The story of the Prophet Muhammad’s cousin
The legend says that in the 7th-century, missionaries and preachers of Islam headed by Kusam (also Qutham) Ibn Abbas reached Samarkand. The religion of Zoroastrianism dominated the region at that time, and many people were sceptical and even hostile towards the propaganda of a new religion.
One day, when Kusam ibn Abbas was on his way to prayer, he was captured and beheaded. However, according to legend, Saint Khazrat Khizr appeared to the Prophet’s cousin and carried his body and head to the well of life, drinking its water and gaining healing and immortality. Having descended into a deep well (an underground cave), he lived and prayed for his faith. The Koran mentions that those who have died in the name of Allah should not be considered dead; they are still alive. Therefore the name of the complex is “the living king”.
During the Soviet times, the time of aggressive atheism, it was written that this tomb was not actual and invented to attract pilgrims. They even said that Kusam Ibn Abbas was unlikely in Samarkand. However, since the 11th century, thousands of people have been coming to this place with their prayers and requests.
The construction of Shakhi-Zinda
The date of death on Kusam ibn Abbas’s tomb is marked 676/677; however, the mausoleum above his tomb appeared only in the 11th century. The mausoleum became a complex’s core, and it was considered a great honour and privilege to be buried next to his tomb. Shortly afterwards, other mausoleums were built in the 11th and 12th centuries, but the complex was devastated by Genghis Khan’s troops in the 13th century.
The Shakhi-Zinda received its final form as the “Street of Mausoleums” in the 14th and 15th centuries. The architectural complex is famous for well-preserved glazed decoration from the 14th-15th centuries. Some mausoleums from this era were built for the female part of Tamerlane’s family: his sisters, nieces, his wives, and some of his military leaders, who were honoured to get their mausoleum. The construction of buildings in this complex continued up to the 19th century. The structure of the Shakhi-Zinda complex took almost 1000 years.
The pearl of the complex is the mausoleum of Shadi Mulk aka, a niece of Amir Timur. She was known far beyond Samarkand for her beauty. But one day, she fell sick with an unknown disease that no doctor could cure. Shadi Mulk died in the arms of her famous uncle. The uncle ordered the construction of a mausoleum that would always remind his niece’s beauty. The façade of the mausoleum is decorated with glazed terracotta and majolica.
Today, Shakhi-Zinda is a centre of pilgrimage associated with the tomb of the Prophet Muhammad’s cousin, Kusam ibn Abbas. The place is always crowded, especially on weekends, as many locals visit the site. If you want to take photographs, you should visit the complex in the morning; generally, light conditions are the best.