Samarkand, Uzbekistan

Jacobi’s Stay in Samarkand: December 7 to 10, 1932

The city of Samarkand, Uzbekistan, has a long and rich history. As a testament to its age, parts of the city date as far back as 1500 BCE to the Early Iron Age. Located along the Silk Road, merchants brought goods from Europe, China, the Middle East, and India to Samarkand’s markets. In addition to its prosperity as a center of trade, the city is located between two rivers, the Darya and Syr Darya Rivers, in the oasis of Zarafashan. The rich soil surrounding Samarkand made it the agricultural center of Central Asia.

As a nexus of trade and agricultural production, Samarkand was a highly desirable city. Over the years, it was sought after by some of the most powerful conquerors and empires in history, such as the Achaemenid king Darius, the Sogdian rulers, Alexander the Great, and the Sassanians, before it was claimed by the armies of the Islamic conquest in the 8th century CE (Yücel 154). In 1220 CE Genghis Khan sacked the city of Samarkand, and the great Timur established the city as his capital in 1369 CE.

Timur made sure his capital reflected the might and glory of his empire. He expanded the city with suburbs named after major cities Timur conquered, such as Baghdad, Damascus, Cairo, and Sultaniya (Yücel 158-159, Marozzi 210-211). As part of his conquests, Timur brought artisans from newly conquered territories—masons, builders, and gem-cutters from Delhi; silversmiths, gunsmiths, and rope-makers from Asia Minor (Marozzi 208)—to embellish his capital, so that Samarkand was one of the world’s centers of arts and sciences (Yücel 159). Some of the world renowned monuments Timur commissioned for Samarkand are the Bibi Khanum Mosque, the Gur-I Amir Mausoleum, and the Shah-I Zinda funerary complex.

Along with its architectural splendor, the city was home to a diverse population from across Timur’s Empire, including a multi-ethnic Muslim population, as well as Orthodox Greeks, Armenians, Catholics, Jacobites, Nestorians, Hindus, and Zoroastrians (Marozzi 208). Samarkand’s rich cultural atmosphere, scientific knowledge, and artistic innovations earned its reputation as one of the great cities of the world.

Lotte Jacobi visited Samarkand from December 7th to 10th, 1932, and photographed monuments, the bazaar, and other scenes of everyday life.

Contributor: Marina Schneider

Works Cited:

Grove Encyclopedia of Islamic Art and Architecture. Edited by Jonathan Bloom and Sheila Blair.

Marozzi, Justin. Tamerlane Sword of Islam, Conqueror of the World. Cambridge, MA: Da Capo Press, 2004.

Soucek, Svat. A History of Inner Asia. Cambridge University Press, 2000.

Yücel, Muala Uydu. “Samarkand: Queen of All Cities.” Tourism in Central Asia: Cultural Potential and Challenges. Ed. Mahmood A. Khan, CRC Press, 2016, 150-171.