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Sights of Samarkand - Shakhi Zinda

Shakhi Zinda


Afrasiab's hills are lifeless. Long ago died city was buried under grayish and yellow layers of the loess. In the south there stretched huge cemetery, is nearly one thousand years. Two direct tapes of highway dissect a site of ancient settlement on a part. Set of footpaths curl between hills and ravines.shahi-zinda2.jpg Only archaeological openings which spread from year to year, show a look that is concealed under a dead earth's mantle in this huge body of the former city.

 This site of ancient settlement of ancient and medieval Samarkand is thrown since the XIII century. Exactly here, on desert hills, there was one of the most ancient centers of civilization and culture — Samarkand.

The capital of ancient Sogdiana (territory on the top and average watercourse of Zaravshan in the heart of Central Asia), Samarkand arose in the middle of the first millennium BC, was contemporary of Akhemenids state of Cyrus in Iran, its walls were besieged by Alexander the Great (IV century BC), where city is mentioned in antique sources (Arrian, Fifths Kurts Ruf, Strabane, Plutarch and others).

Samarkand more than once, was destroyed, plundered, exposed to desolation and death. However each time the city rose again from ruins, was built up and decorated with new houses, markets it were filled again by noisy and motley crowd.

At the beginning of the VIII century the city was occupied by Arabs, in 1220 it was destroyed by hordes of Chingiz khan then life in Afrasnab wasshahi-zinda3.jpg suspended. City is gradually restored to the south of Afrasiab, in former suburb — Rabat (present «Old city»).

From the XIV th century Samarkand —capital of huge empire of Timur is stretching for all Central Asia, Iran, Afghanistan, the Middle East, a considerable part of India.

At the time of ruling «iron hrome», wishing to turn Samarkand into «Shining point of the world», here are flown down infinite riches. There were erected large number of buildings in the city, their monumentalism and magnificent furniture were urged to glorify force and power of emirs of feudal empire. 

One of architectural creations of this time is a – group of mausoleums in country ensemble Shakhi Zinda, located on Afrosiab's southern suburb, among sunburn hills and graves. In contrast with waste ground an imperial necropolis rises as a miracle, stiffened with music, full of paints and life.

This «Pearl of Samarkand» as often it is called, chain of small, but surprisingly full of harmony mausoleums was stretched on site of ancient settlementshahi-zinda5.jpg and having thrown through turned swollen crest of ancient rampart, fell at its bottom.

Ensemble composition of Shakhi Zinda is unique. Its closely built up broken corridor as though echoes narrow medieval streets of feudal city of Central Asia. Such impression isn't casual. The monument arose, as it is newly established, in the middle of the XI th century within inhabited, densely built up quarter of the southern suburb of Samarkand and reflected in its composition historically developed topography of the district.

There is nowhere strongly time sense, on one remained architectural creation of Samarkand, as here, in ensemble of Shakhi Zinda. Intimacy of mood, immersion last centuries is created not only complete isolation of monument from modern city, its noise, streets, light, many-sided crowd, but also composition, chamber of constructions of ensemble themselves, unexpected in breaks of corridor path, closed in small court yard, complex covered groups.

 Still rather recently, more than 100 years ago, this amazing creation of national genius was shrouded in secret, legends penetration in which was under ban, went in a slow and difficult way. Only buildings sparkling by glaze could struck eyes of European. On way there were standing jealous and at the same time indifferent to masterpieces of art mullah and sheikhs, not letting centuries go this cult complex popular in Muslim East pilgrimage to whichshahi-zinda10.jpg replaced in its ime "hadj" to Mecca.

  Meanwhile, its value is huge. As any architectural monument, ensemble Shakhi Zinda is extremely many-sided source of knowledge of culture of people of Central Asia in the past. This is brilliant embodiment of architectural thought, art and esthetic standards, construction engineering practice, monumental and decorative art. Ensemble developed for nearly nine centuries, from the XI th to XIX th, and only in the part that has remained on surface it concludes more than twenty structures of different time, representing not only mausoleum architecture of Samarkand, but actually all architectural school Maverannakhr in its development and formation, monumental and decorative and applied art of Central Asia in its evolution.

So long formation of ensemble, destruction, desolation and new construction transformations in it at all stages are closely intertwined with complex historical destiny of city, as though embodying its main social and cultural manifestations.

Shakhi Zinda is – unique archeological and architectural monument in Samarkand is which, including Afrasiab's cultural stratification, there has been reflected almost whole 25-century history of the city.

 Notorious cult center in the past, going with ideological roots during era of emergence and statement of Islam in Central Asia, monument stores not only one secret of religious and ethical order.

With centuries considerable part an ensemble construction of Shakhi Zinda has been lost. Narrow corridor is presented by close groups of mausoleumsshahi-zinda7.jpg, empty sites. Survivor structures belong, mainly, to the XIV—XV th centuries, but many constructions and this time disappeared from the earth. Almost all monuments of the XI—XII th centuries have completely disappeared.

The southern part of ensemble, having stretched on external slope of rampart of ancient site of settlement Afrasiab, is connected to public road at his basis, northern as though grew into lifeless hilly surface of old cemetery.

General planning composition of monument on corridor course conditionally is divided into three groups — "bottom", "average" and "top"; all of them are connected among themselves by arch and dome of outer entrance hall through a passage.

In a northeast part there is the fourth one, the most ancient in the basis, little isolated group of structures — Kusam ibn Abbas complex (the XI-XIX th centuries).

The bottom, latest group of constructions, is opened with directed to the South majestic portal of the XV th century in mosaic facing. It brings to a four-arch shade through passage — darvazakhana. From the West it is adjoined by a mosque of the XV th century, from the East — rooms of office character. Darvazakhana brings to an open court yard; to the right of it there is non large ordinary madrasah of the XIX th century, at the left — ayvan of wooden summer mosque of the same time.

A wide ladder, running up to thirty two steps on a crest of city shaft, is linked to the second dome shade.

To the west of a ladder there is one of the most harmonous buildings in ensemble Shakhi Zinda building —two-dome mausoleum of the beginning of the XV th century.

The second dome shade shows the beginning of «average group» constructions; it is presented by mausoleums of the last quarter of the XIV century and connected with names of close relatives (wives, sisters) Timur, military and spiritual nobility.

At the left there is — small single-chamber tombs of Emir – zade and nieces of Timur Shadi-Mulk-aka; they stand end-to-end to each other on dulling rampart. On the right there are situated two other mausoleums —Tuglu-Tekin and for sisters of Timur Shirinbek-aka.

 «Average group» comes to an end with the third arch and dome shade deducing in « northern court yard» or to «the top group» constructions. The western arch aperture of a shade brings to a mosque of Tuman-aka, east — to Kusam ibn Abbas complex.

Mosque of Tuman-aka — a component of the complex built by the wife of Timur at the beginning of XV th century; it includes three extended from the North to the south rooms: hudjra, mosque and mausoleum. Their final furnish by mosaic facing together with a dome shade belongs to 1405.

«The northern court yard» or «the top group» are made by three mausoleums turned to each other.

Earliest — Hodji Ahmad mausoleum (the 40th years of XIV century), established across the southern path, closes a corridor from the North. Theshahi-zinda8.jpg mausoleum of 1361 standing on the right, a facade to the west, limits it from the East. At the left on West side there rises harmonous dome silhouette of a tomb of Tuman-aka (the beginning of the XV century).

Complex of Kusam is located to the east of main corridor of ensemble and related to system of covered passes, is now presented occurring at different times, but with interconnected constructions of different function. It includes also the earliest monument of ensemble —mausoleum of one of the first preachers of Islam in Central Asia — Kusam ibn Abbas.

The most ancient documents about Shakhi Zinda belong to the XI th century. Exclusive value is represented by recently published vakf act of the first Karakhanids governor in Samarkand - Tamgach Bogra khan on madrasah, built in 1066 at a tomb of Kusam (128, page 330 — 333), and data on the same madrasah in Shurut-al-Mukhit.

In the XII th century Khorezm scientist Nasyr ibn Abdaseyid (1143-1213) reports about a monument. Its composition «Al-Mugrib fi tartib al murib» («Dictionary of rare Arab words») relatively Shakhi Zinda says as follows: «Kusam, son of prophet uncle — may he be in peace. This is Kusam ibn Abbas ibn Abd al Muttalib. On it there has been renamed a block in Samarkand because he is buried in here. And there is madrasah of Kusam in there».

The most vast, but too general information about group of construction at Kusam ibn Abbas mausoleum, is available in («Sugar book of Samarkand»). This source, at the heart of it relates to the XII th century, demands, however, in use of big care since reaching us in compilation of XV-XVII th centuries with corresponding changes and additions of copyists of different time. At description there are mentioned difficult way for ziyarat (praying visit) to a grave of "sacred" and there stated "thresholds" of many graves (mausoleums), catacombs, crossing of ways (paths).

Rather interesting brief data on monument, are left by well-known Moroccan traveler Ibn Battuta (the 30th years of the XIV th century) who found ensemble of the XI—XII th centuries, before its radical alterations in the XIV th century that is very important.

However Battuta dictated his "travel" to Ibn Djuzayna (originator, who has literally processed rich actual material) some years later after stay in Samarkand upon return his home, and his data (in particular, description of complex of Kusam ibn Abbas) as showed by our researches, does not represent the facts in quite manner.

Data of Abu Takhir Hodji in "Samaria" (the 30th years ХIХ the century) about separate constructions in ensemble, «lost signs» (probably, being in ruins), semi-legendary, biographic data on Kusam, collected by the author from different compositions are also interesting.

Thus generally there is limited a circle of local historical news about a monument.

Investigation of Shakhi Zinda ensemble begun in the XIX th century from the first traveling notes and sketches, was developed only in the XX th century.

Researchers saved up great deal of material. Numerous measurement drawings, stratigraphic cuts, sketches of general views and decorative details, projects of strengthening and restoration, art photos, reports which are stored in archives of Tashkent, contribute an extensive scientific fund.

Restoration and preservation of almost  whole ensemble Shakhi Zinda is accomplished.


Other sights in Samarkand:

Shakhi Zinda -->

Mosque Hazret-Hyzr --> 

Madrasah Shir-Dor -->

Ulugbek Madrasah -->

Madrasah Tillya-Kari -->

Rukhabad Mausoleum -->

Gur Emir Mausoleum -->

Bibi-Hanym mosque -->



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15.12.2018