Friday, 27 August 2010
Conquered and ruled by several civilisations and empires, Samarkand was only tamed and shaped by Timur the lame, known to anglophones as Tamerlane - an Turkicised, Muslim convert of Mongol origin and the alleged ancestry of Genghis Khan. Born in nearby Shahr-i-Sabz (Green City), Tamerlane moved to Samarkand which became the capital of his vast empire which stretched from Moscow to Delhi and from Turkey to China. Timur's city of domes and minarets was built to lure lone travellers and merchant caravans into the oasis city's gardens, fountains and markets.
This YouTube documentary "Paradise Found" tells the tale of the earliest Muslim missionaries who arrived in this city - a very amusing legend/tale about the arrival of the Arabs in Central Asia. Wanting Allah to decide their fate, so they cut up and boil a shape. The first reached into the boiling water and pulled out the sheep's heart and decides "Allah has decided for me, I shall go back to the heart of Islam." The second pulled out the head and decided he had to stay for this will be "the brain" of Islam. The third pulled out the sheep's arse and decided it's an indication he had to go back to Baghdad, the capital of the Abbassid Islamic Caliphate.
The documentary concludes lamenting the works of "restoration" or "ruination" of the Timurid necropolis "Shahi-i-Zindar" which house(d) the oldest examples of Timurid architecture. The 14th century UNESCO World Heritage Site and Islamic art is being "restored" for Uzbekistan's authoritarian president's celebration of the country's independence in 1991.
"This is their idea of working quickly" says the presenter, "it's like a construction site of a very ugly shopping centre! Look at this brickwork! Look what they've done to the tiles!". He then cries out at the site of construction workers "hacking away at irreplaceable 15th century Timurid domes with 4 inch chisels and 10lb mallets..."
His advice: "if you buildings and you like Timurid architecture - which everyone in their right minds should because it's one of the most inventive and unmistakable architectural traditions in our civilisation - then don't come here! You'll just want to cry." I tell him... "if you like buildings and Timurid architecture... If you like human civilisation and the heritage left behind to document and celebrate human achievement... Then go there... And elsewhere where it's being threatened by modernisation, ill restoration, desertification, poverty, war, plunder and negligence. Go and FIGHT against it."
I tell him, thank you for pointing out the loss, and thank you for inflaming the emotions of some amongst us.
Nevertheless, not all is bad in Samarkand. On a more optimistic note... Much of the city's heritage was revived and restored with much more success in the past few years as the country's authorities gained experience and opened up to the international support of the UNESCO and friendly countries. Here's a short, but nicely prepared video on the epic monuments, life, legacies and science of Samarkand - the Central Asian oasis town home to innumerable scientists, scholars, theologians, princes and conquerors throughout history.
Here's another video, a collection of photos taken by Sergey Karpenko displayed against the backdrop of a popular song about the city by famous Uzbek singer Nasiba Abdullaeva.
Also, below is the first of a two-episode German documentary dubbed in Russian: Самарканд. Голубые купола Тимура. For those who speak neither, the pictures and the captions are telling enough. Your own research and readings can do the rest.