The Registan Square, Samarkand, Uzbekistan, 2019
“The noblest public square in the world” – Lord George Curzon, 1888
Sometimes, when people decide to undertake a long journey to visit a country or region, they have in mind certain places or things in particular that they want to see, and perhaps even one place that is foremost of all. In Rome, it might be the Colosseum or the Vatican. In Paris, the Eiffel Tower or the Louvre. In China, it might be the Great Wall and in Jerusalem, the Western Wall.
When I decided to finally go on a trip to central Asia – the old “Silk Road” – which I did in late spring of this year, I was interested in seeing the great architecture that was built by bygone empires of years past. Foremost of these architectural gems was one place: the Registan Square in Samarkand, Uzbekistan.
Madrasah of Ulugh Beg, Samarkand, Uzbekistan, 2019
The word “Registan” means ‘sandy place’ in Persian, and that describes the material that used to cover the area, but it later became the most important public square in Samarkand – the capital city of the empire founded by the great conqueror Amir Timur (aka Tamerlane) – and came to host major events ranging from royal proclamations to public executions.
The three magnificent buildings seen there now (all of them formerly madrasahs – Islamic schools of higher learning), with their wildly intricate designs and lavish tiles, began their lives after the time of Timur, beginning with his grandson – the great mathematician and astronomer Ulugh Beg. The building named after him and where he is said to have taught mathematics is on the western side of the square (the building on the left in the photo at the top) and was built between 1417 and 1420.
The other two buildings were built over 200 years later, however, and were ordered by ruler of Samarkand at the time – a general by the name of Yalangtush Bakhodur. The madrasah on the eastern side of the square and facing the first one, the Sher-Dar Madrasah, was built from 1619–1636. Some years later, the building between them on the north side of the square, the Tilla-Kari Madrasah, was built between 1646 and 1660.
Madrasah of Ulugh Beg (detail), Samarkand, Uzbekistan, 2019
Of course, these great structures deteriorated and fell into ruin over the years and the magnificent buildings seen as they are today are the result of many years of restoration, much of it done by the Soviets when Uzbekistan was a part of the Soviet Union. When Lord Curzon, the future viceroy of India, saw these building and made his comment quoted above, they were still in a state of disrepair, so even then these structures must have still possessed a great deal of power and presence.
Regarding the photographs here, the one at the top shows all three of the former madrasahs (which are now are home to shops, of course). The other two photos show the exterior of the Madrasah of Ulugh Beg and one of its many architectural details. So far, these are the only photographs from here that I’ve had a chance to scan (and are in fact the first three photos from the first roll made here), but more will follow as time permits.
To read a nicely written story about the Registan (which I admit to having consulted in writing this post), click here.