Shah-i-Zinda, Uzbekistan: a sombre stroll along the avenue of mausoleums 2


Shah-i-Zinda is a necropolis built into the remains of a crumbling mud-brick city. The mud-brick city in question is that of Afrosiab, a 2000-year-old settlement that was decimated by Genghis Khan in the 13th Century, and which went on to become Samarkand.

Shah-i-Zinda, Uzbekistan

Photo credit: Amrita Ronnachit

Why was a ruined city used as a place for the dead?

There is a reason for it.

Perhaps.

Shah-i-Zinda

Shah-i-Zinda, Uzbekistan

Photo credit: Benjamin White

Shah-i-Zinda translates to tomb of the living king.

The living king here is Kusam ibn Abbas, the cousin of the prophet Mohammed, who is said to have travelled to Central Asia in the 7th Century to introduce Islam to the masses.
Shah-i-Zinda, Uzbekistan

Photo credit: Amrita Ronnachit

Kusam ibn Abbas purportedly died in Uzbekistan, and was buried here, in what was to become Shah-i-Zinda.

If true, no trace of his tomb remains.
Shah-i-Zinda, Uzbekistan

Photo credit: Arthur White

The earliest tombs at Shah-i-Zinda date to the 11th Century CE (400 years after Kusam ibn Abbas was supposed to have visited).

Shah-i-Zinda, Uzbekistan

Photo credit: Amrita Ronnachit

Amongst the mausoleums are several of the kin of Timur – i.e. Emperor Tamerlane – including that of Shadi Mulk Aga, Timur’s niece, and Shirin Bika Aga, Timur’s sister.

Shah-i-Zinda, Uzbekistan

Photo credit: Arthur White

The extraordinary astronomer and mathematician who went on to rule the Timurid Empire, Ulugh Beg, entombed an esteemed scientist here in 1434 CE.

Shah-i-Zinda, Uzbekistan

Photo credit: Amrita Ronnachit

Kazi Zade Rumi was given a tomb as large as those of the imperial family, demonstrating Ulugh Beg’s regard for science and scientists.

If only we had such clever leaders today 🙂

Shah-i-Zinda, Uzbekistan

Photo credit: Arthur White


Practical information and how to reach Shah-i-Zinda:

Shah-i-Zinda 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 – the curse of Timur? link to the Taj Mahal?

The Registan – crowning glory of the Timurid Empire. Or is it?

Bibi Khanym Mosque – memorial to Timur’s wife

Afrosiab – Sogdian capital, sacked by Cyrus, Alex & Genghis


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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