Shakhrisabz is the hometown of Temur (also transliterated Timur and known as Tamerlane) and everything in Shakhrisabz is connected with his name. Temur was born in 1336 at the village of Hoja Ilghar, about 13 km south of Shakhrisabz. Temur's father Amir Taragai, his spiritual adviser Shamsedin Kulyol, and his eldest sons Jahangir and Omar Sheikh were buried here. The name Shakhrisabz is Tajik and means "green city". The Historic Centre of Shahrisabz was declared a UNESCO World Heritage site in 2000.
Archaeological excavations have found traces of occupation by farming communities in the 1st millennium BC. In the Middle Ages the town was called Kesh. It became important in the 14th century. Temur (Tamerlane) was born in a village nearby and the tribe to which he belonged controlled the city. Temur was already governor of Kesh at the age of 25. He defeated the Turkish sultan Bayezid and the Golden Horde and led triumphant campaigns in Iran, the Caucasus, India and Asia Minor. At the height of his power his kingdom stretched from Egypt to Kashgar and Kiev and Moscow were its protectorates. Timur created the vast state of Movarounnahr and became its absolute emir. He made Samarkand his capital and Shakhrizabz his second capital.
Shakhrisabz is about 60 km from Samarkand over the 1,780 m high Takhzakaracha Pass. From January to March the pass may be closed, which makes a detour of about 3 hours necessary.
Shared taxis leave Samarkand from just outside the Registon Supermarket on So'zangaron ko'chasi (Suzangaran St), just south of the Registan. The cost of a seat in a shared taxi is about 20,000 som (2017) and the travel time is about 90 minutes. Taxis might go to Kitab only, so that you have to take another taxi for the last 10 km.
Shakhrisabz is about 280 km from Bukhara via Qarshi (Karhsi). At Bukhara shared taxis leave from across the Sharq Bus Station east of the city center. The trip takes about 4 hours and costs about 12,000 som (2007). Sometimes you will have to change taxis at Qarshi (Karhsi), 120 km from Shakhrizabz.
Ruy Gonzalez de Clavijo’s Description of Sahr-i Sabz in 1403
Ruy Gonzalez de Clavijo (d. 1412), who was sent as ambassador to Tamerlane by King Henry III of Castile and Leon in Spain, passed through Shahr-i Sabz in 1403 on his way to Samarkand. Clavijo left a very interesting description of the town and its monuments, including the Ak Sarai in all its glory. Clavijo’s text follows immediately below.
The next day which was Thursday the 28th of August at the hour of mid-day mass we found ourselves come near a great city which is known as Kesh. It stands in the plain, and on all sides the land is well irrigated by streams and water channels, while round and about the city there are orchards with many homesteads. Beyond stretches the level country where there are many villages and well-peopled hamlets lying among meadows and waterlands; indeed it is all a sight most beautiful in this the summer season of the year. On these lands five crops yearly of corn are grown, vines also, and there is much cotton cultivated for the irrigation is abundant. Melon yards here abound with fruit-bearing trees in the adjacent orchards.
The city of Kesh is surrounded by an earthen rampart, having a very deep ditch crossed at the gates by draw-bridges. The lord Timur is himself a native of Kesh and his father [Taragay] also was from here. There are throughout the city many fine houses and mosques, above all a magnificent mosque which Timur has ordered to be built but which as yet is not finished. In this mosque is seen the chapel in which his father's burial place has been made, and beside this is a second chapel now being built in which it is intended that Timur himself shall be interred when the time comes. They told us that when a month or so before the date of our arrival here Timur had entered Kesh [on his way up to Samarkand] he had been much dissatisfied with the appearance of this chapel, objecting that the door-way was too low and ordering that it should be raised: and it was on this alteration the builders were now at work. In this same mosque too is seen the tomb of Prince Jahangir the eldest son of Timur [he having died in the year 1372]. The whole of this mosque with its chapels is very finely wrought in tiles that are of blue and gold, and you enter it through a great court yard planted with trees round a water tank. Here daily by the special order of Timur the meat of twenty sheep is cooked and distributed in alms, this being done in memory of his father and of his son who lie here in those chapels. As soon as we had ridden into this city of Kesh they brought us to this mosque, and here they served us for dinner with meat dishes and fruit abundantly, next carrying us on to a magnificent palace where lodgings had been provided for us.
On the following morning which was Friday they came and took us to see another great palace that was being built; and this palace they told us had been thus in hand building for the last twenty years, for though continually thus working day after day the builders were still at their work upon it. This palace of which we are now speaking had an entrance passage constructed to be of considerable length with a high portal before it, and in this entrance gallery to right and to left there were archways of brickwork encased and patterned with blue tiles. These archways led each one into a small chamber that was open having no door, the flooring being laid in blue tiles. These little rooms are for those to wait in who are in attendance on Timur when he should come here. At the end of this gallery stands another gate-way, beyond which is a great courtyard paved with white flagstones and surrounded on the four sides by richly wrought arches, and in its centre is a very large water tank. This courtyard indeed may measure some three hundred paces in its width, and beyond it you enter through a very high and spacious gateway the main buildings of the palace. This gateway is throughout beautifully adorned with very fine work in gold and blue tiles, and over the entrance are seen the figures of the Lion and the Sun, these same figures being repeated over the summit of each of the arches round the courtyard, and this emblem of the Lion and the Sun was they told us the armorial bearing of the former lord of Samarqand [whom Timur dispossessed]. We were assured that it had been Timur himself who was the builder of this great palace, but I imagine in truth that some part of it must have been built by that lord of Samarkand who lived before the time of Timur's sovereignty; for the Lion and the Sun which we saw here set up are the emblems of this former sovereign.
The special armorial bearing of Timur is the Three Circlets set... to shape a triangle, which same it is said signifies that he Timur is lord of all Three Quarters of the World. This device Timur has ordered to be set on the coins that he has struck, and on all buildings that he has erected, and it is for that reason, as I opine, that those buildings [bearing the emblem of the Lion and the Sun] were built by a lord who reigned before the time of Timur. These three circlets which, as said, are like the letter 0 thrice repeated to form a triangle, further are the imprint of Timur's seal, and again by his special order are added so as to be seen patent on all the coins struck by those princes who are become tributary to his government.
From this main portal of the courtyard just described you enter a great reception hall which is a room four square, where the walls are panelled with gold and blue tiles, and the ceiling is entirely of gold work. From this room we were taken up into the galleries, and in these likewise everywhere the walls were of gilt tiles. We saw indeed here so many apartments and separate chambers, all of which were adorned in tile work of blue and gold with many other colours, that it would take long to describe them here, and all was so marvellously wrought that even the craftsmen of Paris, who are so noted for their skill, would hold that which is done here to be of very fine workmanship. Next they showed us the various apartments where Timur was wont to be and to occupy when he came here with his wives; all of which were very sumptuously adorned as to floors and walls and ceilings. Many were the various grades of workmen still at work on building and adorning these palaces. We were shown in one that we visited a great banqueting hall which Timur was having built wherein to feast with the princesses, and this was gorgeously adorned, being very spacious, while beyond the same they were laying out a great orchard in which were planted many and divers fruit trees, with others to give shade. These stood round water tanks, beside which there were laid out fine lawns of turf. This orchard was of such extent that a very great company might conveniently assemble here, and in the summer heats enjoy the cool air beside that water in the shade of these trees. But such indeed was the richness and beauty of the adornment displayed in all these palaces that it would be impossible for us to describe the same adequately without much more leisure than we can here give to the matter. The mosque aforesaid and these palaces are a work that Timur has begun and is yet perfecting, all being in the first place wrought to do honour his father's memory who lies buried here, and next, as we have said, because he Timur is a native of this city of Kesh.
Though indeed Timur was born here, yet he was not by descent a citizen of Kesh, being in truth a nomad of the Chagatay clansmen. These are Tartars who originally had their abode in Tartary, but who migrated hither when their countryside was overrun in past times and conquered [by the Mongols under Chingis Khan]. All this we shall explain to you more in detail presently, and the Chagatays who have been frequently mentioned in our narrative are so named as belonging to this clan. The father of Timur was a man of good family, allied by blood to the clan of Chagatay, but he was a noble of small estate, having only some three or four riders to his back, namely his personal followers. He lived at a village not far from the city of Kesh, for gentle-folk of his sort have ever preferred the country to the town. His son Timur was in the beginning no more than he had been, and only able just to keep himself, having of his following some four or five horsemen....
- Jadgar Valomi Medressah, Mosque and Ark at Eski Jakkabog
- Temur's Cave and Dinosaur Tracks in the Hisor Mountain Range on the border to Tajikistan
- 1 Ak Saray Palace (White Palace). 09:00-18:00. Ak Saray means "white palace". The term "ak" has also the meaning "generous", "aristocratic" or "majestic". Temur's chronicler Sherif Eddin Ali Yezdi reported that the world has not seen a similar building before the point of which extends from earth to the height of heaven. The palace was founded in the hours predicted by astrology. Its construction was begun in 1380 after Temur's conquest of Konye Urgench in Khorezm. Artisans from Khorezm were brought here to work on the palace and create its rich decoration. In 1396 the construction works were almost completed. The Spanish ambassador Clavigo reports that the decoration works still continued in 1404. The dimensions of the building can be perceived when looking at the gate towers: the two towers were 50 m high and had an arch with a span of 22 m. The buildings were destroyed in the 16th cent. by order of the ruler of Bukhara, Abdullah Khan. The legend tells that Abdullah Khan was riding to Shahrizabs and saw the palace at a distance. He sent a messenger to the city as he thought that he was already near of it. The messengers nearly died of exhaustion, but the palace was still far away. The khan got angry and ordered the palace to be destroyed. The architecture of the palace is similar to Khoja Ahmed Yasavi Mausoleum in Turkestan/Kazakhstan which was built on the orders of Temur. Archaeological excavations south of Ak Saray have revealed the rich decorated cover of the floor and rich architectural decoration consisting of majolica, marble and combination of terracotta and ornamental mosaic. Only the piles of the portals are left from Ak-Saray. The piles originally were round towers with spiral stairs inside. Today, the towers are 38 m high. Originally, they reached a height of 50 m. The size of the palace is impressive: the main courtyard was about 120 m wide and 240 m long. Calculations from the proportions of the surviving elements let us assume that the length of the main portal was 70 m and that the towers at the corners were more than 80 m high. The 22 m wide span of the arch of the main entrance was the largest in Central Asia. The mosaic and majolica work in the niche of the portal is particularly refined. The delicate foliage ornamentation also contains calligraphic inscriptions of verses from the Quran as well as a few secular inscriptions. In the middle of the decoration an inscription gives the date of the completion 798 (1395/1396) and the name of the craftsman Muhammad Yusuf Tebrizi from Tabriz/Persia. The legend tells that the architect after Temur had explained his plans started to make foundations blocks from clay mixed with gold. When Temur asked why he did that, the architect answered that he wanted to be sure that Temur was determined to construct a building that required vast expenditures. 1000 som.
- 2 Dorus Saodat Complex. Dorus Saodat means "repository of power". This vast complex was the burial place of the ruling family and contained a prayer hall, a mosque and accommodation for the religious community and pilgrims. The main facade was decorated with white marble and the tomb of Temur is a masterpiece of art of this period. Dorus Saodat Complex dates from the same time as Ak-Saray. Construction works began in 1379. The idea was to create a monumental building combining tomb, ziaratkhona (common hall for morning ceremonies), mosque, room for clergy, Quran readers and pilgrims. The main facade of the building had a powerful portal and its dome was only a little bit smaller than Ak-Saray. The building of Ak-Saray was intended to turn Shahrizabs into the second capital of the empire. The creation of the Dorus Saodat expressed Temur's wish to turn Shahrizabs into the spiritual center of Movarounahr. Each pile contained a mausoleum. Today only the left part of the portal is preserved, containing the tomb of Jahangir. The buildings of the Dorus Saodat Complex were destroyed by the forces of the Sheybanid ruler Abdullah Khan in the second half of the 16th cent., but the mausoleum of Jahangir survived.
- Tomb of Jehangir. Jehangir was Timur's eldest son who died at the age of 22. The mausoleum consists of a high square room with the arch on the axis. The prototype of this construction was the Mausoleum of Turabekh Khanum in Konye Urgench, dating from the 1360s. The mausoleum is also the resting place of Timur's second son Umar Sheikh who was killed at the age of 29 during the siege of Kurd in Iran.
- 3 Crypt of Temur (behind Jahangir's mauseolum). Temur's crypt was discovered in 1963 in an underground room. The room is plain except of inscriptions from the Quran on the arches. In the middle of the room is a large stone casket with inscriptions about Temur. It is therefore supposed that the crypt was intended for him. Temur, however, is buried in the Gur Emir Mausoleum in Samarkand. The marble sarcophagus has a large space on the top which was left for the future epitaph of Temur.
- 4 Dorut Tilavat (west of Dorus Saodat complex). The Dorut Tilavat ensemble is part of the remains of Temur's memorial ensemble of burials and religious buildings. The buildings were erected mainly during the reign of Ulugbek. This complex contains the graves of Temur's father Taragay and his spiritual tutor Sheikh Shamsaddin Kulyal.
- Mausoleum of Sheikh Shamseddin Kulyal (behind Kok Gumbaz). Timur's father Taragay died in 1360. When Temur came to power 10 years later he ordered the body of his father to be moved near the grave of the much respected Sheikh Shamsaddin Kulyal. It is said that Temur explained his military success by Sheikh Shamsaddin Kulyal's prayers, Zaynuddin Havasi's care and Sayid Bereke's blessing. Sheikh Shamsaddin Kulyal died in 1371 and Taragay was placed near his grave two years later. Sheikh Shamsaddin Kulyal was a famous Sufi teacher. He was also called "Amiri Kalyaon (Great Emir)" and was the teacher of the famous Sheikh Bahauddin from Bukhara and of Temur's father Taragay.
- 5 Kok Gumbaz Mosque (Friday Mosque), Ipak Yoli. 09:00-18:00. The mosque was built in 1435 under the reign of Ulugbek opposite the mausoleum of Kulyal on the same axe. It is a large Friday mosque used for public prayers at Fridays. The name Kok Gumbaz means "blue dome". It was built by Temur's grandson Ulug Bek in honour of his father Shah Rukh. Inscriptions from the Quran cover great parts of the dome. 2500 som.
- Gumbazi Seydon Mausoleum (south of Kulyal Mausoleum). This mausoleum was built by order of Ulegbek in 1437/38 - according to the inscriptions on the walls for his own descendants. It is not clear whether any of his relatives are buried in it. The mausoleum contains several marble gravestones of the 15th to 17th cent. They mention names of seyids from Termiz and the monument was called Gumbazi Seydon ("Seyids' Cupola"). The design of the interior is typical for the time of Ulugbek with decorations of blue colours on a white background.
- 6 Chorsu Bazaar and Baths. The covered bazaar was built in the town center at the crossroads of two main streets in the form of a octagon with a central cupola. The octagon has entrances into corner rooms. Along the perimeter of the octagon were shops. The building is dominated by the high central dome. As the other markets in the Middle East Chorsu has no decorations. Its effect is defined by its architectural forms. The building dates from the 18th century. The baths were rebuilt in the 18th century on the site of the 15th-century baths. They are heated by an elaborate network of underground conduits and are still in use today.
- 7 Amir Temur Museum, Ipak Yoli. 09:00-17:00. The museum has a model of Temur's empire from Egypt to Kashgar and some artefacts from Buddhist and Zoroastrian times. 2000 som.
Shahrizabs is renowned for a distinctive type of embroidery, a very flat stitch that covers the base fabric entirely. Purses and pillows with embroideries are famous throughout Uzbekistan.
- Kulolik Chaikhana, Ipak Yoli.
- Kafe Sharqona, Opposite Hotel Shahrisabz Orient. Grill restaurant serving chicken, lamb and rice dishes. Meal for two including beer less than 30,000 som (2017).
- 1 Schachrisabz Orient Star Hotel, 26, Ipak Juli Str, ☏ . In the center of the old town, 30 rooms. The hotel is frequented by tour groups, advance reservation is advisable.
- 2 Hotel Bek, Ok Saroi, 58/1, Shakhrisyabz, 181305, ☏ . A family run hotel just outside the centre of town, nice clean rooms with en-suite bathroom, TV, Wi-Fi, and air conditioning. English spoken by the manager. Lovely people, very helpful. It is possible to get marshrutka number 9 just outside the hotel to/from the centre for 1000 som per person. 140,000 som for a double room, breakfast included.
Buses and shared taxis leave from the long distance bus station south of the town. There are about 6 busses to Tashkent per day, travel time 8 hours, costs 4000 som (2007). Shared taxis need about 5 hours and a seat costs about 12000 som (2007).
Shakhrisabz is about 60 km from Samarkand over the 1780 m high Takhzakaracha Pass. From Jan to Mar the pass may be closed, which makes a detour of about 3 hours necessary. The cost of a seat in a shared taxi is about 20,000 som (2017) and the travel time is about 90 min. You might have to take a taxi to Kitab, about 10 km from Shakhrisabz and change taxis there. Shared taxis arrive at Samarkand at Suzangaran, about 100 m south of the Registan marshrutka stop.
Shakhrisabz is about 280 km from Bukhara via Qarshi (Karhsi). The trip takes about 4 hours and costs about 12,000 som (2007). Sometimes you will have to change taxis at Qarshi (Karhsi), 120 km from Shakhrisabz. At Bukhara shared taxis arrive across the Sharq Bus Station east of the city center.