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The Country of Tamerlane

It is said that once young Temur was sitting and watching an ant crawling up the grass stem. An insect was sliding, falling down, but still it kept crawling up. At last, it reached the top. The young man thought: "If the ant managed to achieve its goal, why can't I?" And since then he succeeded in all his deeds.

The Monument of Emir Temur in Tashkent

The future ruler was born in 1336, near Shakhrizabs, in the family of emir Taragay from Barlass clan of "great Moguls" dynasty. His family tree was engraved on the jade tombstone in his burial-vault, Gur-Emir, in Samarkand. According to this family tree, Temur and Jenghiz Khan had the same ancestor, Buzanchar.

As a matter of fact in his youth Temur got no comprehensive education. Yet he knew several languages, including Turkic and Persian, and, at a mature age, he displayed the erudition equated to the most educated people of that time. In fact, the ruler valued any kind of knowledge, particularly the one of practical use such as medicine, astronomy, mathematics, and architecture.

No reliable portraits of Temur have survived to our time, and the verbal description of Temur given by Arabian scientist Ibn Arabshakh is probably the most thorough one. He wrote: "Temur was well built, tall, with wide forehead, big head, strong voice; his strength did not give way to his courage. He was a broad-shouldered man with high colour in his white face, with thin fingers, long hips, and strong muscles. He wore long beard; his right hand as well as his right leg were mutilated in battles. However, his look was rather tender." Other authors, each in his own way, expanded and supplemented the characterization of this ruler of the world, noting for instance that in his spare time Temur used to hunt or to play chess, in which he gained much skills.

According to Temur's historian, Shereph ad-din Ali Ezdi, Temur "was concurrently the scourge of his enemies, idol for his warriors and the father of his nations." His foes called him Temur-lenk, which in Persian meant the "Iron Lame", and it was under this name which later was modified into "Tamerlane", that he become known in the West.

Since his youth, Temur served many local rulers. But the time came when the young warrior said to himself, that henceforward he would fight for himself and his own interests alone. He started with the conquest and subjugation of his native land – Movarrounahr. This blessed region that spread between Amu-Darya and Syr-Darya, suffered, like all the lands around, from disunity and internecine strife of the local rulers. It took Temur ten years to force emirs and beks to obey him and to become an absolute ruler of Mejdurechye – the country between two rivers. His last enemy, and former ally, Husein, the ruler of Samarkand, was besieged in Balkh and then was taken prisoner and killed. Soon Timur married to a widow of Husein, a real beauty Saray-mulk-Khanym, the princess of Chagatai from the clan of Jenghiz Khan descendants. Saray-mulk-Khanym became his senior wife – Bibi-Khanym. Owing to this marriage Timur won a title of ‘gurgan'. This title was used by Temur during all solemn occasions and was engraved on coins. Same year of 1370 at the assembly of emirs (kurultay), Timur was elected the absolute ruler of Movarrounnahr.

The treasure of Tamerlan's silver coins

These events made a key impact on Temur's future life. For the first time he assumed full authority and he never gave it up. He made Movarrounnahr the center of his territory with the capital in Samarkand, the metropolis, which he never split or handed over to anyone, but, on the contrary, built over and embellished in any possible way. Since that time he started his long whirlwind campaigns, which he invariably led on, foreign territories and which ended only with his death.

At that period, conqueror of the world routed Tohtamish and the Golden Horde, defeated and took captive Turkish sultan Bayazed, waged victorious campaigns on Iran and Afghanistan, Khorezm and Caucasus, India and Asia Minor. The last campaign of Timur was aimed at Chinese empire. From time to time his behaviour left his contemporaries puzzled by the unexpectedness of his decisions. Thus in 1391 Temur appeared with his army on the border of Russian princedoms causing a real perturbation among them. But instead of invading Russia Temur turned his army against Tohtamish and inflicted a defeat on him at Kunduzchi close to the Volga river. It is obvious that Iron Emir was not in the least concerned about the interests of Russia, but, one way or another, Russia had to be obliged to emir Temur for the victory over Golden Horde. Similar situation took place in 1402, when Temur smashed the troops of sultan Bayazed in the battle at Ankara and Bayazed himself was taken prisoner. This event delayed a downfall of Byzantium under the onset of Ottoman Empire.

After Temur had defeated the Osmans he drew attention of many rulers from both Eastern and Western countries. One by one the ambassadors from Egypt and Byzantium, from Chinese emperor, king of Castile and Leon, and the king of France arrived to the court of the Great Emir.

Tamerlane's two, five, seven-year campaigns have been depicted and glorified not once. As a result of his campaigns his territory stretched from Delhi to Damascus and from the Aral Sea to Persian Gulf. Historians on war consider Temur as the great commander. At a mature age he successfully won all the battles.

Temur continued and developed the art of war invented by Genghis Khan. But, unlike his predecessor, Temur not only conquered and destructed, but also created. And that peaceful, constructive activity of sakhibkiran, maybe, is more important for his descendants than his military achievements. The ruler was permanently engaged in the state policy, even during his campaigns, while in the saddle.

Warrior's armour of Temur's time

Some historians think that the ruler of Movarrounnahr chose the directions of his campaigns without any clear system. However, all his campaigns followed the southern and northern routes of the Great Silk Road. Conquering more and more countries, Temur did not forget to take care of merchants' caravans, and ordered his deputies to assure safety of their routes along the whole length of trade roads.

During the whole period of his reign, Temur was constantly dealing with the building activities: he created new and restructured old towns, built fortresses, and constructed irrigation systems. Having established huge empire and having become its absolute ruler – emir, Temur made Samarkand the capital of his state. At the same time he always remembered and took care of his smaller homeland, Shahrizabz- ancient Kesh, which actually was the second capital of the empire. By order of Temur the best architects, constructors, craftsmen were brought here, and in cooperation with local masters they constructed majestic buildings, thus realizing experience and traditions of different countries.

Ak-saray palace can serve as an example of the main government building – the residence. The construction of the palace began in 1380, but yet in 1404 the finishing works were not completed. The ogive of this huge construction had a span of about 22 meters, the biggest one of all Temurid's constructions. Entire coverage of luxury tiles wrapped its surface, dark blue mosaics and majolica prevailed allover, where in ingenious diversity stylized ornaments and fancy ligature of scripts were unfolding. High doors led to the yard, in the center of which there was a wide mirror of a pond. The yard was encircled with magnificent apartments, reception halls, private premises and rooms for feasts. According to Ruy Gonzales de Klavijo, ambassador of King of Castilia and Leon, mosaic picture of the lion against the background of a rising sun decorated the central entrance of the palace. The palace, encircled with gardens and ponds, stood out by its beauty of decoration, strength of its dimensions, monumentality of its silhouette, with the purpose of confirming in the minds of subjects the greatness and stability of monarch power. Unfortunately, only picturesque ruins of Ak-Saray have preserved, but even these scarce fragments provide the idea of the former beauty of this architectural work of art.

In Shakhrizabs one can see a mausoleum of Shamsuddin Kulol, spiritual tutor of young Temur, which is being revered even in our days. Next to this mausoleum in 1374 the sakhibkiran ordered to build a tomb for his father, emir Taragay, and here too he ordered to build a vault for himself, though eventually he was buried in Samarkand.

A glut of wealth brought by Temur from his campaigns, allowed him to build in Samarkand unique monumental buildings, which served as a symbol of greatness and might of the empire and its ruler. The best architects, artists and masters from Khorezm, Iran, India took part in construction works and developing of the city. The city made a deep impression on Temur's contemporaries; it was named "the Sparkling point of the world".

The tomb of Temur in Gur-Emir Mausoleum

In the suburbs of Samarkand there were laid huge gardens with fruit-trees and remarkable flowerbeds, ponds and fountains, in the alleys there were pacing deer, peacocks and pheasants. In the gardens there were built palaces for Temur's wives; they fascinated the viewers by originality of architecture and luxury of coloured and golden tiles decoration. The walls of the palaces were decorated with paintings that depicted his victories, the floor was covered with carpets and the rooms were draped with expensive silk fabric. In these country-houses sakhibkiran and his wives held celebrations and feasts, ceremonial receptions. But much more amazing in terms of luxurious decoration was Temur's palace and garden Kok-Saray built by him in Samarkand citadel. It was faced with azure and turquoise patterned tiles; the ceilings in bedrooms were shining with the gold. Unfortunately, these structures have not survived to our time and we know of them only by descriptions of Temur's contemporaries. Today the names such as Bogishamol, Bogidilkush, Bogichinor remind us of once magnificent constructions. However, the unique architectural monuments of Temur's age, which have preserved up till now in their almost original beauty, allowed UNESCO to include Samarkand in the list of "The World Heritage".

The most grandiose construction to be built by emir's order, was Bibi-Khanum cathedral mosque which was named after his senior wife. It was started in 1399 after Temur's victorious campaign to India and continued till 1404. According to Temur's idea this new mosque had to outshine anything he had seen before in conquered lands. The best architects, artists and craftsmen from different countries were employed for the construction. Day after day two hundred stonecutters erected the walls; five hundred workmen quarried stone in the mountains and sent it to Samarkand. Ninety elephants, brought from India, worked on the construction site.

Wide courtyard was paved with marble slabs and enclosed with roofed colonnade for pilgrims. The facade of the cathedral mosque and entrance into the courtyard were formed in the shape of majestic portals with fifty-meter high minarets at the corners. Colossal blue dome reigned over well-proportioned drum, on which Kufic calligraphy constituted sayings from Koran. Outer walls were picturesquely decorated with azure, turquoise and blue tiles that formed exquisite geometrical ornament. Inside the mosque the walls were decorated with golden patterns on azure background; bronze chandeliers hung from the ceiling; entrance doors were cast of seven metals.

Though emir was almost always engaged in his campaigns, the construction of the mosque went on. When Temur returned from his final military expedition he saw that the portal of the mosque was lower than that of madrassah, which was built under the supervision of his senior wife Bibi-Hanym, and the ruler got furious. He ordered to demolish the finished portal and to erect a new, taller one. Temur himself supervised the construction works, encouraging those who excelled and punishing negligent ones.

For many centuries the mosque Bibi-Khanym had been exposed to destruction because of continual earthquakes and vandalism of conquerors, and only at the end of 20th century it was restored and gained former greatness.

To the earliest constructions associated with Temur's name, there can be also referred several mausoleums in Shakhi-Zinda necropolis. On the southeastern hill of the most ancient part of Samarkand, Afrasiyab, there is a sacred burial-vault of Kusam ibn-Abbas, cousin of prophet Muhammad, who was assassinated in the 7th century. His grave has been considered a holy place from the old times. The mausoleum itself was built in the 11th century; its dome was reconstructed by Temur's order. At the same time there was mounted a unique tombstone faced with majolica tiles. To be buried next to a saint was always considered a great honour for a Muslim, and soon several burial-vaults of emir's close relatives appeared close to the mausoleum of Kusam ibn-Abbas. Fourteen mausoleums dated to the 11th – 15th centuries form a whole street along the staircase that leads from the burial-vault of Kusam ibn-Abbas down to the entrance portal, constructed in the later period, during the reign of Temur's grandson – Mirzo Ulugbek.

Guri-Emir Mausoleum

Another masterpiece of medieval architecture, mausoleum Guri-Emir, was constructed under supervision of Emir Temur for his favourite grandson and successor Mukhammad Sultan, who died in 1404 during one of his campaigns. Soon after this event, in February 1405, at the very start of campaign to China, Temur himself died in Otrar. The coffin with his body was secretly delivered to Samarkand, and Guri-Emir mausoleum became that very place where he found the eternal peace. Here too there were buried the remains of Timur's spiritual tutor, Mir Sayid Bereke, and his grandson Mirzo Ulugbek, the governor of Samarkand, who was an outstanding scientist and thinker.

In the architecture of the mausoleum there dominates huge ribbed dome, overhanging a high cylindrical drum . The dome is covered with the patterns of blue and azure tiles. Its interior is in line with the monumentality and greatness of architectural size. From below the walls are decorated with carved marble tiles, while the upper parts are painted in blue and gold. Temur's tombstone is made of dark-green jade.

Temur's structures have preserved not only in Samarkand. In 1397 in Yassa, a little town in the present-day Turkestan, there was built the mausoleum of saint Ahmad Yassaviy just above the grave of this saint. A huge dome, which is 18 meters in diameter, rises over numerous rooms, grouped around gurkhona – sepulchral hall. Among architectural monuments of Bukhara, the most notable construction is Chashma-Ayub mazar with its rare shaped conic dome resting on a high drum. The mausoleum was constructed by the craftsmen who were brought here by Temur from his campaigns to Khorezm.

Nowadays a statue of Emir Temur on a horse stands out in the center of Tashkent. Here Temur is represented without a sword, with his hands free for good deeds. Sakhibkiran bespeaks to future generations with a jest of goodwill. "Good ruler" he used to say, "has never enough time to reign and we are compelled to work in favour of our people whom our Lord entrusted to us as sacred pledge!"

The Monument of Emir Temur in Shakhrisabz

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