Saturday, December 16, 2017

Necropolis of Shah-i-Zinda - Samarkand

The Necropolis of Shah-i-Zinda in Samarkand, Uzbekistan, a UNESCO World Heritage Site, was one of the "wow" moments of our trip to Central Asia. We drove up to it along some clay cliffs with grave markers along the top and came to a huge rectangular entrance with cliffs and domed buildings behind it. It is a complex of 20 or more buildings built from the 11th to the 19th centuries.
Necropolis of Shah-i-Zinda, from the front. 
This photo, from Wikipedia, gets it from the side and gives a better sense of the whole complex, and the facade character of the entrance.
This borrowed photo, from the other side, gives a whole different perspective. 
The front facade.
One of the domes (turqoise) of the Kazi Zade Rumi Mausoleum.
The buildings are in three groupings: lower, middle and upper. The entrance, part of the lower grouping, was built under Ulugbek between 1434 to 1435. That large square to rectangular entrance is one of the distinguishing and striking elements of Islamic architecture in Central Asia. A double-cupola mausoleum, with two turquoise domes on high drums, dedicated to Kazi Zade Rumi, a scientist and astronomer, was built under Ulugbek about the same time as the entrance (however, a 1977 archaeological study of the crypt appears to have discredited the idea that the crypt was Rumi's) . 
The entrance, from the other side, and the entrance mosque, right.
The two domes of Kazi Zae Rumi, looking down from above. 
The stairs from the lower grouping to the middle grouping. 
Up a long set of stairs sits the middle grouping, mausoleums built during the last quarter of the 14th century and first half of the 15th century for Timur's (Tamerlane's) relatives, military and clergy. A portal-domed crypt, built in 1372, houses the remains of Shadi Mulk Aga, a niece of Timur. Across the walkway is the mausoleum of Timur's sister, Shirin Bika Aga. 
At the top of the stairs and through the arch is the beginning of the middle grouping, a stunning set of turquoise and blue tiled buildings. 
A map of the complex.
Looking through the arch, the other direction. 
A narrow alley is the corridor through the necropolis.
The alley is flanked by massive facades covering old mausoleums.
We were there during bright light. I would love to be there in the magical light of sunset when these colors would be incredible. 
The dome inside the Mausoleum of Shadi Mulk Aga.
The domes from the outside.
I loved the simple brickwork that created this ridged dome.
This crude appearing multi-directional brick is the outside covering of the beautiful domes inside. 

Close-ups of some of the amazing tile work.

The dome inside the Mausoleum of Shirin Bika Aga.

Amazingly beautiful muqarna.

Further back in the middle grouping, to the northeast, is the Kusam  (also Qutham) ibn Abbas complex, consisting of his mausoleum and mosque, built in the 16th century over the legendary site where he was buried.  Shah-i-Zinda, or Shakhi Zinda, means "the living king" and refers to Kusam ibn Abbas who was a cousin of the prophet Muhammad. According to legend, he came with the Arab invasion in the 7th century to propagate Islam, arriving in 640 and spending 13 years in Samarkand. He was beheaded by Zoroastrians while he was praying. However, he disappeared into a crevice that miraculously opened up at the time of his death and he still lives near a deep well in an underground paradise, with his head in his hands. The shrine of Kusam ibn Abbas is fronted by an old wooden door dated to 1404 to 1405 with elaborate carvings and which once had ivory inlays. The interior has tile decorations in the mihrab and on the ceilings of the antechambor where pilgrims prayed. There are beautiful muqarnas (small pointed niches stacked in stair-like tiers)  right below the dome. The cenotaph (empty tomb or monument) is decorated with blue, yellow, white and green tiles as well as gilt and Koranic inscriptions and surrounded by a wooden screen. An inscription on the cenotaph reads, "Those who are slain while following Allah's way are never counted dead. No, they are alive." 
The entrance to the Kusam ibn Abbas complex straight ahead.
Inside the door of the Abbas complex, looking back outside.
Inside the Abbas Mausoleum.
Part of a mosque
The same mihrab from the mosque, but taken from further back and revealing the beautiful work in the white walls.

Chandelier inside the Mausoleum.

From inside the mausoleum, looking out onto some of the earliest parts of the complex: foundations and grave markers. One of my favorite photos.
From a different angle.
Just across from the shrine is the mausoleum of Amir Burunduq (aka Buruduq), Tamerlane's general.  

The upper grouping has three mausoleums forming an upper courtyard-like end to the alley. There is a mausoleum and mosque for Tamerlane's wife, Tuman Aqa, from the early 15th century, which has a blue dome that dominates this part of the necropolis; a mausoleum for Hajji Amad, (aka Khodja-Akhamad), built in the 1340s before Tamerlane, and the anonymous mosque of "a girl who died chaste," built in 1361.
Part of the upper grouping.
The dome of the Tuman Aqa Mausoleum from the edge of the grave yard.

Beyond the upper grouping, and around the sides, is Samarkand's main cemetery. We found this cemetery, as well as other cemeteries in Central Asia, to be fascinating. Many of them have portraits of the deceased on the headstone and other fun and sometimes extravagant structures. 

From the cemetery, looking at the complex.

1 comment:

  1. This was such a spectacular place. Your pictures are wonderful, but even they don't do the visual shock of the place justice. It really was a "Wow!" experience.