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There are lots of interesting
buildings in the Old City, such
as the 1000-year-old Ismael
Samani Mausoleum, with intri-
cate brickwork, and the Na-
dir Divanbegi Madrassah, or
religious school, whose front
is covered by 11 million hand-
made tiles.
SAMARKANd
One could spend many days
in Bukhara, but we were eager
to move on to Samarkand. It
was a fabled oasis of innumer-
able trees and prospered as a
trade center soon after its found-
ing in 6th century B.C. When
Alexander the Great conquered
it in 329 B.C., he remarked,
"Everything I have heard about
the beauty of the city is indeed
true, except that it is much more
beautiful than I imagined."
Marco Polo and ibn-Batutta,
the greatest of pre-modern trav-
elers, reported that even in ruins
in the 13th century it remained
one of the most beautiful cities
in the world. Tamarlane made it
his capital, bringing in artisans
from across the empire to turn it
into what was called the Jew-
el of Islam and the Pearl of the
East.
We started out visiting a col-
orful Sunday market and also
went through some excellent
museums devoted to the culture
and history of the city. Another
highlight was the observatory of
Ulug Beg, Tamarlane's grand-
son, who spent his reign mak-
ing breakthrough astronomical
discoveries and sponsoring sci-
ence and art.
The first great monumental
architecture we saw was the Bi-
bi Khanum Mosque, named for
one of Tamarlane's wives. The
largest in the world at the time,
its portals were 115 feet high,
with 165-foot minarets and 400
cupolas and a courtyard that
could accommodate 10,000.
Gates were made of seven
metals and the mosque was built
with marble and terracotta, dec-
orated with glazed multi-hued
mosaics and blue-gold frescoes.
But it began to fall apart almost
immediately because it exceed-
ed the building capabilities of
the age and is only partially re-
stored.
The Gur Emir is where Tamar-
lane and some of his family are
entombed. When we walked
inside, the lights were dim, but
then Zamira turned on full light-
ing and it was like the heavens
opened up. No set of even wide-
angled photos could convey the
360-degree scope of what our
eyes beheld -- every inch cov-
ered with stars and trees carved
into copper and gold, with Ko-
ranic phrases in calligraphic
Arabic script. One of the world's
largest pieces of jade rests over
Tamarlane's tomb. In our opin-
ion, Gur Emir is more beautiful
than the Taj Mahal.
The next morning we went
through the Shah-i-Zinda mau-
soleums, which are of a small
scale which allows an intimate
appreciation. For centuries, Sa-
markand's ceramic masters ex-
perimented with colors, designs,
and materials inside and out
and they provided staggering
variety. Genghis Kahn's troops
were so moved, they refused to
destroy it.
The highlight of any visit to
Samarkand is the Registan, that
Lord Curzon called "the noblest
public square in the world."
On three sides are madrassahs,
each with a unique outer design
(on the right side, the Shir Dor
shows lion-tigers, deer, and hu-
man faces as symbols of power,
allowed under the influence of
Persian Shiite interpretation of
the Koran). The combination of
grand portal, turquoise domes,
and elaborately-decorated pil-
lars is awesome and the whole
thing is impossible to truly cap-
ture with photos.
We walked into the center
madrassah, the Tillya Kari, which
means "decorated in gold," and
we caught our breath. The far
wall is covered in gold leaf up
to the ceiling, which has what
appears to be a vibrating sun sur-
rounded by circles of leaves and
flowers.
Not to commit artistic here-
sy, but we found it more awe-
inspiring than the Sistine Cha-
pel. In the moments of ecstasy
as we looked up, everything else
in our lives was put into proper
perspective.
Scott Smith is the author of "The
Soul of Your Pet: Evidence for the Sur-
vival of Animals After Death." Sandra
Wells writes on travel and is a painter
of magical art.
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pets and another for hand-carved
furniture.
The highlight of Khiva was
the 163-room Tash Hauli Pal-
ace of the khan, commissioned
in 1830. We were already dizzy
from going past tiles with geo-
metric and floral art, perfected
over 1400 centuries since the
Koran forbade using figures of
people or animals except for
symbolic purposes, as well as
mandating that nothing be a
precise duplication of anything
else. Every inch of the palace
was covered with different de-
signs and colors and we felt like
we had walked into a kaleido-
scope.
We drove south to Holy Buk-
hara, which once had a mos-
que for every day of the year.
Paradoxically, it was infamous
for the slave trade and exotic
executions, like throwing pris-
oners from the top of a minaret
in a bag. It also became a center
for science.
During the 10th century, its
state library rivaled the one in
Baghdad as the greatest in the
Islamic world, attracting Ali ibn-
Sina, or Avicenna, who cured
the sultan and wrote a remark-
ably accurate medical hand-
book, used in the West until the
19th century (a museum devoted
to him is in the suburbs).
Bukhara's bazaars were pri-
mary destinations for caravans
and it still has hawkers of ev-
erything from cute puppets to
handmade ceramics who are
eager to bargain. Lord Curzon,
the viceroy of British India,
called Bukhara "the most inter-
esting city in the world."
In the Ark citadel, which has
its origins 3000 years ago, there
is a museum devoted to the
city's history as regional power,
with historic photos and arti-
facts, such as gorgeous robes
which were used by the mysti-
cal Sufis known as whirling der-
vishes.
(Continued from page 37)
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