Walking from Samarkand to the tomb of the prophet Daniel, we passed the entrance of the Shah-i-Zinda mausolea. Located next to a busy street, a group of old muslims with their Uzbek caps, came out of the huge portal, and we noticed their solemn attitude. Before heading elsewhere, they stopped, turned around, and said a last prayer. Upon our return from the outskirts of Samarkand, we went directly to the same entrance of this holy place.
Shah-i-Zinda is an important place of pilgrimage because it is believed that the tomb of a cousin of the Prophet Mohammed is located here. He is thought to have brought Islam to the region in the 7th century, hence his significance for local Muslims. The name Shah-i-Zinda means Tomb of the Living King, and refers to the tomb of the cousin, Qusam ibn-Abbas. After he was entombed here, other prominent families decided to build mausolea in the same location. Thus, the string of more than twenty mausolea that we saw now, was developed form the 11th to the 19th century. Almost inevitably, the place was demolished by the Mongols in the early 13th century, and Shah-i-Zinda assumed its current form from the 14th century. Apart from the grave of Mohammed's cousin, there are mausolea for family members of former ruler Timur, aristocracy, military, and others.
Shah-i-Zinda is built against a hill, and a main alley leads all the way to the last mausoleum. We walked the stairs, and noticed a big difference with the major sights of Samarkand. Here, almost no tourists, but pilgrims, some of them at a very advanced age, working their way up the stairs. No souvenir stalls in this holy place, no policemen or guards trying to get bribes. Instead, a serene place, where we quickly assumed a role in the background and very much felt like visitors. Old men were sitting under one of the brilliantly decorated portals of a mausoleum, making for a perfect scene with their white beards and Uzbek muslim caps. The tilework of the mausolea is truly spectacular. In some mausolea, the interior matches the outside in artistry, while in others, the inside is of a contrasting soberness.
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