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Uzbekistan: Registan

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Registan | Uzbekistan | Asia

[Visited: June 2010]

As soon as we had installed ourselves in a guesthouse in Samarkand, we headed to the Registan. This, after all, is the main sight of not only Samarkand, but also the entire Central Asian region. We were running out of time: the sun was going down, and we were just in time to catch the last rays of sunlight on the majestic Sher Dor ("having tigers") medressa. The decorations in its facade are special: they represent tiger-like animals with a human-faced sun chasing small white deer, making an exception to the rule of not depicting animals or human beings. We tried to walk around the main plaza between the three buildings, but one of the many guards made clear that, unless we paid him, we were supposed to leave. Not just because of the fleeing light, but also surprised by the outright attempt to bribe and our refusal to play the game, made us take a seat on the stands at the other side of the plaza. Here, we waited until the bright colours of the tilework on the medressas dissolved, and the shapes of the buildings and minarets faded into silhouettes in the night. It was time for dinner.

Picture of Registan (Uzbekistan): The three medressas of the Registan at sunset

The next morning, we made sure to arrive at the Registan very early - well before sunrise. Passing the empty Registan, we walked to the backside of the Sher Dor medressa, to the east, where we saw the sun colouring the sky before it appeared on the horizon, tore itself loose, and started its daily climb in the sky. The tiles on the wall were set on fire by the sun, and the initial orange glow gave way to make the blue and green tiles stand out in the light brown bricks of the wall. We walked back through the garden, where we found several women in veils exercising and playing football. We stopped at the corner between the Tilla-Kari medressa and the Sher Dor. Much more than the day before, we realized the beauty of this place with the intricate decorations covering the buildings and minarets. Originally meaning Sandy Place in Persian and Tajik, the square that was gradually unveiling its secrets and exquisiteness before our eyes had functioned as a market square, a place for parade festivals, but also public executions. But now, it has evolved into a major tourist destination - the original function of the medressas has since long been lost. Instead, early guards approached us to ask for money to take us to the top of the minarets - but we had decided not to play the game, which only made them start bargaining on the price of their bribe. A pity that such a remarkable place has evolved into a shady opportunity to get money from officials. They did a good job anyway - several other foreigners did pay and got in.

Picture of Registan (Uzbekistan): Typical rib-design of one of the domes of the Sher Dor medressa

It was still well before (official) opening time of the Registan, so we continued our explorations of the city, only to come back much later that day. This time, we entered the medressas, and started by visiting the Ulugbek medressa which, built in the 15th century, is the oldest medressa. Here, we found a pleasant courtyard with cherry trees (they tasted a little sour), and, in what used to be the dormitories of the students, little souvenir shops. The courtyard was already completely shaded, and we continued our visit of the medressas with the Tilla-Kari, the newest medressa completed in 1660. Located right between the two other medressas, it has had the function of mosque. Even so, it has an extensive courtyard which was more lively than the one of Ulugbek. On the western side, we visited the mosque itself, and even though we knew it had to be attractive, we were baffled by its dazzling elegance. Much gold, but also bright blue and purple, have been used in the mosaics on the walls; the brilliance of this place is hard to describe. The ceiling, even though flat, has been designed in such a way that it seems domed when you see it from the floor below, while the honeycombed corners shine. If it were not for the many visitors, I would have lied down on one of the thick carpets on the floor to stare at the incredible artistry of this hall. Instead, we continued to the Sher Dor medressa, finished in 1636 - the one with the lion/tigers on its facade. Like the other medressas, the courtyard of the Sher Dor has since long stopped to give access to dormitories for religious students. Here, preparations were under way for an evening with drinks and dance for tourists. We were out in time to still see the late afternoon rays of sunlight shine on the portal of the medressa where the felines were still chasing the deer. When the buildings again turned into proud silhouettes in the early night, it was time to find dinner. But how different would the evening end when we entered a huge double wedding party a little west of the Registan - dancing on vodka with the local Muslims: a completely different story...

Picture of Registan (Uzbekistan): Richly decorated corner of the Tilla-Kari medressa mosque
Picture of Registan (Uzbekistan): Side-view of the dome and towers of the Sher Dor medressa
Picture of Registan (Uzbekistan): Golden, shiny ceiling of the mosque of the Tilla-Kari medressa
Picture of Registan (Uzbekistan): Green and blue minaret and dome of the Tilla-Kari medressa
Picture of Registan (Uzbekistan): Mihrab in the Tilla-Kari medressa
Picture of Registan (Uzbekistan): Top of a minaret of the Sher Dor medressa
Picture of Registan (Uzbekistan): Geometrical decorations on the Sher Dor medressa
Picture of Registan (Uzbekistan): The main portal of the Sher Dor medressa, recognized by the tigers
Picture of Registan (Uzbekistan): Sunrise over the wall of the Sher Dor medressa
Picture of Registan (Uzbekistan): Tilla-Kari and Sher Dor medressa at the Registan seen from the gardens in the east
Picture of Registan (Uzbekistan): Side view of the Tilla-Kari medressa
Picture of Registan (Uzbekistan): Ulugbek medressa: decorated arches in the courtyard
Picture of Registan (Uzbekistan): Arched portals in the Tilla-Kari medressa

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