None of Central Asian cities has so many legends and copious oriental praises as Samarkand: “The city of the Earth”, “Shining place of the world”, “Rome of the East”, “Eden of the East”, “Precious pearl of the Muslim world” and “Bazaar of Sogd”. These are only a few titles given to the city by the contemporaries. Fertile Sogdiana, which territory stretched from the sacred Oxus (Amu Darya) in the west to “The Pearl River” – Yaxart (Syr Darya) in the east, was glorified as “the affluent country, abundant in herds and populous” in Avesta, the ancient Zoroastrian hymns. The men came here in the Paleolithic Period. To the south from Samarkand, the archaeologists discovered the karst cave with stalactites, located on the slope of the mountain spur near the Tahtakaracha pass, in the picturesque valley of Amankutan. The cave was the dwelling of the Mousterian men, living 100-40 millennia ago. They hunted for Asian moufflons, Siberian stags, roedeer, brown bears and the other animals, which populated the mountains around the gold-bearing river of Zarafshan.
Another interesting cave of Takaliksai was discovered in the marble limestone near the same pass, at the height more than 2,000 m. It was the dwelling of the hunters living in the later period. The archaeologists from Samarkand State University discovered that the primitive men lived on the territory of today’s Samarkand. The Paleolithic site was discovered in the centre of the city, in the park on the bank of the Siabchi.
The Neolithic sites of hunters and fishers living in the 5th-3rd millennia B.C. were found on the hills around the city and at the valley of the Zarafshan. In the 3rd-2nd millennia B.C., the ancient Sogdian miners and metallurgists discovered the black tin in the Ziatdinsky spurs, copper and turquoise in the low mountains of Southern Kyzyl Kum. Acquaintance with the metal became the revolution in the primitive society. Copper and its alloy with tin – durable golden bronze opened the new epoch in manufacturing of different tools, weapon, armour and jewelry. They became the medium of exchange and trade for the Sogdians along with turquoise.
Since the metal use, the farmers subdued the fertile oases and the cattle breeders quickly settled at the foothills and in the steppes. The earliest settlement of the farmers was discovered in Sarazm, located 45 km to the south of Samarkand, on the border of the mountains and the valley. Its name means “the beginning of the earth”. The dwelling houses, streets, fire temples, workshops of potters and weavers occupied about 100 hectares. Polychromic painted vessels, products from bronze, stone and bone, the weapon, knives, daggers, fighting axes, spearheads and arrowheads were found at the site. Jewelry of the Sarazm dwellers – earrings, pendants, bracelets from gold and copper, bronze mirrors, puns with figured tops date to the 4th-2nd millennia B.C.
The interesting burials of cattle breeders, dated to the bronze period, was found near Samarkand, in Miminabad on the left bank of the Zarafshan. The dead bodies were put in the posture of a baby, as if leaving for the other world. They were dressed in ceremonial clothes and headdresses, decorated with the beads and facing. The gilt and silver temporal rings, gold and bronze earrings with the small bells were put near the bodies. The mirror with handles and the bone pipe were in the hands, decorated with the bracelets imitating the snakes. The vessels and grain graters were beside the bodies.
In the 1st millennium B.C. the big anabranches of the Zarafshan – Dargom and Bulungur were transformed into the channels. The lands around became the blossoming oases. In the 8th-7th centuries B.C., the ancient Sogdian state was formed with the capital in Samarkand. The history has kept many legends about the name of the city. The most widespread of them associates with the word “Samaria” – “a place of meeting” or “meeting of merchants”. Another legend connects it with the mythical king, Samar. According to “Sugary book about the history of Samarkand” (in short – Kandiya), after the long searches this king found the lovely land, where he liked water and air. “He ordered to dig the well. The land around was fertile and soon many people gathered there and founded the city”. The Greek name “Marakanda” interprets the name of Samarkand. The oriental scientist Abu Raikhan Beruni gave its Turkic version: “Semizkent” – “fertile, rich city”.
The grandiose acropolis for the military elite was built in the center of Samarkand, which was fortified both at its external side, and at the side adjoining the dwelling quarters. The sacred hymns of Avesta informed on such society, which was governed by mighty men, “ratkha-eshtar” – “standing on chariots”. Sogd was mentioned as a country, created by Ahuramazda immediately after the first country – “Aryan country”. Bahdi (Bactria) and Mouru (Margiana) followed after.
The antique authors described Sogd as the large domain of the nomadic peoples “Sakae” and “Trans-Yaxart Turs”. The historians informed about the ancient Bactrian empire and its alliance with ancient Sogd. However, the closest were contacts with the southern countries – Bactria, Afghanistan and India. Sogd and Bactria were within the same Achaemenid satrapy, known as the country supplying gold and azurite to the royal palaces of Persia. At that time Samarkand was fortified with strong defensive walls with internal galleries and battlements. The acropolis was a military-administrative centre and a nucleus of the city. The city quickly developed – the dwelling quarters of handicraftsmen grew, the complex system of the channels supplied water to the city.
At the beginning of the 4th century B.C., the troops of Alexander the Great invaded Central Asia, having crushed the Persian army in several battles. The first mention of Samarkand in the written sources relates to that period. We know that in spring of 329 B.C. Alexander came from Bactria to Samarkand, passing the mountain routes. The first Greeks were greeted as liberators from the Persian oppression, but robbery by the Greeks caused the revolt, which was headed by the Sogdian governor, Spitamenes. He besieged the Greek garrison in the Samarkand acropolis and later smashed it on the Zarafshan island. It was the first defeat of Greeks in their east military campaign. Alexander, having put aside all matters, urgently moved his general forces to Samarkand. The struggle lasted almost three years until Spitamenes was killed in 327 B.C. Although we know the words about the city, attributed to Alexander: “Everything I have heard about Samarkand is the truth except for it is much more beautiful than I could imagine”, nevertheless, Samarkand was destroyed like many other Sogdian cities. When Alexander switched to the policy of the alliance with the local elite, he had to build new cities. After his death, the great empire broke up. The new states of Seleucids, Greko-Bactrian and Kushan were formed, where the Greek elements of culture combined with oriental elements.
In the epoch of eastern Hellenism, Samarkand revived and blossomed again, like the phoenix. Located in the heart of the Central Asian Interfluve, it grew as the Eurasian trading center. The Samarkand graceful glasses on the ring- shaped legs, thin-walled bowls and pialas, coated with the red and black engobe remind the Greek and Roman enameled vessels. The small terracotta sculpture bears the features of eastern Hellinism. The city-fortresses and settlements grew around Samarkand. The coins were minted. The samples of the Sogdian script have been preserved on the coins and ceramic products. In the 4th -5th centuries A.D., known as the epoch of the great migrations of peoples, the nomadic wave reached Central Asia. The Huns, Qydarites, Chionites and Hephthalites moved here. In the middle of the 6th century, the powerful Turkic kaganate was established. The nomadic empire conquered the lands from China up to the south-Russian steppes. Sogd became its part. That was the time, when the Sogdian merchants reached the peak of their trading successes. They penetrated into the far countries and controlled over the important overland routes of the Great Silk Road, establishing the trading colonies near the Great Chinese Wall and founding the cities with temples in Eastern Turkistan. They drove the caravans on the difficult and dangerous mountain paths in the Qara-qarum in Pakistan and Northern India. The trading stations for contacts with the Indian merchants grew at the passes near the bridges of Shatial and Chilas. Enjoying the support of the Turkic kagans, interested in the sale of silk received as a tribute from China, the Sogdians set the steppe routes with the towns and caravanserais along them. When the shah of Sassanian Iran refused to receive the Sogdian embassy headed by Maniachus concerning the joint control over the southern tracks of the Great Silk Road and demonstratively burnt the silk fabrics given to him, the ambassadors of kagan took the new route northward to Khorezm, around the Caspian sea, through the Caucasus to Byzantium. The embassy set the new direction of business contacts with Byzantium, the Caucasus and Russia.
“The ancient Sogdian inscriptions” in Chinese Dunchuan, the temples with fine paintings in Turfan and Karashar, paintings in Qara-qarum represent the unique monuments of that epoch. The Sogdians not only sold the Chinese silk, but manufactured this precious product. The Sogdian silk, originally ornamented, became a prototype of many compositions on the Byzantine, Iranian and Chinese fabrics. The Chinese pilgrim Xuan Zang, who visited Samarkand in 629, described it as the center of the blossoming land with plentiful crops, the most valuable goods from different countries and the numerous population, surpassing the other lands in crafts and arts.
Probably, Samarkand smiths manufactured the bowls and dishes from Sogdian silver with the scenes of feasting, hunting and battles, found in Chelek (the ancient Sogdian city). The palaces of the Samarkand elite with aivans, halls and the dome home temples, decorated with the carving on the snow-white stucco and monumental paintings, majestically towered among the green gardens. The inscriptions on the vessels, coins, styles for writing and ostraca with Sogdian texts give the evidence for the high literacy among the Sogdians. The unique archive of Sogdian governor Devashtich was found in the rock castle of Mug at the headstream of the Zarafshan. The documents, written in the ink on parchment, leather, wooden branches and plates, inform on business and diplomatic contacts of the governor with different countries, including China. The embassies and caravans spread and popularized the Sogdian script and musical culture.
The most ancient in the world chess from ivory, found at Afrasiab, prove the highest level of Sogdian culture. The contemporaries informed that the citizens of Samarkand set the pattern for neighbours. Sogd headed the union of the principalities in the Central Asian Interfluve in the peace and military affairs. The trade cities – Pendjikent, Kushaniya and Dabusiya, the fortresses providing security on the routes and royal residences grew on the caravan ways around Samarkand.
After the Arabian conquest, the Sogdian governors led the anti-Arab struggle in Central Asia. In 712, Qutaiba ibn Muslim took the city, but the next year inhabitants rose the revolt. The movement of Gurek, long struggle of Divashtich and the revolt of Mukanna lasted many years. The Turks actively participated in this struggle and their governor was called by the Arabs as “Abu Muzzahim” – “The butting”. Flagging and rising again, the struggle lasted almost the century. Samarkand has so suffered, that the Sogdian poet of the 8th century, Abud Taqi Tarkhan wrote bitterly: “Samarkand! You are ruins. Your ornaments have been destroyed. You are as Chach and you will never overcome that!”.
However, in the mid-8th century, Samarkand became a center of the Arabian commander Abu Muslim, who had brought the Abbasids to the power in the Caliphate. The city became the residence of the Caliph’s vicarious ruler in Movarounnahr. Samarkand blossomed again and turned into the largest trade, industrial and cultural center of Movarounnahr. The major caravan routes crossed there. The products of Samarkand craftsmen – the vessels from colored glass, the famous glazed ceramics with Kufi inscriptions, floral and geometrical patterns, the armour and weapon, various fabrics – silk, brocade, wool and amazing crimson velvet as well as jewelry, carved stones, seals and many other goods were famous at the markets of the Caliphate. The Samarkand paper was known far outside Central Asia. The fine Samarkand silver dirhkems were found in the medieval hoards in Italy, Germany, Sweden, Norway and principalities of Kievan Russia.
In the 11th century. Samarkand was included in the state of the Turks-Qarakhanids as a domain and later became its capital. At that time, the magnificent palace of Tamgach-khan Ibraghim and multi-columned cathedral Djuma Mosque, the hospitals – bimaristans, medreseh, caravanserais, dome bazaars and a bathhouses were built.
Samarkand of the 9th-12th centuries was one of the largest cultural centers of the East. The cultures of Sogd and the largest cities of Iran, Iraq and Khurasan in general approached here. The Sogdian aristocrats were in the elite of the Caliph, and the Turkic guard formed his support. The Islam obtained the strong positions instead of different cults and the Islamic ideas penetrated into the urban, rural and nomadic midst. The authority of sheikhs – Samarkand theologians was growing. From the beginning of the 13th century, the city became a part of the Khorezmshahs’ state. The shah of Khorezm fortified the city walls, recon-structed the cathedral mosque and built the palace. The glazing decor first came to the architecture of Samarkand.
At the beginning of 13th century, the city survived the new catastrophe. In March 1220 the army of Chinggis Khan approached the city. After four days of the heroic resistance, the inhabitants had to surrender. The city was plundered, burnt and destroyed. The unique aqueduct of Djui-arzis was broken and the water supply was stopped. Afrasiab was finally deserted. The life continued in the suburb – rabad, which fortification system remained in ruins for 150 years.
The revival of Samarkand was connected with Amir Temur, who set there his capital. Sohibkiran planned to turn Samarkand into the major center of his world empire. The best architects and builders, jewelers and metallurgists, scientists, artists, poets, preachers, dancers and musicians were gathered there. Samarkand received the embassies from Europe and the eastern states. The original Movarounnahr culture became the basis and the major center of the creative forces of Near and Middle East. Architecture, arts and sciences survived the actual blossom, which came in the history as the epoch of East Renaissance. Samarkand was encircled with the defensive walls with towers and battlement. The squares and streets were landscaped; the net of channels and hauzes covered the city; the monumental architectural ensembles were built. Registan became a large public and trade center. The silver streets of jewelers connected it with the citadel, where the palaces of Kok-serai and Buston-rerai, the chamber and weapon workshops were built. Fourteen gardens surrounded the capital with the green necklace and created the unique microclimate in the city.
Even the structures around Samarkand emphasized its role of the international center. The villages had the names of the main oriental capitals – Baghdad, Damascus, Misr, Shiraz and others. Upon the death of Temur, the capital was transferred to Herat, and Samarkand was given to his grandson, the scientist and king – Ulugbeg, about whom Navoi wrote: “Ulugbeg – the light of the world. All his relatives sank into oblivion. Who remembers them today? But, he stretched his hand to sciences and achieved much. The sky descended before him and became closer”.
In the epoch of Temur and Ulugbeg, Samarkand became the largest scientific and cultural center of the East. The historians, Mirhond, Hondamir, Hafizi Abru, famous physician Maulane Nafis, philosopher Fazlullah Abullais, poets Sirodjiddin Samarkandi, Heyali, Bukhari and Durbek worked there. Such great poets as Alisher Navoi and Abdurahman Djami created their famous poems. The confluence of the local astronomers besides Ulugbeg included Kazi-zadeh Rumi and Ghiyasiddin Djemshid, moulana Muhammad and Ali Kushchi.
The activity of the outstanding Muslim theologian Khodja Akhrar was connected with the epoch of the Temurids. He was born in Tashkent region, but in second half of the 15th c. worked in Samarkand. Khodja Akhrar was a leader of the Central Asian nakshbandyyah and combined the mystical activity with political affairs. Samarkand Temurid sultans were his murids. He built the mosques and khanakas. The necropolis of ishan is located in the southwestern part of the city.
After the reign of Ulugbeg, the Temurid princes started the power struggle, which thwarted progress of the city and the country. Finally, that brought the Shaybanids to power in 1501. The Shaybanids built the cultic buildings in the city and in the region. They established vakf domains, but the atomic structure of the khanate and permanent power struggle for Samarkand weakened their economic power. Abdullah Khan II transferred the capital to Bukhara. In 1599, the supremacy was taken by the new dynasty of Astarkhanids.
Nevertheless, Samar-kand still remained the important economic and cultural center. Using the weakness of the central power, the member of the military Uzbek aristocracy, Yalangtush-biy Bahadur became actually independent atalik (khakim) of Samarkand and its viloyat. It took many campaigns to the other countries, strengthening the economic power of Samarkand. The city actively grew. The monumental complexes of Shir Dor and Tillya Kari were built on the square of Registan, which formed the cultural and trade center of the city. The khan’s vizier, Nadir Divanbegi ordered to build the majestic medreseh near the tomb of Khodja Akhrar. The Samarkand school of miniature artists and musicians continued to develop; the poets and scientists created new poems and works in history of Central Asian khanates. From the second half of the 17th century and at the beginning of the 18th century, the intestine feuds caused invasions of Khiva troops, the Kazakh tribes and Iranians. The city and its flowering environs declined.
Only from the second half of the 18th century, Samarkand revived again. Atalik Shahmurad repeopled the city in account of Urgut and Zaamin, Djam and the other areas. He encircled the city with the high wall with towers and six gates, strengthened the citadel, restored markets with the center at Chorsu and carried out the reforms, cancelling the harmful “non-Sheriat” laws. That promoted the progress of Samarkand and revival of its commercial contacts. In 1938, Samarkand became the regional administrative center, the large educational, scientific and cultural center of Uzbekistan.
Today’s Samarkand represents the treasury of oriental architecture and a large tourist center of Central Asia, brightly demonstrating the best achievements of East Renaissance and the epoch of Amir Temur. In 1969, UNESCO organized the International symposium devoted to Temurid art and architecture there. In 1970, the city solemnly celebrated its 2500th – anniversary.
Author: Yury Buryakov