The centre of the ancient city of Kesh was located about 12 kilometres north of the present city centre in the area of the present-day suburb of Kitab. During the Mongol invasion, the old town was almost completely destroyed. Instead of rebuilding their homeland, the inhabitants decided to rebuild the city a little further south.

Shakhrisabz – hometown of tamerlane

The city is closely associated with the name Amir Timur (also known as Tamerlan in the west). The great general and conqueror was born near the town in the village of Khodja Ilgar. He originated from the nomadic Barlas tribe who immigrated in the 13th century and settled and assimilated in the region. Timur spent his childhood and youth in Shakhrisabz and began his political career here.

After Timur was able to expand his power in the 14th century, he briefly considered making Shakhrisabz his capital. However, he decided on Samarkand because of the better location. Nevertheless, he did not forget his old homeland. He let build his biggest palace Ak Saray in Shakhrisabz, which became his summer residence. In addition, extensive gardens were laid out on his order. The city, which until then had still been called Kesh, was renamed Shakhrisabz (Persian for “green city”). Furthermore, Timur’s father and two of his sons are buried in the city. A simple crypt was also prepared for Timur himself; however, after his death, he was not buried there, but in the Gur-Emir Mausoleum in Samarkand.

Already at the beginning of his reign, Timur gathered many artisans in Shakhrisabz, who were commissioned to build palaces, mosques and mausoleums. He left the city surrounded by a stone fortress wall, which was flanked by semi-circular towers and surrounded by ditches. The four city gates were located on the axes; from the gates, there were two main traffic routes through the city, which crossed in the middle. Thus, the city was divided into four sectors. At the south-eastern gate, there was a cemetery with a ceremonial complex of cult buildings. At the north-eastern gate, Timur had his palace Ak Saray built. The north-western sector was inhabited by clergy, while the south-western part of the city was the crafts quarter. In the city’s centre were markets and other public buildings. 

Shakhrisabz was not only a trade and crafts centre but also a city of science and culture. In 1404, the Castilian ambassador Rui Gonzalez de Clavijo visited Shakhrisabz and described the city as follows: “The city stood on one level, there were many streams and canals on all sides and it was surrounded by many gardens and houses. The city was surrounded by a rampart, deep ditches and lift bridges were at the entrances”.

After the fall of the Timurid Empire, Shakhrisabz lost its importance. From the end of the 18th century until 1920, the city was part of the Bukhara Emirate.

The palace Ak Saray was destroyed in the 16th century by the king of Bukhara Abdullah II. For the reason of his actions, there are different legends. Among other things, it is said that Abdullah II on the way to Shakhrisabz already saw the palace from afar and assumed that he had almost reached his destination. That is why he did not give his favourite horse a break anymore but rode it so fast that it died. The King was so furious about the loss that he ordered the destruction of the palace. Whether this story is true can not be determined. Presumably, the destruction simply had the background that Abdullah II himself wanted to go down in history as the greatest ruler and therefore did not tolerate Timur’s legacy.

Today the city is included into the list of UNESCO World Heritage List and visited by many tourist groups. Most tourists visit Uzbekistan by car. Samarkand is about 90 km away and can be reached via the scenic Tachta Karach Pass. However, the route is too narrow for larger coaches. They have to drive around the mountains; in this case, the distance is about 150 km. The city has preserved some historical monuments and is known for its carpet weaving and embroidery masters. In the local souvenir shops, you will find embroidery, bags and traditional headwear.

General information:

  • Population: 116.000 (as of 2018)
  • Elevation: 632 m

Air connections: Shakhrisabz has no airport. The nearest airport is in Samarkand, about 90 km north of Shakhrisabz.

Rail connections: there is a train connection to Samarkand and from there to the other cities of Uzbekistan.

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