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Bibi-Khanym Mosque, Samarkand: 17 reviews and 51 photos

  In the Bibi Khanum Mosque
by toonsarah
 
  • In the Bibi Khanum Mosque - Samarkand
      In the Bibi Khanum Mosque
    by toonsarah
  • Portal of the Bibi Khanum Mosque - Samarkand
      Portal of the Bibi Khanum Mosque
    by toonsarah
  • In the Bibi Khanum Mosque - Samarkand
      In the Bibi Khanum Mosque
    by toonsarah
  • Koran stand, Bibi Khanum Mosque - Samarkand
      Koran stand, Bibi Khanum Mosque
    by toonsarah
  • Detail of door, Bibi Khanum Mosque - Samarkand
      Detail of door, Bibi Khanum Mosque
    by toonsarah
 

This is not one mosque, but three: two fairly normal in size, and the third on a truly grandiose scale. This is Tamerlaine’s great work, his attempt to build a mosque larger and more splendid than the Muslim world had ever seen. But his ambitions here overstretched the capabilities of his craftsmen, and the mosque was doomed almost from the start, though not from want of effort. He employed the very best slaves and workers, imported 95 elephants from India to haul the wagons and, when he judged the portal too low, had it pulled down and ordered it to be rebuilt. He himself superintended the work, coming to the site each day in his litter, and arranging for meat to be thrown down to the men digging the foundations rather than have them stop working for a moment. The result was a mosque of never-before seen proportions – a portal over 35 metres tall (photo 2) leads to a huge courtyard, which was originally surrounded by a gallery of 400 cupolas supported by 400 marble columns. The main mosque on the eastern side has a portal of over 40 metres, and all was adorned with the most ornate tile-work, carvings, gildings etc.

But this splendour wasn’t to last. Almost from the first day it was in use, the mosque began to crumble, putting worshippers in peril. No one seems to know for certain why this was – maybe the building was simply too ambitious for the technologies of the day. Whatever the reason, this is one ancient structure that has so far defied the attempts of modern builders to restore it properly. Thus when I went inside I was taken aback to see not the beautifully restored interior I’d come to expect by this point in our travels but a semi-ruin held together with great iron bolts (see photo 3). Weirdly though, this seemed to emphasise even more than if it had been restored the great scale of this monument to Tamerlaine’s ambitions.

Back outside in the courtyard is a huge marble Koran stand, designed to hold the Osman Koran now on display in Tashkent (see photo 4 and my Tashkent page, once completed).

Directions: About 10 minutes walk north of the Registan along Tashkent Street (next to the bazaar)

Review Helpfulness: 4.5 out of 5 stars

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  • Written Sep 16, 2007
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