Timur’s hometown Shakhrisabz is a small town south of Samarkand. By the time of birth of Timur on 9 April 1336 at the village of Hoja Ilghar, 13 km to the south from Kesh (former name of Shakhrisabz), Kesh was ruled by the Barlas clan, Mongols of the Chaghatai khanate, turkicised by their long stay in the fertile Kashkadarya valley. Using his Barlas lineage, Tamerlane gathered a band of followers, who helped him to become from a sheep-rustler to the lord of the valley by the age of 25. A decade later he became a lord of the whole Transoxiana, making the Samarkand the capital of his empire. As he rose to power, Timur paid great effort to strengthen and beautify Kesh. He built Ak Saray, the white palace, surrounded it by high walls and a deep moat, crossed by drawbridge, and laid out green gardens which gave a new name of Shakhrisabz (Tajik for “Green Town”).
The town was almost destroyed in the 16th century by the emir of Bukhara, Abdullah Khan II, in a quest for the Shaybanid throne. Local stories claim that he became very angry, when he lost his favorite horse from exhaustion on the approach to the city that he ordered to destroy it. Most of the Shakhrisabz’s current attractions were built here by Timur (including a tomb intended for himself) or his grandson Ulughbek. Although, the city hosts many historical sites, it is worth a visit just to check out the great man’s roots. The most beautiful historical part of Shakhrisabz, is the Kok Gumbaz mosque and Dorut Tilovat. The Kok Gumbaz was competed in 1437 by Ulughbek in honor of his father Shah Rukh. Dorut Tilovat (House of Meditation) hosts the Mausoleum of Sheikh Shamseddin Kulyal (1374), spiritual tutor to Timur and his father, and Gumbaz Seyidan (Dome of the Sayyids), which Ulughbek finished in 1438 as a mausoleum for his own descendants.
The old city’s plan consisted of streets converging toward the centre from six gates in the 5-mile- (8-kilometre-) long, 11th-century walls. The walls and gates were destroyed after the capture of the town by the Russians, but the plan of the medieval period is still preserved. The old city contains some of the finest monuments of Central Asian architecture from the 14th to the 20th century, including several buildings dating from the time when Samarkand was Timur’s capital city.
Among the latter structures are the mosque of Bibi-Khanom (1399–1404), a building that was commissioned by Timur’s favorite Chinese wife, and Timur’s tomb itself, the Gur Amir mausoleum, built about 1405. To the second half of the 15th century belongs the Ak Saray tomb with a superb fresco of the interior.
The Registan Square, an impressive public square in the old city, is fronted by several madrasahs (Islamic schools): that of Timur’s grandson, the astronomer Ulugbeg (1417–20), and those of Shirdar (1619–1635/36) and Tilakari (mid-17th century), which together border the square on three sides. Shakhrisabz has several other mausoleums, madrasahs, and mosques dating from the 15th to the 17th century, though they are not as impressive as the structures from Timur’s day.
The principal features of Shakhrisabz’s ancient buildings are their splendid portals, their vast coloured domes, and their remarkable exterior decorations in majolica, mosaic, marble, and gold. The historic city was designated a UNESCO World Heritage site in 2001. The newer, Russian section of Shakhrisabz, construction of which began in 1871, expanded considerably during the Soviet period, and public buildings, houses, and parks were built. There are Uzbek and Russian theatres, a university (established 1933), and higher-educational institutions for agriculture, medicine, architecture, and trade.