Samarkand, Uzbekistan, 4 October 2018.
(Click on any image to see it in a larger size.)
This post is from out last day in Samarkand.
Young woman extracting strips of bark from branches of young mulberry trees.
We visited a traditional paper mill in the village of Koni Ghil, just outside Samarkand. Paper making in Samarkand dates back to 751AD when the Abbasid general Abu Muslim defeated a Tang Dynasty army with the aid of the Tibetan Empire and the defection of Karluk mercenaries who were over half of the Tang army. They took many prisoners, some of whom then introduced paper making to the region. This replaced the use of papyrus and became an export industry to the rest of the Arab world. The paper-making tradition was lost following the Russian takeover in the nineteenth century and it has been recently recreated.
(China retreated from the region soon after the Battle of Talas but not due to that, rather due to the An Lushan Rebellion which started in 755.)
The strips of bark are next boiled for four or five hours.
They are then pounded to a pulp by a trip-hammer powered by this water mill. Then they are pressed and dried and finally polished with an agate stone for a smooth finish.
A local woman welcoming us to the small museum for the Ulugh Beg Observatory.
Inside the museum, a model of the observatory built by Ulugh Beg in the 1420s.
At the top front of the building is the viewing hole of the astrolabe inside. The smaller structure on top of the building appears to be a sextant able to rotate, for less precise observations at flexible angles.
The site is close to the ancient city of Afrasiab (prior to the existence of Samarkand). There was another observatory here as early as 840AD, of which no trace remains. Although Afrasiab was the capital of the Sogdians, in the ninth century they had been taken over by the Samanids, based in Bukhara, who featured in a brief renaissance of science and culture, unmatched in the world at that time.
Inside this 13th century building was a meridional arc, or astrolabe, aligned north-south, for celestial measurements. Since they took measurements using 60 degrees instead of the full 90 degrees available, it is also a sextant. This is clearly not a working model because there is no viewing hole to the sky at the top. I presume the little vertical windows on the back wall are for viewing the angle cast by the sun. The rest of the building was rooms for scientists to confer and calculate, maybe even some to sleep in.
The astrolabe as it survives.
In 1908 Russian Archaeologist Vyatkin discovered the location of the Observatory and excavated the remains. In particular, he uncovered the below-ground part of the massive astrolabe, as shown here. Only the foundations remain of the rest of the building.
As well as being Lord of Transoxiana from 1409 to 1447, Ulugh Beg was a scientist and imported the best scientists available for the observatory. It could accurately measure the length of the year, the local time of noon each day, the altitude of a star and other planets, the period of planets, and eclipses. They estimated the length of the year more accurately than Copernicus subsequently did and the axial tilt of the earth as accurately as modern measurements. They constructed an atlas of over 1,000 stars, Zij-i-Sultani, the first to be published since Ptolomey and including those stars but with more accurate measurements. The atlas also included a sine table accurate to six places from 0 to 87 degrees, and to 11 places from 87 to 90 degrees. The atlas survived for posterity because when the observatory was destroyed, scientist Ali Kushji fled to Constantinople and published it. It was in use until the nineteenth century.
Ulugh Beg became Emperor when his father died in 1447, but only for two years of turmoil until he was deposed and then murdered by one of his sons. The observatory was then destroyed by religious fanatics and the scientists fled.
“Religions dissipate like fog, kingdoms vanish, but the works of scientists remain for eternity” – Ulugh Beg.
This is a view from outside. The big black tube is the top of what remains of the astrolabe. Perhaps that gives you a better idea of the scale of it.
… as does the view from here. This also gives a sense of how high the arc of the original version would have climbed to reach the top of the third floor.
A short distance away, we are near the Mausoleum of the Prophet Daniel (as in Daniel and the lions), sacred to Moslems, Jews and Christians. Inside, the tomb is eighteen metres long because Daniel is supposed to be still growing inside it. There are also other tombs of Daniel in seven other countries. There was no-one stopping me taking photos inside but notwithstanding my religious cynicism, I did not do so because it was clearly a place of veneration for other people there.
The tomb of Daniel is in the background to the right. However, the line of hills in the background is the edge of the location of the ancient city of Afrasiab. This was the capital city of the Sogdians, from the sixth century BC to 1220 AD when Genghis Khan razed it, though they were not independent for all of that period.
Three hunters, probably Scythians, with horses and lions or leopards.
We next visited the Afrosiab Museum, a short distance from the Mausoleum of Daniel. Russian archaeologists discovered Afrasiab in the 1880s and the museum includes some of their finds. It also includes some seventh century murals from the royal palace, discovered in 1965 when building a road. They are from the time of King Varkhuman, and painted between 648 and 651, or shortly after 658. He ruled a multicultural entity and was nominally a vassal to China but his polity did not last long as his palace was destroyed by the Arab general Sa’id Ibn Ithman between 675 and 677 CE and after that there were no kings of Samarkand.
Here we see ossuaries and skulls, from the sixth to the eighth centuries. Some of the skulls exhibit cranial deformations that I had previously associated only with the Maya, but that I discover were performed in many cultures. This practice was brought to Sogdia by the Yuezhi, who were driven out of China and established the Kushan Empire in Central Asia and India in the early first century.
Fresco showing the the arrival of a king and a princess to a country church or the arrival of a royal bride. There are details from this fresco in the next four images.
In most of these human representations, the eyes may have been later gouged out by Islamic Arabs.
Birds (swans?), possibly for sacrifice.
Detail of camel saddle.
Part of the saddle of the elephant.
Ambassadors from Chaganian (south of Afrasiab, central figure) and Chach (modern Tashkent).
Turkish (Turkic?) dignitaries, one of them is labeled as coming from Argi (Karashahr in modern Xinjiang).
Left hand group: Tang Dynasty emissaries carrying silk and a string of silkworm cocoons;
Right hand group: Sogdian chamberlains and interpreter introduce Tibetan messengers.
Women on boats, probably local Turkic aristocrats copying the fashions of women in Tang China.
Tang Dynasty China was a major force in Central Asia during this period and Sogdia may have shared a border with them at this time (the border fluctuated).
A duck – a sacred bird of the Zoroastrians.
Model of eleventh century kiln.
Ceramic plate from 10th to 12th century.
We are away from the museum now and still had some spare time so we headed for a small mosque in the country. I do not know the name of the village.
The minaret of the mosque. I could remove the wires, but they were there.
Some kind of restoration exercise in the grounds of the mosque. I do not remember the details.
This is the mosque and we are definitely not in the city. It was small and unassuming and the locals, who were not expecting us, were polite and friendly.
Later in the evening, since we were staying very close to it, I decided to go back for some night-time exposures of Gur Emir, Timur’s Mausoleum.
It’s been wonderful to revisit Uzbekistan. Many thanks.
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A little bit more still to come….
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