Samarkand

Samarkand, one of the landmark cities of Islamic architecture, is on UNESCO’s World Heritage List.

Samarkand lies in a vast oasis in southeastern Uzbekistan, The valley was the region’s heartland and attracted many inhabitants dating back to the first millennium B.C., making Samarkand one of the earliest centres of civilization in Central Asia.

In the fourteenth century, the city experienced a period of growth and splendour as the capital of the Timurid empire. Timur took Samarkand from the Mongols in 1369, and established his capital there, making Samarkand dazzle with the splendour of its magnificent buildings. He brought the most gifted builders of the time to the city, fusing different artistic schools and traditions to create a new international style – now known as the Timurid style of architecture. This architecture style influenced the development of later Islamic architecture, particularly the Safavids of Iran and the Mughals in India. Under the reign of Timur’s grandson Ulugh Beg, who was a mathematician and an astronomer, Samarqand developed into a great cultural centre attracting scholars and craftsmen from all over Asia. Ulugh Beg’s school of astronomy and observatory were famous throughout Central Asia and beyond. In 1417, he founded and developed the central Registan, literally the “place of sand,” with a complex of religious buildings and caravanserais. Only his principle madrasa survives to this day.

Despite the frequent dynastic changes, Samarkand never lost its prestige and religious significance among the country’s inhabitants. In the nineteenth century, the emirs, who had made Bukhara their capital, continued to hold their enthronement ceremonies in Samarkand’s Registan Square.

In 1992, the awards for the Aga Khan Award for Architecture were presented in Registan Square. Currently, the Aga Khan Trust for Culture is involved with the authorities in Samarkand to revitalize the Timurid city, which is a World Heritage Site.

Details of the revitalization plans can be obtained from the website of the Aga Khan Development Network at http://www.akdn.org/aktc/samarkand.pdf

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