Bibi Khanym mosque

Bibi-Khanym Mosque and Mausoleum

Bibi Khanym Mosque stands northeast of the famous Samarkand Registan and was completed just before Timur’s death for the purpose of being the jewel of his empire. Two of the three structures that originally formed the ensemble for Tarmelane‘s Chinese wife Bibi Khanym, are still standing as a third large madrassa was destroyed by Nadir Shah’s Persian troops when they invaded Samarkand in 1740. Nevertheless, Bibi Khanym Mosque is one of Samarkand’s remarkable sites, but also one of the most mysterious due to the heavy reconstruction and the structures that can be seen now are an almost total rebuild from the 1970s.

Once Bibi Khanym was one of the Islamic world’s largest mosques with the cupola of the main mosque 41 m high and the pishtak 38 m. During its time it pushed the construction techniques to their limit with the most trustworthy slave-artisans in the region working for it to achieve the emperor’s plan. It tells something about the ambition of the project for example that 95 elephants were shipped from India to be used to move the wagons laden with marble for the decoration of the buildings.

bibi khanym samarkand
Bibi Khanym in Samarkand

Bibi-Khanym Legends

The history of the construction has several versions and it is hard to distinguish the truth from fictional legends and folk stories. According to one main version, the majestic building of Bibi Khanum was built by Tamerlane and named after the mother of his wife. This version is confirmed by the notes of the famous Spanish traveler of that time Rui Clavijo. 

The second 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 kiss her. 

The smooch left a mark and after Timur saw it, he executed the architect and announced that women should henceforth wear veils so as not to tempt other men. 

The official version says that Bibi Khanum was built by Tamerlane himself, after his return from a very successful campaign in India. When he returned, he wished to build a huge mosque and gave it the name of his wife. 

Details of Bibi Khanym in Samarkand

Bibi Khanym archtitecture

The construction of the mosque began in May 1399 to the site site that was chosen by Tamerlane himself. He attracted numerous architects and craftsmen from many countries to the construction of this miracle of architecture to be. 

More than 500 people were engaged in the extraction in the quarries for for the construction. The immense resources appointed to the work made it possible to construct Bibi Khanum in just 5 years, which was a very short period for a construction of this scale at that time. The achievement is even more significant when considering the scale and grandiose size of the building not to mention its complex decor. 

While Timur returned after his western campaign, he was very disappointed with the construction so far and ordered the reconstruction of the portal, which he thought not high enough. The construction was finished barely before Timur’s death which means that the managed to see the gem of his empire. 

Consequently, the madrasa was destroyed during the invasion of Nadir-Shah. There is a mausoleum on the central pole of the madrasa. It is a tomb of Sarai Mulk-Khanym’s mother and two other women from her family. It is a high octahedral structure with a round drum, bearing Sufi inscriptions and is decorated with mosaics and floral ornamentation.

Bibi Khanym islamic inscriptions
Bibi Khanym

Tours to Bibi Khanym

Page updated 20.2.2021

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