There are many ancient legends and traditions about Samarkand, but even more ancient is its real history. The emergence of Samarkand goes back about 2.5 thousand years. A major city of the Sogd, then of Maverannahr, Samarkand was more than once the capital of the state. The rulers of the time tried to outshine each other by erecting buildings and spending huge amount of money.
Near the northeastern part of modern Samarkand there is an ancient settlement – Afrasiab. Before the XIII century the city was destroyed by the wild hordes of Mongols. On the southern outskirts of Afrasiab, among a huge cemetery, is one of the best historical and architectural ensembles of Samarkand – a group of mausoleums called “Shahi Zinda”.
The chain of tombs is as if thrown over the rampart of the medieval defensive wall of the city, the gouges of which are visible from the road when approaching the complex. The name of the complex “Shahi Zinda” from Persian to be translated as “living king” and is associated with a symbolic tomb of Kus-ibn-Abbas, cousin of the Prophet Mohammed, who came to Samarkand in the VII century along with the Arabs and spread Islam. Numerous legends tell that Qusam-ibn-Abbas suffered for his faith after being attacked by infidels while performing namaz.
According to one, the most widespread, legend has it that he hid in a mihrab (a prayer niche in a mosque pointing to Mecca), according to others, taking his own severed head in his hands, he descended into a dark well leading to an underground garden, where he continues to live to this day. The mausoleum of Kusam-ibn-Abbas is part of the complex and is located in its northeastern part.
The complex began to take shape nine centuries ago. Up to the second half of XI century the territory where the necropolis was located was built up with dwelling houses made of raw bricks and it was a populated part of the city. At the end of XI century the part of the southern outskirts of Afrasiab became desolate and the cemetery started to appear there. One of the earliest buildings was the tomb of Kusam-ibn-Abbas, and then other richly lined mausoleums of the XI-XIII centuries.
Already in those distant times the tomb of Kusam-ibn-Abbas with the surrounding buildings was considered a shrine. In the XIII century most of the structures of the Shah-i-Zinda complex were destroyed after the defeat of the Mongols. The revival of the necropolis began in the 14th century. Here new mausoleums are erected which decor and style differs from the decor of the first constructions. The carved unwatered terracotta is replaced with watered tiles, which gradually replaced the old type of facing material. Different colors prevailed, among which were greenish-blue and blue.
But the most intensive construction took place during the reign of Amir Timur. During this period, close relatives (sisters, wives) of Timur, representatives of the military nobility of his army built their beautiful mausoleums at the tomb of Saint Kusam-ibn-Abbas, hoping for his intercession in the netherworld. Most of the structures of that time have survived to this day.
Great architectural and planning works were done during the reign of Ulugbek. The lower entrance group was built up at that time. A two-domed slender mausoleum, which is attributed to Kazyzade-Rumi, an astronomer of Ulugbek time, was built in the west.
At present, the Shahi-Zinda complex consists of 11 mausoleums. Most of them date back to the XIV century. You have an incredible opportunity to touch history and see what was created many centuries ago by visiting one of the most ancient cities.