"Look 'round thee now on Samarcand, is she not queen of earth?"
October 27, 2012 7:10 PM   Subscribe

In the first years of the Fifteenth Century Henry III of Castile sent Ruy Gonzalez de Clavijo as his ambassador to Samarkand. His journey introduced him to giraffes and many other sights unknown to Europeans of the time. Samarkand was then the center of the largest empire in the world, that of Tamerlane the Great (a.k.a Timur), the last of the nomad conquerors. His capital began as a city of the Sogdians, which became an important center of culture and trade, as is recorded in these 7th Century wall paintings. Samarkand was refashioned by Timur and his descendants, the most famous being the astronomer Ulugh Beg, and the Timurid legacy is still visible in Samarkand. After Timur's death, his empire disintegrated, and soon fell into decline, but left enough of a mark to inspire both Christopher Marlowe and Edgar Allan Poe. The Russian Empire conquered Samarkand in 1868, and the city was documented in the early 20th Century in color photograhs by Sergei Prokudin-Gorskii (this one's a favorite) and remained an out of the way place in the Soviet era.
posted by Kattullus (15 comments total) 77 users marked this as a favorite

I am going to spend ages looking at these links. Thanks, Kattullus.
posted by catlet at 7:40 PM on October 27, 2012

No mention of the excellent book Thirty Days In the Samarkand Desert with the Duchess of Kent by A.E.J. Elliott, O.B.E.?
posted by ShutterBun at 8:06 PM on October 27, 2012 [5 favorites]

European knighthood was always crap against anyone from out of town. The historical fanboi in me always wanted to see Asiatic Light Horse take on European Heavy Infantry... Richard the Lionhearted vs. Tamerlane! Peasants with pointy sticks vs. herdsmen with arrows! Take the peasants to beat the spread, all I'm sayin'...

This is a fantastic set of links, I know, because I've seen them all before. If you've considered nerd-obsessing over Silk Road history, this will get you where you want to go right quick. Great, fun stuff...
posted by Slap*Happy at 8:53 PM on October 27, 2012 [1 favorite]

Perfect timing - I was just reading about (fictional) Samarkand and Timur the Lame in The Years of Rice and Salt. Thanks!
posted by ignignokt at 8:56 PM on October 27, 2012

The Years of Rice and Salt is a fantastic, wonderful, mess of a flawed masterpiece.
posted by Kattullus at 9:11 PM on October 27, 2012 [2 favorites]

Thank you for the good post.
posted by Flood at 9:51 PM on October 27, 2012

Another great post. Thanks, Kattullus.
posted by homunculus at 10:03 PM on October 27, 2012

This is a tremendous post, thanks !
posted by arcticseal at 10:23 PM on October 27, 2012

Great post, Katullus - thank you!

Although it's strange that, in your last linked piece, Feeney should imply that Timur's tomb is in Shah-i-Zindi. In fact, it's on the other side of town, at the end of the street named for Gonzales de Clavijo, and just 3 minutes from my favourite B&B.
posted by aqsakal at 2:40 AM on October 28, 2012 [1 favorite]

It seems vainglorious and proud
Of Atom-man to boast aloud
His prowess homicidal
When one remembers how for years,
With their rude stones and humble spears,
Our sires, at wiping out their peers,
Were almost never idle.

Despite his under-fissioned art
The Hittite made a splendid start
Toward smiting lesser nations;
While Tamerlane, it's widely known,
Without a bomb to call his own
Destroyed whole populations.

from The Conquerors by Phyllis McGinley
posted by GenjiandProust at 9:05 AM on October 28, 2012 [3 favorites]

Lovely post.
posted by ersatz at 10:37 AM on October 28, 2012

Timurid Architecture: while Timur was away conquering India, the architect who was in charge of THE BIBI KHANUM MOSQUE fell in love with the queen after whom the mosque is named.

Bibi Khanum, in an attempt to dissuade the young man, brought 40 painted eggs to him, explaining that, just as all the eggs tasted the same, so it was with women. She would provide him with a beautiful maiden so that he could finish construction of the mosque, now delayed as a result of his infatuation with the queen.

A week later, he brought her 40 gourds, 39 filled with water and one filled with wine, and said, "Oh Bibi Khanum, although they may all look alike only one can intoxicate me."

She agreed to allow him to kiss her, with her hand separating his lips and her cheek. His passionate response penetrated through her hand to leave an indelible imprint on her cheek which the Amir was none too pleased to see when he returned.

"Seeing the imprint of the lips upon his wife's cheek, he sent his elephant brigade into the great mosque and wreaked the damage that can still be seen today. His captains chased the architect to the top of a minaret, where he grew wings and flew off, never to be seen again.

And Tamerlane decreed that in future all women should wear a veil, hence the origin of the Mohammedan custom of enshrouding their womenfolk."
posted by ohshenandoah at 1:52 PM on October 28, 2012

This is helping greatly to fill in some blank spots on my own mental map of the world. Great stuff!
posted by Devils Rancher at 10:43 AM on October 29, 2012

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