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Samarkand, Russia

SAMARKAND, RUSSIA, a city of Russian Central Asia, anciently Maracanda, the capital of Sogdiana, then the residence of the Moslem Samanid dynasty, and subsequently the capital of the Mongol prince Tamerlane, is now chief town of the province of the same name. It lies 220 m. by rail S.W. of Tashkent, and 156 m. E. of Bokhara, in 39 39' N. and 66 45' E., 2260 ft. above the sea, in the fertile valley of the Zarafshan, at the point where it issues from the W. spurs of the Tian-shan before entering the steppes of Bokhara. The Zarafshan now flows 5 m. N. of the city. In 1897 the population numbered 40,000 in the native city, and 15,000 in the new Russian town, inclusive of the military (80% Russians). The total population was 58,194 in 1900, and of these only 23,194 were women.

Maracanda, a great city, was destroyed by Alexander the Great in 329 B.C. It reappears as Samarkand at the time of the conquest by the Arabs, when it was finally reduced by Kotaiba ibn Moslim in A.D. 711-712. Under the Samanids it became a brilliant seat of Arabic civilization, and was so populous that, when besieged by Jenghiz Khan in 1221, it is reported to have been defended by 110,000 men. Destroyed and pillaged by that chieftain, its population was reduced to one-quarter of what it had been. When Timur made it his residence (in 1369) the inhabitants numbered 150,000. The magnificent buildings of the successors of Timur, which still remain, testify to its former wealth. But at the beginning of the 18th century it is reported to have been almost without inhabitants. It fell under Chinese dominion, and subsequently under that of the amir of Bokhara. But no follower of Islam enters it without feeling that he is on holy ground ; although the venerated mosques and beautiful colleges 'are falling into ruins, its influence as a seat of learning has vanished, and its very soil is profaned by infidels. It was not without a desperate struggle that the Mahommedans permitted the Russians to take their holy city.

The present city is quadrangular and is enclosed by a low wall 9 m. long. The citadel is in the W., and to the W. of this the Russians have laid out since 1871 a new town, with broad streets and boulevards radiating from the citadel.

The central part of Samarkand is the Righistan a square fenced in by the three madrasahs (colleges) of Ulug-beg, Shir-dar and Tilla-kari; in its architectural symmetry and beauty this is rivalled only by some of the squares of certain Italian cities. An immense doorway decorates the front of each of these large quadrilateral buildings. A high and deep-pointed porch, reaching almost to the top of the lofty facade, is flanked on each side by a broad quadrilateral pillar of the same height. Two fine columns, profusely decorated, in turn flank these broad pillars. On each side of the high doorway are two lower archways connecting it with two elegant towers, narrowing towards the top and slightly inclined. The whole of the facade and also the interior courts are profusely decorated with enamelled tiles, whose colours blue, green, pink and golden, but chiefly turquoise-blue are wrought into the most fascinating designs, in striking harmony with the whole and with each part of the building. Over the interior are bulbed or melon-like domes, perhaps too heavy for the facade. The most renowned of these three madrasahs is that of Ulug-beg, built in 1434 by a grandson of Timur. It is smaller than the others, but it was to its school of mathematics and astronomy that Samarkand owed its renown in the 15th century.

A winding street, running N.E. from the Righistan, leads to a much larger square in which are the college of Bibikhanum on the W., the graves of Timur's wives on the S. and a bazaar on the E. The college was erected in 1388 by a Chinese wife of Timur. To the N., outside the walls of Samarkand, but close at hand, is the Hazret Shah-Zindeh, the summer-palace of Timur, and near this is the grave of Shah-Zindch, or, more precisely, Kasim ibn Abbas, a companion of Timur. This was a famous shrine in the 14th century (Ibn Batuta's Travels, Hi. 52); it is believed that the saint will one day rise for the defence of his religion. The Hazret Shah-Zindeh stands on a terrace reached by forty marble steps. The decoration of the interior halls is marvellous. Another street running S.W. from the Righistan leads to the Gur-Amir, the tomb of Timur. This consists of a chapel crowned with a dome, enclosed by a wall and fronted by an archway. Time and earthquakes have greatly injured this fine building. The interior walls are covered with elegant turquoise arabesques and inscriptions in gold. The citadel (reconstructed in 1882 and preceding years) is situated on a hill whose steep slopes render it one of the strongest in Central Asia. Its walls, 3000 yds. in circuit and about 10 ft. high, enclose a space of about 90 acres. Within it are the palace of the amir of Bokhara a vulgar modern building now a hospital and the audience hall of Timur a long narrow court, surrounded by a colonnade, and containing the kok-lash, or stone of justice. Ruins of former buildings heaps of plain and enamelled bricks, among which Graeco-Bactrian coins have been found occur over a wide area round the present city, especially on the W. and N. The name of Aphrosiab is usually given to these ruins. Five m. S.W. of Samarkand is the college Khoja Akrar; its floral ornamentation in enamelled brick is one of the most beautiful in Samarkand. Nothing but the ruins of a palace now mark the site of a once famous garden, Baghchi-sarai. Of the Graeco-Armenian library said to have been brought to Samarkand by Timur no traces have been discovered, and Vambery regards the legend as invented by the Armenians. Every trace of the renowned high school Kalinder-khaneh has also disappeared.

The present Moslem city is an intricate labyrinth of narrow, winding streets, bordered by dirty courtyards and miserable houses. The chief occupation of the inhabitants is gardening. There is a certain amount of industry in metallic wares, tallow and soap, tanneries, potteries, various tissues, dyeing, harness, boots and silver and gold wares. The best harness, ornamented with turquoises, and the finer products of the goldsmith's art, are imported from Bokhara and Afghanistan. The products of the local potteries are very fine. The bazaars of Samarkand are more animated and kept with much greater cleanliness than those of Tashkent and Namangan. The trade is very brisk,- the chief items being cotton, silk, wheat and rice, horses, asses, fruits and cutlery. Wheat, rice and silk are exported chiefly to Bokhara; cotton to Russia, via Tashkent. Silk wares and excellent fruits are imported from Bokhara, and rock-salt from Hissar. (P. A. K.; J. T. BE.)

Note - this article incorporates content from Encyclopaedia Britannica, Eleventh Edition, (1910-1911)

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