Shah-i-Zinda

Shah-i-Zinda information

Samarkand (Samarqand) , Uzbekistan
Address
Street Shahizinda
Prices
admission 6000S
Opening hours
7am-8pm Apr-Oct, 9am-5pm Nov-Mar
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Lonely Planet review

Samarkand’s most moving and beloved site is this stunning avenue of mausoleums, which contains some of the richest tilework in the Muslim world. The name, which means ‘Tomb of the Living King’, refers to its original, innermost and holiest shrine – a complex of cool, quiet rooms around what is probably the grave of Qusam ibn-Abbas, a cousin of the Prophet Mohammed who is said to have brought Islam to this area in the 7th century.

A shrine to Qusam existed here on the edge of Afrosiab long before the Mongols ransacked it in the 13th century. Shah-i-Zinda began to assume its current form in the 14th century as Timur and later Ulugbek buried their family and favourites near the Living King.

After remarkably surviving more than seven centuries with only minor touch-up work, many of the tombs were aggressively and controversially restored in 2005. As a result, much of the brilliant mosaic, majolica and terracotta work you see today is not original.

The most beautiful tomb is the Shodi Mulk Oko Mausoleum (1372), resting place of a sister and niece of Timur, second on the left after the entry stairs. The exquisite majolica and terracotta work here – notice the minuscule amount of space between the tiles – was of such exceptional quality that it merited almost no restoration.

Shah-i-Zinda is an important place of pilgrimage, so enter with respect and dress conservatively. At the end of the pathway between the mausoleums, the complex opens up into Samarkand's main cemetery, which is a fascinating place to walk.