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Bibi Khanum Mosque (Bibi-Khanym Mosque)

Highlights of Uzbekistan | Bibi Khanum Mosque (Bibi-Khanym Mosque)

Highlights of Uzbekistan | Bibi Khanum Mosque (Bibi-Khanym Mosque)

Timur (Tamerlane) saw himself as a successor of Genghis Khan and in the 14th century went on to conquer the separate khanates to rule them under one empire. His capital was his hometown, Samarkand (in present-day Uzbekistan), a wealthy city during the days of the Silk Road. This is where he built his congregational mosque, the Bibi Khanum Mosque (also spelled Bibi-Khanym Mosque). The gigantic domed mosque, named after Timur’s wife and located in front of the madrasa (Islamic religious school) where she was buried, was built from 1399 to 1404 and became the centrepiece of his imperial capital, along with Registan Square.

Bibi Khanum Mosque in Samarkand, Uzbekistan

Timur built the mosque with the spoils of his military campaign. He was said to have employed architects from Shiraz, Iran and Delhi, India and brought in stone columns carried by elephants. This gesture towards lore might have been influenced by the massive scale by which the mosque was constructed. The Bibi Khanum Mosque was based on the four-iwan design already popular in Central Asia, but it also pushed contemporary construction techniques to their limit. The builders and architects, on Timur’s orders, created a 41-metre-high cupola and a 38-metre-high entrance portal, as well as an enormous marble rahla or Koran stand made from marble blocks. This ambitious project surpassed the monumentality of previous constructions erected in the region, but it was sadly also rushed and led to problems of structural integrity.

Despite the problems, the Bibi Khanum Mosque and the other monuments in Timur’s city square in Registan started a hunger for massive structures among Central Asian rulers. Timur also influenced mosque ornamentation, particularly the use of colour. You can see this in the beautiful decoration and inscriptions on the mosque and his other monuments.

The Bibi Khanum Mosque underwent systematic restorations in the 20th century. The mosque was inscribed on the UNESCO World Heritage List in 2001 as part of the historic town of Samarkand. You can travel from Tashkent, Uzbekistan’s capital, to Samarkand via high-speed rail.

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