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.
Why was a ruined city used as a place for the dead?
There is a reason for it.
Shah-i-Zinda translates to tomb of the living king.
Kusam ibn Abbas purportedly died in Uzbekistan, and was buried here, in what was to become Shah-i-Zinda.
The earliest tombs at Shah-i-Zinda date to the 11th Century CE (400 years after Kusam ibn Abbas was supposed to have visited).
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.
The extraordinary astronomer and mathematician who went on to rule the Timurid Empire, Ulugh Beg, entombed an esteemed scientist here in 1434 CE.
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 🙂
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.