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. The old town was almost destroyed during the Mongol invasion. Instead of rebuilding their homes, the inhabitants decided to rebuild the city a little further south.

Shakhrisabz – hometown of tamerlane

The city is closely associated with Tamerlane (known as Amir Timur in Uzbekistan and Central Asia). The great general, 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, settled and assimilated. Timur spent his childhood and youth in Shakhrisabz and began his political career here.

After Timur expanded his power in the 14th century, he briefly considered making Shakhrisabz his capital. However, he decided on Samarkand because of a more suitable location. Nevertheless, he did not forget his hometown. He ordered to build his most enormous palace Ak Saray in Shakhrisabz, which became his summer residence. In addition, extensive gardens were laid out on his order. Until then, the city 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 town. A simple crypt was also prepared for Timur himself; however, his resting place he found in the Gur-Emir Mausoleum in Samarkand.

At the beginning of his reign, Timur gathered many artisans in Shakhrisabz, commissioned them to build palaces, mosques and mausoleums. He left the city surrounded by a stone fortress wall, flanked by semi-circular towers and ditches. The four city gates were located on the axes; two main traffic routes were 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 entrance, Timur had his palace Ak Saray built. The north-western sector was inhabited by clergy, while the city’s southwestern part was the crafts section. 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 town as follows: “The city stood on one level, there were many streams and canals on all sides, and many gardens and houses surrounded it. A rampart and a deep ditch surrounded the city, and there were lift-bridges at the entrances.”

Shakhrisabz lost its importance after the fall of the Timurid Empire. The city became part of the Bukhara Emirate from the end of the 18th century until 1920.

The palace Ak Saray was destroyed in the 16th century by Bukhara emir Abdullah II: two different legends are connected to it. 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 hard that it died from exhaustion. The emir was furious about the loss and ordered the palace’s destruction—fact or fiction of this story no one can determine. Presumably, the destruction had the background that Abdullah II himself wanted to go down in history as the greatest ruler and therefore did not tolerate Timur’s heritage.

Today the city 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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