Samarkand – Frescoes and more

Erkin arrived just before 9:30 a.m. to take me to three sites in Samarkand that I had missed the day before because we simply ran out of time. Unfortunately, I was busy chatting to a couple from Holland at breakfast and didn’t realized the time until 9:45. Anyway, once I ran upstairs to grab my bag and camera, we were off. First up was the Afrosiab Museum, which was built to house one of the most important discoveries in Uzbekistan’s history: a damaged, but partially visible 7th-century fresco of the Sogdian King Varkhouman. I always love old stuff so I was super excited to see the fresco.

The most visible portion of the fresco

As luck would have it, I was the first to arrive at the museum for the day so I had the room housing the fresco all to myself. Sweeeeet! Anyway, the fresco is believed to date to the middle of the 7th century and was discovered in 1965 in the remains of a Sogdian palace when a road was being constructed.

More of the most visible portion of the fresco

The fresco was painted on four walls, and the museum has placed the fresco on the walls as they were found in the palace. As I walked into the room, the room to my left featured what I thought was the most impressive and well preserved portion of the fresco: some kind of ceremonial procession featuring a queen on an elephant, followed by noble women on horses, followed by armed men on horses, birds and animals, a larger man on a horse (believed to be King Varkhouman) followed by more armed men on horses. I thought this was the most visible and easily seen portion of the fresco.

Portion of fresco presenting to the king

The fresco on the wall facing the entrance appears to be a painting of the king receiving ambassadors from neighboring countries riding elephants, camels and horses.

The Chinese portion of the fresco

The portion of the fresco to my right featured people from China during some kind of festival with a Chinese empress surrounded by women and musicians in a boat. A line divides the picture in two and on the right side of the fresco, it appears that the emperor is hunting tigers.

On the back wall (where I entered), the fresco was barely visible. The description provided that the fresco featured individuals from India including astrologers and pygmies. I have no idea how they could figure that out because I couldn’t make out a darn thing.

Anyway, by the time I was done in the room, I heard an Italian tour group arrive so I moved out of the room and paid 2,000 som ($.25) to see a 10 minute video about the fresco. Once that was over, I went back to the fresco room (the Italians were gone) and did another walk around with new information and understanding about the fresco. I still didn’t see the astrologers and pygmies, but I could certainly make out different figures and animals in other portions of the fresco now that I had a better understanding of the entire panting.

5th to 7th century AD terra cotta statute
7th to 8th century AD terra cotta statute
10th to 12 century AD bowls

Once I was frescoed out, I wandered around the remainder of the first floor and the small exhibit upstairs, which provides a chronological tour of 11 different civilizations in Samarkand. There were a variety of artifacts including the remains of weapons, round bronze and silver coins, ceramic statutes, bowls and jugs, and remnants of pillars and buildings. I ended up spending almost two hours in the building before I found Erkin for our short drive to the tomb of the prophet Daniel, whose remains date to at least the 5th century B.C.  We made a quick stop at a statute that paid tribute to the Silk Road caravans before we pulled into the parking lot for the shrine.

Me and the caravan

I paid the entrance fee, washed my hands and face in a spring water fountain (as instructed to do so) and then hiked up 20 plus steps to a small building with a little doorway. I walked up two stairs and looked into the small opening to see a looooong (what I learned to be 18m) sarcophagus. Apparently there is some kind of legend that Daniel’s corpse grows every year so they keep enlarging the sarcophagus.

Well where I washed my hands and face

Now here’s the kicker. When I was in Susa, Iran, I visited a site that was supposed to contain the remains of the prophet Daniel. Now the ruler Timur allegedly brought Daniel’s remains to Samarkand for good luck, but that begs the question, what about the Susa tomb that I saw? Apparently no one knows which site actually contains Daniel’s remains. I guess now I know for sure I have seen Daniel’s tomb since I have been to both sites.

Prophet Daniel’s tomb … or is it?

Anyway, I hiked back down from the tomb and was immediately met by three women who wanted to have their picture taken with me. And so it begins. Whenever I am in this part of the world, it seems the pale skin and blue eyes is out of the ordinary, and I become a bit of a Facebook picture novelty act.

The park and old Samarkand city wall at the tomb

So 5 or 6 pictures and many rahmat (thank you in Uzbek) later, I found Erkin and we drove to the Samarkand-Bukhara carpet factory past the ancient Samarkand city walls on the way to the old town.

Old Samarkand city walls

Now on the way to the carpet factory, there was a “little incident”.  My driver, Erkin, apparently has a bit of a temper.  Erkin accidentally missed the driveway to the factory, and when he realized his mistake, he did a u-turn to the consternation of a number of cars.  One car in particular laid on the horn and started yelling at us.  Erkin stopped the car in the middle of the street, jumped out and proceeded to have an argument with the guy.  I was concerned there would be a fight.  Finally, Erkin walked back to the car, called the guy crazy and apologized to me.  Ok then.

Women weavers

Anyway, we finally made it to the factory and lovely young woman took me around to show me how they dyed the fabric using natural products such as flowers, nuts and plants. I then entered a room at the top of the building filled with massive windows and lots of women at looms. (I later learned that the shop had won awards for its treatment of women in the workplace.). Virtually all of the women had headphones on and were on auto pilot. Their fingers, thread and hook seemed to blend together in an amazing rhythm. The woman guiding me around told me it takes 3 months to train a person to weave, but the key ingredient is patience. She told me (laughing) that It’s the reason they do not have any men weavers.

After the weaving tour, (and taking a look at the all of pictures of all the heads of state who have visited the facility), I took a look at some gorgeous carpets, wished I had space for another carpet in my house and instead bought a lovely silk woven wall hanging and two pillow covers. By now it was after 1:00 so Erkin drove me back to to my hotel, but not before we ran into a Muslim funeral procession.  Erkin stopped the car, put on a little skull cap, told me he would be right back and proceeded to pay his respects to the deceased as the group of men carrying the coffin passed.

Five minutes later, Erkin dropped me off at my hotel, and I told him that I was going to spend the rest of the day walking around the Samarkand old town on my own so he could go home. He assured me if I needed him to call and with that he told me he would see me the next morning at 8:30 a.m. for our trip to Bukhara.

Entrance to Siob Bazaar

So I ended up walking around the old quarter, down the mile plus Registan promenade and then having a lovely lunch at the same restaurant I had lunch at the day before. After lunch, I revisited the Siob Bazaar and took my time walking around (I had felt a little rushed the day before). Unfortunately, it was so darn hot that I kept looking for shade every time I left the covered areas. I ducked into a tented alley and found myself in a “clothes” bazaar. Apparently no tourists ever enter this area because I received a massive number of looks, giggles and smiles (and not another tourist in site). I ended up buying some athletic socks (the thick socks I brought with me for my hiking boots were too hot for this weather) and called it good.

Ragistan Square at night

I took a ride on one of the electric cars that run up and down the mile plus promenade from the Siob Bazaar to the side of the walk beside the Registan. From there it was a 5 minute walk back to the air conditioned B&B. I was done for the day. My feet were sore and it was too hot. I took a nap and was awakened by the dusk call to prayer around 7:00 p.m. I ended up walking back to the Registan and took pictures of the gorgeous square all lit up at night. I ten walked across the street and found a vendor selling open flame grilled chicken kebabs and bread. I bought one skewer, some yogurt and bread and called it dinner. Once I ate, it was bed time.

Author: lawyerchick92

I am a lawyer by trade, but long to be a full time traveller. My life changed for the better when my brother donated a kidney to me on October 14, 2002.

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