The three UNESCO world sites I visited are: Samarkand, Bokhara, and the inner city of Kiva. Timur, or Tamarlane, who reigned in 1400, conquered India and was known to be one of the most powerful rulers in history. He was responsible for developing many of the building complexes in Samarkand.
He conquered India when Alexander the Great tried many centuries before and failed. Timur knew about the use of elephants in the campaign that beat Aexander. Timur released rats and mice against the elephants in his successful battle. The elephants were so scared that they fled, so the story goes.
The flowering of the Islamic culture occurred between 700-1300 AD, when Europe slumped from the Middle to the Dark Ages. Mathematics, science, and medicine flourished at this time. It wasn’t until Ghenghis Khan swept down from Mongolia and obliterated everything in his path when Central Asia declined.
The mosques, madrasahs (academic institutions) and the mausoleums were built during this golden period. The sites were renovated or new buildings were rebuilt on the original sites. The ongoing renovations resulted in varying degrees of success, but the beauty and magnificence of the original concepts of Islamic Architecture are still evident and being protected under the UNESCO umbrella.
At the time these buildings were built, their beauty was never allowed to be perfect. There was always a degree of incomplete construction by intent. Layouts of building sites or facades were asymmetrical, building beams were left uncut and projected from the eaves, or tiles were unfinished from the surface to reflect the imperfect nature of the human endeavor in paying respect to respect to Allah.
Visitors to these sites often find these conditions curious and strange. I found that it made you study and look at the buildings more closely. They didn’t seem so static and were more alive. It felt as if something was going to be corrected on the building in the next day, even it if it took centuries!
Coming to Central Asia helped me to understand the beginnings of the trade along the Silk Road, and the innovative people it took to forge their way into China. The environment, culture, and abilities of the Sogdians (originally from Persia) provided the tools and desire for them to seek the intercourse with other lands and people. They will surface again as we traced their steps along the Northern Silk Road.