  The stone alley was quite narrow - probably no wider than 10 feet.  Flanking both sides were the mausoleums - each with an ornately decorated, tiled portal.   They were so tall, they shaded the alley.  The mausoleums were separated from each other by just a few feet. On beautiful building after another.   It was an incredible sight!

We stepped inside two of the two most beautiful mausoleums in the middle cluster - the Mausoleum of Shirin Beka, Timur's sister and located directly, the Mausoleum of Sholdi Mulk Oko, a niece of Timur.

 We started with the Mausoleum of Shirin Beka.  Valentina pointed out an unusual stained glass window - not something you typically see in a mausoleum.

Inside Shirin Beka, there was a man, sitting quietly in a corner, chanting and praying.  His voice filled the small but cavernous space. I shot a some video to capture the moment.

Delicate murals adorned the walls - a bit of feminine touch befitting a mausoleum for a woman.  However, I did find it was unusual to see a mural with storks painted on it as typically the use of animal forms in prohibited in Islamic religious art.

Every which way I looked, it was magnificent tile work.  Seriously impressive!

We crossed the alley to the Mausoleum of Sholdi Mulk Oko, a niece of Timur; her mother is entombed here as well.   The reason this mausoleum is so noted is because of the exceptional quality of the tilework here - it was of  such exceptional quality that it merited almost no restoration.

While the beauty of the Mausoleum of Shirin Beka was the interior, I felt the beauty of the resting spot of Timur's niece was in its glorious exterior.  In a sea of intricately patterned portals, this one seemed just a tad more elaborate....if that's really even possible.

Situated right next door to the Mausoleum of Shirin Beka is one of Shah-i-Zinda's more unusual mausoleums - it has an octagonal shape.  You can see it in the back right of the photo below.

The rear section of the middle cluster opens up.  Most likely, there were mausoleums that once stood here as you can still see the tombs. 

The nice part about this section was that you could have a better look at the individual mausoleums as they weren't clustered so close together.  You can see how the sides of the buildings are clad in plain brick with only the portals being clad in tile.

On the far left is the dome of the Mausoleum of Shirin Beka.  In front is the Octagonal Museum which was built
in the first half of the 15th century.

As we passed through this second group of milddle cluster mausoleum's, Valentina stopped to point out the tile work.  She wanted to show us how Arabic calligraphy was incorporated into the design of the tile.  Note that the style of the font used in ribbons is different from that in the circular band.

We also stepped inside the Anonymous Mausoleum I (c. 1380), also known by the name of its craftsman, Ustad Ali Nasafi.  Among all the buildings in the necropolis, this one stands out for its elegant geometric forms.  The mausoleum was built in the latter half of the 15th century.

Next, we crossed through the last chartaq to arrive at the uppermost cluster of buildings.

Remnants of original tile embedded in the wall.

Looking back at the middle cluster of buildings.

The uppermost cluster consists of three mausoleums facing each other. The earliest one is Mausoleum of Khodja-Akhmad sits at the end of the alleyway.  On the eastern side is an Anonymous Mausoleum that was built in 1360 -1361.  On the western side is the Mausoleum of Tuman-Aka, built in the first half of the 15th century.

In this cluster of three mausoleums are the buildings that Shah-i-Zinda was founded on including the shrine of  Kusam ibn Abbas.

We entered the shrine through an exquisitely carved wooden door.

Inside, the corridor was remarkably plain. 

As we walked along the corridor, Valentina pointed out a section of original wood beam.

Along the way, we passed a room, where the tomb of Kusam ibn Abbas stood.  It was slightly shielded from view by a screen.  Unfortunately,  neither Pat nor I took a photo of it.  I do remember trying but it was hard focusing past the screen to get a good shot of the tomb.

The corridor dead ended at an archway which was deliberated positioned low so you had to crouch to pass through it - in effect, you were bowing in respect as you entered the room.  On the other side, the walls were no longer plain white plaster.  It was back to exquisite majolica and tile.  We had entered the shrine of Kusam ibn Abbas.  This is a place of pilgrimage for locals so as we were there, they were coming to pay their respects and then quietly sitting for a few minutes before leaving.  We were quiet as well.

Following Valentina out of the shrine.

Before leaving this last cluster of buildings at Shah-i-Zinda, I took a short video of what they looked like.  Pat and Valentina had graciously allowed me to spend a few more minutes taking photos and video so I took as much advantage of that as I could.  In all honesty, I probably could have stayed here much longer - this place was beyond anything I had expected and I would have loved to have had more time to soak it all in.  Perhaps another trip :-)

While the *old* part of Shah-i-Zinda is pretty much a museum site, there is a section of the necropolis that is a modern day cemetery.

On our way back to Shavkat and the car, we walked through this section with Valentina.  From here, we could get one final look at the older buildings that we had just left behind.

As we strolled through the cemetery, Pat and I noticed how the headstones were often etched with the heads of both a man and a woman which we presumed were husband and wife. They didn't often show off either person in the most flattering way - we thought several of the wives looked awfully grumpy.  Sadly, there were quite a few headstones with young and very young faces etched on them - the children who died before their time.

It was also here that we got to know a little bit more about Valentina. All day, we had gotten some snippets about Valentina's life but here, she revealed some heartbreaks in her life.  I was sad hearing stories as I sensed she still has some emotional struggles to conquer.  I have really enjoyed my day with here; it will be sad to leave her behind tomorrow.

Shavkat dropped Valentina off part way back to the hotel and then he took us the rest of the way.  We would meet back up with him and Valentina at 9a tomorrow.  We have one last bit of Samarkand to see before we embark on our roadtrip to Bukhara.

Tonight, we went back to Magistr for dinner after quickly checking out the offerings at an eatery located just around the corner from the hotel.  It offered fast food but nothing appealing so we went off in search of another place.  We decided to also check out another restaurant which we had noticed on our way to Magistr last night. Unfortunately, it was closed.  We walked past Magistr, to the end of the block, to see if there were any other places but we came up empty handed so it was back to the tried and true.  This time we shared some pizza.  Nothing memorable but we ate.

After dinner, it was the usual nightly duties except we also had to pack because we are checking out tomorrow.

I had a really great day today; truly memorable!  Sanarkand is a gem and this one day alone was worth all the effort it took to get here.  As reconstruction is still going, I would love to come back one day to see it when it's all finished.

Goodnight from Samarkand!