Monday, April 6, 2015

Shakhrisabz. Timur's Birthplace Under Renovation.


We arrived into Shakhrisabz in the early afternoon. The skies were very cloudy and it was threatening to rain.  There was no sign announcing we had arrived into town.  It was Shavkat who made the pronouncement.  Looking outside the car window, I was shocked by what I saw.  The entire town was all torn up - it looked like what I imagine a war torn town to look like.  I was so surprised that I actually repeated the name of the town, with a question mark at the end, to confirm we really were here.



Shavkat replied, "yes" and then proceeded to tell us that we would be meeting our guide, Mavluda, here.  I was thinking at some point, the landscape would change - that some where we would be see some greenery....not just torn up dirt.  But that was not the case.



Shavkat pulled the car over and a woman approached.  It was Mavluda.  After the introductions, we followed her to begin our tour of the historic landmarks of Shakhrisabz.  Shakhrisabz is important to Uzbeks because this is the place that Timur was born and where several members of his family, including two of his sons, are entombed.

As we walked, I had to ask her about all the construction.  Apparently, it is a massive and I mean MASSIVE reconstruction project - not only are the landmarks being reconstructed but so are the many buildings, streets and sidewalks in and around the old part of town.  According to Mavluda, all work will be completed in 2016.  Wow!  I've truly never been in town where so much destruction and rebuilding has been going on all at the same time.  I can understand doing it one bit at a time but overhauling everything all at once is insane!


I really felt like we were in the middle of a large construction sight.  It was hard to to believe that the name *Shakhrisabz* means *green city* in Persian.  What green?  Thankfully, it wasn't raining otherwise, we would have been trudging through a giant mud puddle!


From where Shavkat had parked the car, we walked alongside the Kok Gumbaz mosque which we would visit a little later.


The religious heart of Shakhrisabz is comprised of two complexes that are situated adjacent to each other - the Hazrat-i-Imam Complex and the Dorut-Tilavat Complex.  Within the Hazrat-i-Imam Complex is yet another complex - Dorus Saodat Memorial Complex.  It's hard to keep all the names straight.  Somehow I think they could simplify things.  Oh well.

We entered the grounds that unite all the complexes.  The entire place is under construction.  Pathways, flower beds, retaining walls - all torn down and new ones being built.  Even the plants are all being replaced!



Additionally, restoration work on several of the landmarks is also taking place.  The entire area of ensemble is being rebuilt but because it is a UNESCO World Heritage Site, reconstruction of the landmarks must follow UNESCO rules. We stopped for a brief moment to look at a diagram presenting the future view of the grounds. It'll look nice.


But today, this is what the plaza area looked like. It all looks bare but I think that's mainly because the plants and trees are young and have yet to leaf out.


We started our visit with the Dorus Saodat Memorial Complex, where members of Timur's family are entombed.  Of the tombs here, those that belong to Timur's eldest and second sons, both of whom died before Timur, are the most significant.  The memorial complex was built in 1376 following the untimely death of Timur's eldest son, Jakhongir.  




Mavluda bought our entry tickets and then took us to visit a small mosque that is said to house the tomb of a revered 8th century imam, Amir Kulal.  While the rest of the complex was built in the 14th century, the mosque is comparatively new - built in the mid 19th century.


The classic wooden columns of Uzbek architectural design.



Next, we went to the Mausoleum of Jakhongir.  Jakhongir was Timur's eldest and favorite son.  Inside the small mausoleum, the room decoration was very simple and plain.



This cute little fella came to check us out.

Kok Gumbaz Mosque on the left. The mausoleum of Jakhongir on the right.

From the mausoleum, we headed for a bunker with a door leading to an underground chamber, that was discovered by archaeologists in 1943.



At the bottom of the steps was a very small room, virtually filled wall to wall with a stone tomb. 


The inscriptions on the tomb indicate that it was intended for Timur. However, the conqueror was buried in Samarkand, not at Shahrisabz.




Back outside, we walked over to several tombs, the largest of which holds the remains of second son, Umarshaykh (Omar Sheikh), who was killed in 1394 during the seige of the fortress of Kurd in Iran.  His body was brought back to Shakhrisabz for burial.

Umarshaykh's tomb.

Next, we went to the Dorut-Tilavat Complex. The two smaller domes top two mausoleums - Gumbazi Saidon Mausoleum and Shamsiddin Kulol Mausoleum.  The larger dome tops Kok Gumbaz Mosque, the largest Friday mosque in Shakhrisabz.


It looks like the complex might have been neglected for years.  Notice the weeds growing on the dome of Kok Gumbaz.  One of the smaller domes is being completely retiled as well and the lovely trees that were there are there no longer.

Compare the image above to an image below, which I found on the web.  I don't know when the photo below was taken but what a difference. See how much nicer it looks when the sun is shining, the domes are cleaned up and there's greenery around it?  Maybe I have to come back to Shakhrisabz one day and see the finished reconstructions!

Image from Quaderns de Viatge

View of the Mausoleum of Jakhongir from across the plaza.

Inside the Dorut-Tilavat Complex are several important buildings surrounding a large courtyard.


We started with Gumbazi Saidon Mausoleum which was built in 1437.  This is where Timur's father and other close members of Timur's family are buried.

Gumbazi Saidon Mausoleum is under the dome on the right and Shamsiddin Kulol Mausoleum is under the
dome on the left.

Close up view of the dome of Gumbazi Saidon Mausoleum.

Inside, the space was small but beautiful.  Even though the paint was slightly faded and there were sections of design missing, you could see the beauty of it all.  They will fully restore everything but according to Mavluda, they cannot accurately reproduce the paint colors because the original formulas were never recorded.  So, the new paint colors will be close to the original but you will be able to make out which sections are new and which are old.  That's a good thing.


Some sections of the wall design have already been reconstructed. Mavluda pointed out old from new but I can't remember which is which looking at the photo below.


The tombs.



The design here is very delicate and understated in look and color - very unlike the interiors of other mausoleums I've been in.



The small door to Shamsiddin Kulol Mausoleum was chained shut so we couldn't enter.


So, we headed inside Kok Gumbaz Mosque instead.  Kok-Gumbaz Mosque was built in 1435-1436. It is the largest Friday mosque in Shakhrisabz. According to the inscription on the portal, the mosque was constructed by Ulugbek on behalf of his father Shakhruh.



The interior design of the mosque was similar to that of Gumbazi Saidon Mausoleum. Here, the wall paintings were also being repaired.






After we left the mosque, we made our way past a few souvenir vendors and walked back the car.  I took a few more photos of Kok Gumbaz on our way out.


The dome of Kok Gumbaz. It's missing a few tiles and needs to be weeded.
The inscription, in the white glazed tiles, reads "Sovereignty belongs to Allah,
wealth belongs to Allah”.


From Shakhrisabz's religious heart, we drove through the construction site, I mean town, to see two more significant landmarks.  It was a short but bumpy ride - after all, the road had been completely torn up.

We went from the sights located at numbers  12 and 13 to the ones at numbers 
4 and 1.  (Image from Eurasia Travel)

Shavkat parked the car in front of a big building which according to the map above is the Cultural Palace.  We did not go inside. 


Instead, we walked through another construction site.  Yes, this place was completely torn up and in the process of being rebuilt.  The scope of the reconstruction work that is going on in this small city is truly incomprehensible.  They really don't believe in doing it one bit at a time!




Our destination were the ruins we saw from a distance - they are of Ak-Saray Palace, the once grand palace that Pat was reading about in the Lonely Planet guide book.


The path to Ak-Saray first led to a large statue of Amir Timur, which we stopped for a few minutes to admire. They made him look very masculine, handsome and regal.  Unfortunately, the poor guy is surrounded by dirt as all the grass that once grew here has been torn up.





Our guide, Mavluda.

Ak-Saray Palace was Timur's Summer Palace.  It was to be the grandest of all of the buildings built by Timur. Construction of the palace started in 1380 and lasted for more than 25 years.  The building was massive in size.  The inner courtyard alone was 250 meters (820 feet) in length and 125 meters (410 feet) in width. The height of the main portal was 70 meters (230 feet),  the height of a 20-storey building!  The entrance arch spanned 22 meters (72 feet) and the corner towers stood 80 meters (262 feet) high.

According to various records, there were gardens and pools and the palace itself was richly decorated both inside and out and sumptuously furnished and ornamented.  Timur spared no expense when it came to the palace which served both as his home as well as an administration building for running state affairs.  There was also accommodations for Timur's harem.

At the end of the 16th century Shakhrisabz rebelled against the rule of Shaybanid Dynasty. After the siege of Shakhrisabz, Abdullakhan II ordered that Ak-Saray be destroyed.  Today, all that remains of the once grand palace are parts of the gigantic entry gates, along with the blue, white and gold mosaics that adorn the facade. The site is a UNESCO World Heritage site.









I snapped the following three photos with Pat in them to convey the scale of what remains of the palace.  She's that teeny, weeny white speck each of the three photos that follow!

It really is unfortunate that the rest of it was destroyed.  It would have made one truly impressive heritage landmark!





To the side of the gates was a small canopied area.  Protected beneath was a section of the original tiled floor of the palace.


Understandably, there wasn't much to see of Ak-Saray Palace so we didn't stay here on.  On the way to drop off Mavluda, I shot another snippet of video of us driving through town.  What a mess!



It was shortly after 4p when we dropped Mavluda off.  We have at least another hour of driving to go before we reach Samarkand. I could see Shavkat was anxious to get going so we quickly said goodbye and thank you to Mavluda.  We only gave her a small tip as she really didn't spend a whole lot of time taking us around.

I'm eager to get to Samarkand myself - it's the one place that I have long dreamed of visiting and I can't believe I'm only two hours away!

Drive on, Shavkat!