Bibi-Khanym Mosque

Top choice in Samarkand

The enormous congregational Bibi-Khanym Mosque, northeast of the Registan, was financed from the spoils of Timur's invasion of India and must have been the jewel of his empire. Once one of the Islamic world’s biggest mosques (the cupola of the main mosque is 41m high and the pishtak or entrance portal, 38m), it pushed contemporary (14th century) construction techniques to the limit, so much so that the dome started crumbling even before construction had finished.

The mosque partially collapsed in an earthquake in 1897 before being rebuilt in the 1970s and more rapidly in the years after independence.

Legend says that Bibi-Khanym, Timur’s Chinese wife, ordered the mosque built as a surprise while he was away. The architect fell madly in love with her and refused to finish the job unless he could give her a kiss. The smooch left a mark and Timur, on seeing it, executed the architect and decreed that women should henceforth wear veils so as not to tempt other men.

The interior courtyard contains an enormous marble Quran stand that lends some scale to the place. Local lore has it that any woman who crawls under the stand will have lots of children. The courtyard also contains two smaller mosques. The one on the left as you enter through the enormous main gate has an impressive unrestored interior festooned with Arabic calligraphy.