When travelling through Central Asia, the one figure that comes up again and again is Amir Timur, known as Tamerlane (“Timur the Lame”) who was the first ruler of the Timurid Dynasty. Born in 1336 (or 1320), he led many military campaigns across Asia, and saw himself as the heir to Genghis Khan and his legacy. Since he was not a direct descendant of Khan and thus could not use that title, he used “Amir” (general) instead, and later married Saray Mulk Khanum, a princess of Chinggisid descent, which helped reinforced his position. He eventually became one of the most successful military commanders in history, and his empire spread over much of Central, West, and South Asia. As time passed he became concerned with his legacy but outlived his two appointed heirs – the first was his son Jahangir, who died in 1376, and the second was his favourite grandson, Muhammed Sultan (1403). He did not name another heir until he was on his deathbed a year later on a winter campaign, naming the younger brother of Muhammed Sultan as his successor. However, neither he, nor others who followed him, were able to maintain the vast empire that Timur had created during his lifetime.
Timur definitely has a mixed legacy, as he is seen in a positive light throughout much of Central Asia, but is vilified in the countries where he committed some of his worse atrocities, namely in Arabia, Iraq, Persia, and India. He virtually eliminated one branch of the Christian Church known as the “Church of the East”. Europeans liked him for defeating the Ottomans but feared his brutality as well. The kings of France and England (Charles VI and Henry IV respectively) thought he was helping to save Christianity from the Turks but others (like Henry III of Castille) thought he was a threat and sent envoys to Samarkand to ideally convert him to Christianity. In any event, his legacy, if not his dynasty, had long-reaching effects.
Gur-e-Amir was a mausoleum originally designed for Timur’s beloved grandson, Muhammad Sultan, after he died in 1403. Timur had planned to be buried in Shahrisabz, but with his sudden death on campaign in 1404, was buried alongside his grandson in this mausoleum instead. It also contains the remains of two of his sons, his other grandson Ulugh Beg, and his teacher Sayyid Baraka.
In any event, as you approach the entrance portal to the mausoleum, you see that it frames the elegant memorial behind it. Like so many of the other places we had seen on this trip, it had wonderful tiled decorations on the outer walls. Inside, there are 6 headstones that indicate the location of the tombs that lie underneath the floor. Timur’s grave is marked by a massive piece of solid jade. His sons, grandsons (his heir and Ulugh Beg), and teacher are also near.
It’s worth noting that Ulugh Beg was a noted astronomer and mathematician who built the Ulugh Beg Observatory between 1424-29 and established the most accurate measure (365 days, 6 hours, 10 minutes and 8 seconds) of the time it took the Earth to travel around the sun. This is just one minute longer than modern calculations. The observatory that he built was one of the finest in the Islamic world, and he has a crater on the moon, as well as an astroid, named after him.
This was a beautiful place to visit, but I have to admit that after visiting the other mausoleums earlier in the day, quite a few people were a bit mausoleumed-out. The grounds were lovely though, and a nice place to just have a sit.
And to end, here is one final story about the resting place of Timur. After the 17th century Samarkand fell into a long period of decline, and was basically forgotten by the world. However, in June 1941, his tomb was opened by Soviet scientist Mikhail Mikhaylovich Gerasimov. Apparently the writing on his tomb said, “When I rise from the dead, the world will tremble,” and another inscription found inside the casket said, “Whomsoever opens my tomb shall unleash an invader more terrible than I.” Three days later, Hitler launched Operation Barbarossa against the Soviet Union. Timur was reinterred with full Islamic rites in November 1942, just before the Soviet victory at the Battle of Stalingrad. Legend or coincidence?
Site: Gur-e-Amir Mausoleum (Amir Temur maqbarasi, Go’ri Amir, گورِ امیر)
Location: Samarkand, Uzbekistan