Modern-day Samarkand is just that – modern. It has all the accoutrements of a sophisticated 21st century city: high-rise buildings, electricity that doesn’t go off everytime you need it, petrol stations with petrol AND bowsers to deliver said petrol, ATMs that work, public transport that doesn’t smell like vomit or chook poo. All-in-all, a very pleasant and civilised place to be. It seemed light-years away from Tajikistan in every respect and yet I had only travelled a few hundred kilometres.
Modern it may be but at Samarkand’s heart, both literally and metaphorically, lies the Registan. What can I say about the Registan that hasn’t already been said a thousand times before – and probably more eloquently. No other building (or buildings – there are three separate buildings in the complex) exemplifies Samarkand majestic past than the architectural masterpiece of the Registan.
Samarkand has an immense history. It can rightly claim, along with Rome and Istanbul, to be one of the truly great cities of human civilisation. In 2007, it celebrated its 2750th birthday!
Founded in the 8th century BC by the Soghdians of Central Asia, Samarkand was already a major city over 300 years old when Alexander the Great overran it in 332BC on his empire-building soiree across Asia. Since then it has been a major centre in every empire – Persian, Arab, Mongol, Turk – that has arisen in Central Asia. Fortunately, it survived the rampaging Mongol hordes of Jenghiz Khan virtualling unscathed, unlike many other cities in the region. But its true flowering was under Timur who made it his capital in 1370. And it was under the rule of Timur’s successor Ulugh Beg that the first known astronomical observatory was built in 1429.
Originally the Registan was merely a public square where traders met to exchange goods. “Registan” simply means “sandy place” in Persian. It was Ulugh Beg that ordered the construction of the first madrassah facing the Registan. The Ulugh Beg Madrassah was completed in 1420. Two more madrassahs, the Sher-Dor and the Tilya-Kori, were added in the early 17th century. Together the three madrassahs form what is now known as the Registan Ensemble.
It is not until you get up close to the entrance portals, or iwans, that you can truly appreciate the true scale and magnificence of these works of art.
I spent many hours exploring the many aspects of the three madrassahs. Suprisingly, there were very few other tourists which made my perambulations much more relaxed and enjoyable.
Eventually, I realised that there were no words that could do justice to the visual extravaganza that is the Registan and simply enjoyed the outrageous festival of colour and symmetry.
So this is now a photo essay.
That’s enough of that.
There is more to Samakand than just the Registan. But that can wait for another day.