“In legend and in reality Samarkand is a source of inspiration to those who love good buildings and great cities. Your city has given to all the world the remarkable legacy of the Timurid expansion.
The two generations of inspired building by Timur and his grandson, Ulugh Beg, have shown us how determined patronage and the skills of different schools and practice can be brought together to create great architecture….May the light of the heavens and the earth always illuminate Samarkandand guide the people entrusted with this unique city.”
His Highness the Aga Khan
Registan Square, Samarkand, Uzbekistan
September 19, 1992
Speech at AKDN
Samarkand, considered the crossroads of world cultures with a history of over two and a half millennia, lies on the ancient silk route in a vast oasis in southeastern Uzbekistan. The valley was the region’s heartland, attracting many inhabitants dating back to the first millennium BC, thus making Samarkand one of the earliest centres of civilisation 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, Samarkand 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 1992, the fifth awards of the Aga Khan Award for Architecture were presented in Registan Square. The Aga Khan Trust for Culture was also involved with the authorities in Samarkand to revitalise the Timurid city, which is a World Heritage Site.
Compiled by Nimira Dewji