Registan, Samarkand, Uzbekistan – photo essay and tourist information
To some the Registan is the finest sight in all of Central Asia and is isn’t hyperbole to say that you must see this place before you die. Boasting three of the oldest medressas anywhere in the world, the open planned square is the centre of the UNESCO city of Samarkand and is a playground for photographers as the colours of the façades seem to change throughout the day.
Registan: a little information
Registan, which means ‘sandy place’ in Tajik, was medieval Samarkand’s commercial heart and originally boasted an extensive bazaar. It was formulated in the late Timurid empire, and can be seen as a legacy of the conqueror king Timur, who made Samarkand his capital and encouraged vast building projects that would help create the conditions for the Registan ensemble that we see today. The square, which measures roughly 110m x 60m, also served as the centre of civil life, playing host to public executions and proclamations, which were heralded by huge copper pipes called dzharchis.
Over the years the square has been shaken by earthquakes, causing extensive damage but reconstruction work undertaken during the Soviet era returned it to much of its former glory. Controversy does remain though over the extent to which the restoration could be classed as overzealous – the adding of blue outer dome to the Tilla-Kari Medressa being a case in point.
What to see
Ulugbek Medressa: Sitting majestically on the western side of the square, the Ulugbek Medressa was the first to be constructed between 1417-1420 under the auspices of Timur’s grandson – Ulugbek. The mathematician / astronomer created a centre of learning (he himself apparently taught at the school) that encouraged the leading intellectuals of the time to come and work and teach, making Samarkand one of the most important cultural centres of the age.
The building itself is characterised by its imposing iwan and portal facing the square decorated with elegant glazed tiles. The four corner domes once housed lecture halls and within the courtyard sits a mosque, with beautifully decorated interior. Surrounding the yard are dormitory cells where once a 1000 students lived.
Today, the medressa hosts a picture gallery and most of the student dorms have been turned into art and souvenir shops. In summer, mock Uzbek weddings are preformed to please the tourists, probably best avoided! You can also climb the minarets if the Ulugbek Medressa by bribing one of the more than willing police guards, they will ask for 10,000 SOM but you can pay less than half of that with a bit of negotiating. All in all though it is probably not worth the effort as the views are not nearly as stunning as they sound.
Sher Dor Medressa: Constructed between 1619–1636, the Sher Dor (which translates as lion) Medressa has been called a pale imitation of the Ulugbek across the square and its condition is certainly poorer. Its most interesting feature are the tiger looking creatures (that are meant to be lions) decorating the facade which do somewhat contravene the Islamic ban on depicting living beings on religious structures.
Tilla-Kari Medressa: The Tilla-Kari (gold-covered) Medressa was completed in 1660 and took 14 years to build. Highlights include the tranquil garden courtyard and the intricately decorated mosque that shines with gold reflecting Samarkand’s wealth. The tapered roof tricks the eye into thinking it is domed despite the fact that it is flat and today the space is dedicated to black and white photos of Samarkand including fascinating pictures of a run-down Registan in the early 20th century.
Map of Registan
How to get there
To reach Registan from Navoi, the heart of the city centre take marshrutkas #6 or #35 (600 SOM) and buses #3, #22 or #32 (400 SOM). All the vehicles are marked with ГУМ (GUM) so they are easy to spot. If speed is of the essence a taxi should cost around 3000 SOM which is the minimum charge for taxis in Samarkand.
From the airport you can catch marshruka #56 directly to the square or take marshrutka #10 or buses #45 or #60 to the nearby Bulvar (Бульвар) bus stop and walk from there. A taxi costs 5000 SOM from the airport or 3000 SOM from the main road a little outside.
Admission costs, opening times and useful information
General Admission: 14,400 SOM
Fee to climb the minaret of the Ulugbek Medressa: 5,000+ SOM
Opening hours: Apr – Oct: 9 a.m. -8 p.m. Nov – Mar: 9 a.m. – 5 p.m.
written by: Jon