Samarkand, Uzbekistan

The Astronomer Sultan

Timur the Great
Imposing statue of Timur, a Turkish-Mongolian conqueror who founded the Timurid Dynasty.
a space marriage
Grooms pose for the photograph next to a mural painted with the firmament.
a star of the stars
Visitors appreciate the statue of Ulugh Beg in front of the space observatory he built.
The Sextant Fakhri
Structure of the large sextant created by Ulugh Beg that allowed him and his group of scientists to carry out several measurements and later studies essential to astronomy.
Ulugh Beg & Co.
Reenactment of a historical painting showing Ulugh Beg and partners during their astronomical studies.
earthly tasks
Housekeepers in full swing at Ulugh Beg madrassa, part of the Samarkand Registry.
space poses
Videographer films Uzbek bride during one of the many photography and video sessions held at the Ulugh Beg space observatory.
Tribute to Buzz
Panel in tribute to Edwin Buzz Aldrin, inside the Space Observatory museum.
in honor of beg
Bronze statue of Ulugh Beg at the entrance to his madrassa in the Samarkand Registry
Interior of the Gur-e-Amir mausoleum of Samarkand, where Ulugh Beg is buried.
Registration Shadow Game
Uzbek shadows in front of one of the monumental facades of the Register, the historic heart of Samarkand.
night registration
A corner of the Registão complex, illuminated by artificial lights that those responsible turn on when a group of visitors ensures payment.
Russian mailbox at the entrance to one of the Registry's madrassas.
Ulugh Beg and Co.
Statue of Ulugh Beg and other astronomers at the entrance to one of the Samarkand Registry buildings.
Camouflaged Minaret
Architecture of the Registry, the main testimony of the greatness of the Timurid Dynasty and of Samarkand.
Golden Registration
A corner of the Registão complex, illuminated by artificial lights that those responsible turn on when a group of visitors ensures payment.
The grandson of one of the great conquerors of Central Asia, Ulugh Beg, preferred the sciences. In 1428, he built a space observatory in Samarkand. His studies of the stars led him to name a crater on the Moon.

Despite the intimidating flow of old Soviet Ladas and Volgas, we challenged the roundabout and the authority of the traffic light a few dozen meters away.

We hope that the status of outsiders will save us from trouble.

Favored by the softening of two or three of those car relics, we reached the roundabout in the middle of Avenida Universitet Bulvari.

Among secular and leafy trees, we find the imposing statue of Timur the Great, the ruthless Turkish-Mongolian founder of his own dynasty, conqueror of a vast empire that incorporated Persia and a considerable part of Asia.

Samarkand, Uzbekistan, statue of Timur

Imposing statue of Amir Timur, a Turkish-Mongolian conqueror who founded the Timurid Dynasty.

When we reach the immediate vicinity of the throne he occupies, we are at the feet of the nation's supreme historical idol.

That same afternoon, we advanced about six kilometers northeast of Samarkand and two generations in the lineage.

It is with a kind of restrained pride that our hosts in the city lead us to the statue and the elevated observatory domains of Ulugh Beg, grandson of Timur, a character with a very different purpose in life from his grandfather.

Ascension to the Ulugh Beg Space Observatory of Samarkand

We climbed along a wall painted blue and flecked with white that, no doubt, emulates the Cosmos.

At a certain height on the ramp, a photo shoot of a local wedding surprises us, in a slightly Muslim version and, traditionally, only if it were from the Soviet era of Uzbekistan.

The groom wears a black satin suit that contrasts with his shirt and tie, both white. The bride wears a white dress that, from the waist down, flares into frills. Both the photographer and the videographer on duty use the wall as the background for their images to give them a fascinating celestial look.

They combine efforts to make the bride's veil appear to float in a fictional vacuum and instruct the groom to aim for distant galaxies, as a conqueror of much more than a mere heart.

a space marriage

Grooms pose for the photograph next to a mural painted with the firmament.

The photo session had brought us the attention that the guide Niluvar Oripova deserved.

When we returned to her, we noticed the gilded and seated figure that offered her shade, how she gazed at the horizon, indifferent to the ordinary events around her.

The Astronomical Vocation of Sultan Ulugh Beg

Eager to resume the role in which she was still taking her first steps, Nilufar wasted no time: “Here you have it: Ulugh Beg, or the Great Prince. His real name was Muhammad Taragay.

a star of the stars

Visitors appreciate the statue of Ulugh Beg in front of the space observatory he built.

He was raised in the court of Timur. From 1409, he became the ruler of the Mavennakhr domain of which Samarkand was capital.

But the Great Prince showed little interest in following in the footsteps of the antecedents. He started by dedicating himself to science. It opened a madrassa, a kind of Muslim university with a huge reputation.”

Among the vocations of Muhammad Taragay, the study of the stars was quickly included. In fact, astronomy became his academic subject of choice, taught by handpicked scientists from the Muslim world; at one point more than sixty astronomers.

Four years after inaugurating the madrassa, in the middle of the Medieval Age (1424), Ulugh Beg also founded the space observatory we were about to enter, originally with three floors.

Ulugh Beg's Influence on Future Space Exploration

We started by looking into its trench dug along the Meridian line, at the end of which there was an arc used to calculate the various constants based on the Sun and the movements of the planets.

The combination of the structure and the object formed the ample Fakhri sextant, which made it possible to carry out several measurements and later studies essential to astronomy.

Ulugh Beg, Astronomer, Samarkand, Uzbekistan, Sextant Fakhri

Structure of the large sextant created by Ulugh Beg that allowed him and his group of scientists to carry out several measurements and later studies essential to astronomy.

In addition to images and other old documents, the Observatory museum is full of images of the most recent space triumphs, with an emphasis on the North American landing stage.

This highlight, in particular, was only made possible by the relative maturity of Uzbek independence from the former colonial lords of Moscow.

Alongside the awareness of the importance of their ancestors to these triumphs, there is a certain frustration among the Muslim community of scientists and historians that their Western counterparts neglect the contribution of Muslim astronomers.

“It is all too common for authors to jump from Ptolemy to Copernicus and ignore the fifteen hundred years of Muslim astronomy protagonism.” complained, for example, Salmah Beimeche, an author often revisited for his dissatisfaction.

Inside the museum, there is also an image of Edwin “Buzz” Aldrin with the Moon in the background, a conquest of the American Space Program.

The caption states that “thinkers born in Uzbekistan have always been of great value to him, because 40 years ago he studied on a crater named in honor of Akhmad Fargonly”.

This one, like Ulugh Beg, one of the Central Asian astronomers who lent their names to morphologies of the Moon.

In addition to “his” crater, Ulugh Beg also gave it to 2439 Ulugbek, an asteroid belt discovered in 1977 by Russian Nikolai Chernykh, a tireless asteroid hunter for over forty years, co-authored with his wife .

The Murder of Ulugh Beg and the Destruction of His Dreams

But, as continues today, it was the radical Muslims themselves who contributed to the devaluation of their civilization's achievements.

Ulugh Beg's wisdom in governance was unmatched by his scientific mastery.

Ulugh Beg & Co.

Reenactment of a historical painting showing Ulugh Beg and partners during their astronomical studies.

After his father's death, Beg found himself defeated in one of several battles against a nephew and other relatives who sought to usurp his power in certain areas of the country. Timurid Empire.

Ulugh Beg was beheaded on his way to Mecca, by order of his own eldest son, in 1449.

That same year, the space observatory he had built in Samarkand was demolished by religious fanatics.

So devastated, that it was only to be rediscovered in 1908, by an Uzbek-Russian archaeologist, VLVyatkin, that he acquired a document that informed its exact location.

We also know where Ulugh Beg was buried: in the Gur-e-Amir mausoleum, along with his grandfather Amir Timur.

Ulugh Beg, Astronomer, Samarkand, Uzbekistan, Gur-e-Amir Mausoleum

Interior of the Gur-e-Amir mausoleum of Samarkand, where Ulugh Beg is buried.

Following the observatory, we visit the Samarkand Registry.

The Architectural Magnificence of the Historic Heart of Samarkand

It is the most reputable monument in the city, formed by three madrassas, one of them the Ulugh Beg, flanked by two minarets with a look of rockets that the years have made tilt towards the interior of the building's courtyard.

Ulugh Beg, Astronomer, Samarkand, Uzbekistan, minaret

Architecture of the Registry, the main testimony of the greatness of the Timurid Dynasty and of Samarkand.

And that the complex's green-uniformed guards use as tourist bait to boost their meager income: “want to go up there? The view is amazing. They pay me twenty euros and I'll take you there.”

In the shadow of the iwan (a kind of portal), there is a sculpture that pays homage to the madrassa's mentor and other personalities that gave it its soul.

in honor of beg

Bronze statue of Ulugh Beg at the entrance to his madrassa in the Samarkand Registry

Inside, there is a mosque around the courtyard, the old reading rooms and several of the dormitories where the students lived.

Today, many of these rooms have been converted into small craft and souvenir shops, some of them occupied by Russian-born merchants who now – long after Uzbekistan's independence and the departure of their Slav compatriots – foist out old items from the era when the USSR and the US competed, obsessed, with the conquest of space that Ulugh Beg and his disciples had so revealed to them.

Ulugh Beg, Astronomer, Samarkand, Uzbekistan, mailbox

Russian mailbox at the entrance to one of the Registry's madrassas.

At the end of one of the days we spent in Samarkand, we are informed that it is possible that there will be a light and sound show with lighting and artistic projections on the facades of the Registão.

Neither our guides nor the passers-by that we find there seem to know for sure if it is confirmed, or at what days and times it is supposed to take place.

The Whimsical Earthly Lights of the Samarkand Registry

Thus, thirty or forty minutes of indefiniteness pass when Nilufar, our young guide, arrives with a new piece of information: the guards say that those responsible can activate the lighting, but tourists have to pay. "

Do we have to pay? But then there are tickets for sale?" we ask. "There are no tickets, but they only activate the show if there is a minimum number of payers".

We scrunched up our noses, as we had already wrung out in a series of other schemes of this kind devised by the Registry guards. At the same time, we imagined how the complex of monuments illuminated in the twilight must be beautiful to photograph.

We do the math. We came to the conclusion that just getting a dozen extra foreigners for the show would cost us a pittance. Some of them had even joined the discussion and our demand. After an additional twenty minutes, some fifteen payers were gathered, above what was required.

The sun had set and night was falling in plain sight. We were all waiting for the show, which, however, was still unopened.

It was only well after the twilight had faded that the lights were turned on.

Registration Square, Silk Road, Samarkand, Uzbekistan

The colors of the Praça do Registão in a twilight.

For most foreigners, it was fine. We feel frustrated that so much effort has resulted in almost nothing photographic.

After the lights were turned off, we sat and gazed at the sky that the astronomer Ulugh Beg had studied so hard there.


Journey through the Uzbekistan Pseudo-Roads

Centuries passed. Old and run-down Soviet roads ply deserts and oases once traversed by caravans from the Silk RoadSubject to their yoke for a week, we experience every stop and incursion into Uzbek places, into scenic and historic road rewards.
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An Uzbekistan's Breadwinner

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