The Tilya-Kori Madrasah is one of three madrasahs of Registan, the others being Ulugh Beg and Sher-Dor. Madrasah is an Arabic term meaning school.
Samarkand – Been There

The greatest sight in Central Asia

Photo by Pixabay

Samarkand – Been There The greatest sight in Central Asia

In Samarkand, Uzbekistan, the Registan square has been hailed as the greatest sight in Central Asia.

Kieran Meeke
Kieran Meeke Travel Writer

On three of its sides sit huge madrasas, their turquoise tiling a wonder to behold. At sunset, visitors are ushered out but a “donation” gains me supposedly forbidden access to a minaret on the Ulugh Beg Madrasa. The building dates back to 1420 but the rusty ironwork fame propping up the inside of the tower seems less ancient, if more precarious.

In the golden light of dusk, I look down on the rich tiling showing leaping tigers that decorates the 17th-century Sher-Dor Madrasa, while the Tilya-Kori (‘Gilded’) Madrasa of 1660 completes the view. I try not to think about the fact that the whole obviously owes more to rebuilding than restoration, despite their Unesco status.

These madrasas were a center of learning, producing philosophers, doctors, lawyers, scientists and clergymen, not to mention poets. Omar Khayyam, he of the Rubaiyat, moved here in 1070 after a time spent in Bukhara.

“He came from a family of tent-makers,” says my friend Jamshid. “Khayyami’ is the Persian word for ‘tent maker’. In Samarkand, he wrote important works laying out the principles of algebra and geometry before moving to Ishfahan to set up an observatory.” Near the Registan is the Observatory of Ulugh Beg, staffed by up to 70 astronomers in the mid-1400s. They calculated the stellar year to an accuracy that modern electronic calculations place at only about 60secs out. Samarkand, one of the oldest inhabited cities in the world, also introduced papermaking to the west from China.

My walk through Samarkand takes me down to the Siyob Bazaar, where stalls sell non, dried fruits and vegetables, and the smoke of cooking fires drifts over from the chachlik (grilled kebab) stands. Pretty young women and solid-looking matrons dressed in neon-bright clothes are happy to offer me samples. Their smiles reveal rows of gold teeth, a mobile bank that owes much to the country’s nomadic roots, while unibrows are the height of local beauty.

TRVL is reinventing the travel agent and changing how millions of people book their holidays. Learn more!

Other stories about Uzbekistan