Bibi Khanym Mosque, Samarkand, Uzbekistan – memorial to Timur’s wife 3


I decide to make a slow circumambulation of the Bibi Khanym Mosque, before entering the complex.

Bibi-khanym Mosque, Samarkand, Uzbekistan

Bibi Khanym Mosque. Photo credit: Amrita Ronnachit

The sleek, overtly manicured, and somewhat kitschy facade of Samarkand’s tourist centre disintegrates just a few metres back from the main road. Behind the mausoleum is the real Samarkand.

Dusty, underdeveloped, resource deprived, but with charming Old World character. Outside of the tourist centre you get a sense of the history of the city, you get a feel for its context, you see its relation to the environment.

Rear of Bibi-khanym Mosque, Samarkand, Uzbekistan

Photo credit: Amrita Ronnachit

The mud brick buildings here are the same colour as the ground itself. The dilapidated Russian Ladas that line the street are a reminder of the nation’s involvement in the Soviet Union.

The shashlyk restaurant on the corner, with the aroma of searing meat and freshly sliced onion issuing from its doors, is a scene typical of Uzbekistan.

Blue domes and satellite dishes, Samarkand, Uzbekistan

Photo credit: Benjamin White

And then you look at the skyline, and take in the magnificent blue domes, flashing aquamarine in the early afternoon light, seen between power lines and satellite dishes, and you confirm you are in Samarkand, and nowhere else.

Bibi Khanym Mosque

Bibi Khanym Mosque, Samarkand, Uzbekistan

Photo credit: Amrita Ronnachit

The ruins of Bibi Khanym Mosque (the mosque is largely restored these days) is probably my favourite place Samarkand. It is certainly my favourite of the many blue domes in the city.

The semi-collapsed state of the mosque, the remnant unrestored walls, the hint of something much bigger, much grander, that is forever lost to the world, tantalises the imagination exponentially more than the non-original restoration work.

Bibi Khanym Mosque, Samarkand, Uzbekistan

Photo credit: Amrita Ronnachit

So much of the historical centre of Samarkand has been unsympathetically restored, so much looks brand new, scrubbed clean of all stains, all blemishes. It’s refreshing to see a building that shows the passage of time once in a while.

Who was Bibi Khanym?

Ladies exiting Bibi-khanym Mausoleum, Samarkand, Uzbekistan

Photo credit: Amrita Ronnachit

Bibi Khanym was Timur’s wife.

Legend has it she built the mosque to honour her husband while he was away waging wars in India. The less romantic reality is that it was Timur who ordered the construction of the mosque.

Bibi Khanym Mosque, Samarkand, Uzbekistan

Photo credit: Amrita Ronnachit

He did so to honour himself, following a successful campaign in India.

Today the mosque commemorates his wife, who was buried in a tomb nearby.

Tomb, Samarkand, Uzbekistan

Photo credit: Amrita Ronnachit


Practical information and how to reach Bibi Khanym Mosque:

Bibi Khanym Mosque is located 500m northeast of the Registan in Samarkand. Samarkand is 300 km from the capital, Tashkent. There are trains running between the two cities (3 hours); otherwise you will need to find a share-taxi. More transport info here.

Read more on Samarkand in the UNESCO World Heritage listing.


More on Samarkand:

Ulugh Beg Observatory – greatest astronomer in 1500 years?

Gur-e-Amir – Tomb of Timur

The Registan – masterpiece of the Timurid Empire?


More on Uzbekistan:

Kalyan Minaret, Bukhara – Tower of Death, spared by Genghis

Khiva – everyone’s favourite Central Asian Silk Road city

Sarmish-say – 4,000 petroglyphs inc. auruchs, lions, tigers, saiga

Tashkent – world’s oldest Quran? capital of Turkestan?


Posts on Qaraqalpaqstan:

Kurgashin-Kala – Desert Fortress of Khorezm

Nukus – desert capital, home to Savitsky Art Museum

Chilpik – Zoroastrian Tower of the Dead

Toprak Kala & Qyzyl Kala

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