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Notes on the Geography of Uzbekistan: Samarkand: Gur Emir

The Gur Emir or "king's tomb" was built at the order of Tamerlane not for himself but for his grandson Mohammed Sultan, who died in battle in 1403.  Nonetheless, it became Tamerlane's tomb as well, along with that of Ulug Beg, another grandson.

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Uzbekistan: Samarkand: Gur Emir picture 1

Photographs from 1900 show the dome intact but the pishtaq rising only to the arch; the right minaret is gone, and the left one is truncated at the muqarnas, those honeycomb brackets near the top. The pishtaq is surprisingly modest, given Tamerlane's inclination toward gigantism, but that may be because it was added later, at the order of Ulug Beg in 1434.  The dome, however, is structurally sophisticated.  There's an inner dome, relatively flat.  Then there's the envelope of the outer dome, so thinly walled that it cannot support itself.  Instead, it is supported by a network of iron bars connecting it to the lower dome.

Uzbekistan: Samarkand: Gur Emir picture 2

From the back, showing the characteristic banai tilework.

Uzbekistan: Samarkand: Gur Emir picture 3

The masonry is nicely revealed when the facing is gone.

Uzbekistan: Samarkand: Gur Emir picture 4

The inscription, in white, is a reminder that only God is immortal. 

Uzbekistan: Samarkand: Gur Emir picture 5

The interior, renovated, is of lapis and gold leaf.

Uzbekistan: Samarkand: Gur Emir picture 6

Does English have a word that for leopards when leonine does for lions? The walls here need one.

Uzbekistan: Samarkand: Gur Emir picture 7

These are cenotaphs; the tombs proper are in the basement.

Uzbekistan: Samarkand: Gur Emir picture 8

The surrounding screen, or muqsura, is alabaster.

Uzbekistan: Samarkand: Gur Emir picture 9

Tamerlane's is the dark one, an immense block of nephrite jade from Mongolia.


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