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Gur Emir Mausoleum

Samarkand, Uzbekistan

The Gur Emir, or Tomb of Tamerlane, is both from the historic and the romantic point of view the most interesting sight of Samarkand. Like madrassahs, the Islamic monumental tomb is and architectural creation of Central Asia that has been imitated all around the Islamic realm. Composed of cylinders, domes or cones, and conisting of pure geometrical art, Gur Emir, is among the finest.

According to the manuscripts, the mausoleum was erected in 1403-1404 by order of Temur, and was intended for his favorite grand-son Muhammad Sultan. But later it became family mausoleum of Temurids. On his death at the age 69, Temur’s body was perfurmed with rosewater, musk and camphor, and was placed in a coffin decorated with precious stones and carried to his beloved Samarkand. He died rather tamely of old age in 1405, on the verge of an ambitious campaign to conquer China’s Ming dynasty.

The mausoleum stands behind an impressive portal flanked by twin ceramic-covered columns, in a small sanctuary set in a quiet tree-shaded square. It is surrounded by humble houses and alleys that have yet to be bulldozed down.

Build of mud brick and faced with coloured glaze, mosaic and ceramic tiles of different colours, Gur Emir is composed of octagonal hall, crowned by a fluted cantaloupe-shaped dome atop a cylindrical base. The dome is overlaid with turquise decorated with dark blue and yellow motif, while around its base the inscription in Arabic traced in large white calligraphic characters outlined in blue reads :
“Only God is Immortal”.
Inside the sepulchre, a darkened passage leads to the domed octagonal hail, which is 115 feet in height. Soft light filters through the fretted opening, illuminating the gilded dome and falling on a tiled and carved niche. Plaster
inscriptions describe Timur’s genealogy and heroic deeds.

Up to eye level, the chamber walls are clad with green alabaster hexagon tiles, while higher up the hail is ringed with alternating bands of calligraphy and blue and gold geometric paintwork. The dome, almost Moorish in decor, is gilded with six and a half pounds of gold. Beneath the dome is a stone railing enclosing seven tombs. The center tomb, which is darker in contrast to the others made of white
marble, is that of Amir Timur. It is, however, no ordinary stone, but a massive monolith of dark green, almost black jade, intricately carved.
“Happy is he who renounced the world before the world renounced him”.

Green Nephrite

Twenty years after the death of Temur, his grandson Mirzu Ulugh Bek, then the ruler of Central Asia, at the head of the army departed on a campaign agains Mongolia. The campaign was successful. On their way home, the participants in the campaign loaded special carts with two large blocks of nephrite, that were in summer headquarters of Mongols and for which the Chinese Emperors were said to have offered large sums of money, for this stone had been used at a place of worship in Chinese emperor’s palace. These block were taken to Samarkand to be carved and inscribed for use as Temur’s tombstone in the Gur Emir Mausoleum. In 1740, the Persian warlord Nadir Shah stole the stone, but it broke in two and he started to have a run of extremely bad luck. His advisors urged that he return the stone to its rightful place immediately. Now, this tombsone measures six feet in lenght and 17 inches wide and 14 inches thick, and the largest known specimen of jade in existence.

The Curse of Tamerlane

After Tamerlane’s death, his family buried him in the Gur Emir Mausoleum and other famous descendants were later buried there as well. In June 1941, Samarkand was part of the Soviet Union, and Soviet scientists came to the mausoleum and opened sarcophagus to study the body of Temur and found the inscription:
“Whomsoever opens my tomb shall unleash an invader more terrible than I”.
Hours later, Hitler invaded Russia. Five weeks after the great Emir was reinterred in 1942, the Germans surrendered at Stalingrad. Examination of the remains in Temur’s tomb confirmed that the body was tall, as was reported in the histories, and had been wounded in the leg and arm.
Gur Emir Mausoleum Location

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