Last but not least, Samarkand. I said something in the last post about the level of craftsmanship in these cities, how it is unparalleled and unaffordable in today’s world. Well, this is entirely untrue. I kept seeing reprints of old lithographs depicting mysterious ruins that seemed to be of these ancient cities.
After a little research I discovered that the Soviet Union is responsible for starting the renovations of these cities, which the current government has continued. So, almost all of the marvellous facades and tilework are new. The renovation was started in the 1970’s for the most part. The nature of the work has been described as “aggressive,” and looking at the old pictures, this is apparent. Some say without intervention these sites would be gone (unlikely, they were there as late as 1995) while others are critical of the extreme rebuilding, which did away with the sense of age and mystery these places had. Indeed, the history of violence, the signs of age and the fragmented edifices I saw in pictures awoke in me that special and profound impression of time’s unforgiving path, the sense of witnessing the remains of a once great culture, memorials of a special moment dead and gone, a reflection of our own mortality and the futility of fighting time. The remodelled monuments are amazing, but I wish I could have seen the romantic forms of these destroyed mosques and madrassas as they faded back into piles of native stone.
Samarkand was designed by Amir Timur, also known as Tamerlane, who was known to be ruthless to his enemies- unless they were artisans. He made Samarkand hus capital and it was under constant construction in the 14th century. He would drive workers all night at times, and if he was dissatisfied with a finished product, it would be torn down and rebuilt. Samarkand has kept alive these skills, and these artisans were surely employed by the Soviets for the restoration, which is probably not a proper word: these are reconstructions. There were some earthquakes that destroyed much of the ruins after 500 years of war had ravaged the original buildings. Check out the pics:
The Bukhara madrassa, early 20th century above, modern day, below:
If you look closely you may notice that they were not always rebuilt precisely as they were originally: smaller arches, bigger facades, girthier buildings, differently shaped domes. The romanticism was covered up a bit. Bukhara, ast least, still has some veritable ruins. Perhaps they should preserve some of them from preservation.
This facade is rare because you never see animals depicted in Islamic art..
This is a bit of Samarkand’s history I found interesting:
Around 1425 the astronomer Ulugh Beg built what is now referred to as the Samarkand Observatory. It had a sextant 11 metres long and, calibrated along its length, it was the world’s largest 90-degree quadrant at the time. It was torn down by religious fanatics soon after in the year 1449.
Albeit crisp, clear, clean and tidy, these monuments are still exquisitely beautiful today. And in the case of Samarkand, they will charge you to see it.
There you have it.