Following a day exploring Samarkand I took a day trip with Steven and the gay bank managers to Timur’s birthplace – Shakhrisabz – which means “Green City” in Persian. It was a great journey over the mountains in an elderly Lada with the driver crouched over the steering wheel and refusing to leave 3rd gear. We made it (eventually) and found fantastic views over the mountains that form the border with Afghanistan - all snow capped and very majestic....it was very tempting to have a go at crossing them (as apparently the boarder to Termiz is OK at the moment)....but I managed to resist. The Aussie would just be too jealous.
Formerly known as Kesh (meaning "heart-pleasing"), and tentatively identified with the ancient Nautaca, Shakhrisabz is amongst Central Asia’s most ancient cities. UNESCO are happy with the city being considered 2,700 years old – making it as old as Rome. Alexander the Great's troops wintered here in 4BC enabling Alexander to meet his wife Roxanna. His general Ptolemy captured the satrap of Bactria here (who’d murdered Daruis III of Persia and was the pretender to the Persian throne) Bessus, at Nautaca thus ending the once great Achmaemenid Empire. The medieval author Mahkmud ibn Vali later wrote: “Kesh – of all the cities of Movarounnahr is considered as one of the most beautiful places of all the world!” He’d obviously not stopped by Samarkand at that point.
On April 9th 1346 Shahkrisabz witnessed the birth of a momentous leader – Timur, to the family of a minor local chief. During his early warring years the city enjoyed considerable patronage. At the age of 25 Timur was already Governor of Kesh and ambitious with it: in a tale akin to Robert the Bruce and his spider, it is said that as a young boy Timur watched an ant climbing up the stem of a blade of grass – creeping up and sliding down over and over again, until it reached the top. Timur took from this experience the bon mot that if one tries and tries again, even the smallest can achieve great things.
He certainly made a good job of applying himself and did not let coming from the middle of nowhere get in his way. During his time he defeated and captured the Turkish Sultan Bayazed and beat the Golden Hoard, making triumphant campaigns to Iran, the Caucasus, India and Asia Minor. Having created the vast state of Movarounnahr and made himself the Emir, Timur chose Samarkand to be his capital. However, he always remembered his home town, as Bobur, descendent of Tiumr and the founder of the Mogul dynasty put it: “Since Kesh was Timur’s birthplace, he made a fantastic job to make the city ‘pedestal of throne’”. Never one for shows of modesty, he did this by employing premier architects, builders and craftsmen to construct majestic buildings embodying his magnificence and power.
Shahkrisabz did however fall from favour. The Emir of Bukhara, Abdullah Khan II, mostly destroyed the city in the 16th century during his attempt to seize the Shaybanid throne. According to legend, he had the city destroyed in a fit of rage over the death of his favorite horse from exhaustion on a steep approach to the city, but was later overcome with remorse for the damage he had done. The city struggled for autonomy under Bukharan rule and the Russians conquered it in 1870, allegedly in revenge for the murder of a Tsarist tax collector.