The Timuries As Builders


Timur was not only a great conqueror; he was also a great builder. Whenever he laid waste to a city that stood in the path of his army, he would bring back the artisans to build his royal city of Samarqand. “There were sculptors, stone-masons and stucco-workers from Azerbaijan, Isfahan and Delhi; Mosaic-workers from Shiraz; weavers, glass-blowers and potters from Damascus – in such numbers that ‘the city was not big enough to hold them.‘” 16 During the few brief times when he was not off on a military campaign, he was busy overseeing his building projects. Perhaps the main thing that strikes one about  Timur‘s monuments is the sheer grandeur of them. They are statements about the  man who made the earth shake in his day, as is evidenced by an Arab proverb quoted on one of his buildings: “If you want to know about us, examine our  buildings.

Although Timur concentrated his architectural efforts on Samarqand, he also erected buildings in other cities, such as Shahr-i-Sabz, where he constructed a magnificent Aq Saray (White Palace), and Turkestan, where he erected a mosque  and mausoleum in honor of Hoja Ahmed Yasavi (d. 1166), a famous poet and Sufi sheikh. The first of these structures was almost entirely destroyed by the Uzbeks in the sixteenth century, but the ruins still remain. The second has been preserved in quite good condition and apparently still functions as a “holy place” to which devout Muslims make periodic pilgrimages. However, probably the most impressive architecture that remains from this period can be found in Samarqand.Timur filled his capital with both secular and religious monuments, as well as a plethora of gardens, which featured stone walls and floors with elaborate patterns and palaces outfitted with gold, silk and carpets. Most of these structures have not survived to the present. Such is the case with his magnificent four-story palace, which Babur describes in his memoirs. However, a number of significant buildings have survived and can still be seen today.

There are also still extant examples of buildings erected by subsequent  Timurid rulers. As noted above, although they did not share his passion for territorial expansion, they did inherit his love of fine architecture.  Interestingly enough, one of the principle Timurid builders was Gawhar Shad,  Shah Rukh’s wife, who was responsible for a magnificent mosque at Meshed (built between 1405 and 1418) and a mosque-madrasah-mausoleum complex in Herat (1417-1437). Unfortunately, these structures are mostly in ruins today, largely as a result of war and earthquakes over the last two centuries. As can be imagined, the transition of the Timurid capital to Herat also moved the  architectural focus from Samarqand to that city. However, the Timurids still continued to build in their founder’s capital, especially Ulugh Beg, who was governor of the city under his father, Shah Rukh.

The preponderence of elaborate decoration on Timurid monuments, much of it involving various pottery techniques, especially glazed tile work, reflects the advances made in this art form during this period. “The old use of lead glazes which oxidized quickly, from pre-Mongolian times was replaced by durable glazes  stained with coloring oxides…. A mosaic design of single-colored tiles had  the advantage of being simple to produce, but the ornamental design was limited  to geometrical patterns based on the shape of the tiles… This difficulty was then overcome by the technique of ‘inlaid mosaic’ composed of variously coloured small units.

There are too many Timurid monuments in Samarqand to examine in one paper.19 However, we can look at some of the more significant ones that remain to this day. There are three major structures still standing in Samarqand which Timurhimself was responsible for building: the  Gur-i Amir, the Bibi Khanum mosque,and the Shah-i Zinda mausoleum complex  (although this had been originally begun in pre-Timurid times, Timur was  responsible for most of its present form). In addition, there are two important  examples of Timurid architecture from the period after Timur: the madrasah and  observatory of Ulugh Beg. It is these structures which will form the focus of this paper.

Author : Abdullah KARGAR


One Response

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