Gate of Ak Saray palace, built during time of Timur (Tamerlane), Shakhrisabz, Uzbekistan.

© Poliorketes/Shutterstock

Ak-Saray Palace


Just north of the centre, Timur’s summer palace has as much grandeur per square centimetre as anything in Samarkand. There’s actually little left except bits of the gigantic, 38m-high pishtak (entrance portal), covered with gorgeous, unrestored filigree-like mosaics. The crumbling relic will please critics of Samarkand’s zealous restoration efforts: indeed, coming here will give you some idea of how Samarkand's buildings would have looked a century ago.

Ak-Saray was probably Timur’s most ambitious project – work began in 1380 and took some 24 years to complete. Its creation followed a successful campaign in Khorezm and the ‘import’ of many of its finest artisans. Check to see if it's possible to climb to the top of the pishtak, as the stairway was closed in 2017 after an accident. The arch was a staggering 22.5m wide, and collapsed 200 years ago.

A new statue of Timur stands in what was the palace centre, giving you a sense of the huge scale of the original palace. It’s not uncommon to see 10 weddings at a time posing here for photos at weekends, creating quite a mob of meringue. Ak-Saray has been a Unesco World Heritage Site since 2000.

Just to the north is an impressive section of old city walls and the restored Samarkand Darwaza gate.

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