The Registan

© Firecracker

The Registan

The Registan was the main shopping area of Samarkand long before any buildings were constructed there. Back in the day, all travellers and merchants looking for a hot bath, somewhere to chill and swap tales of travel, silk and camels ended up at this place. They were, over the centuries, treated to public meetings, declarations, entertainment and the odd execution, all of which grew more elaborate as the surrounding buildings were added.

The current Registan is lined by three beautifully restored madrasahs (schools), built in the period from the 15th to the 17th century: the Ulugbek Madrasah (1417-1420), the Sher-Dor Madrasah (1619-1636) and the Tillya-Kori Madrasah (1647-1660). These no longer function as educational institutions and the area is really only used for touristic purposes, which includes a rather strange and flashy swirly light show around sunset, complete with the endless repetition of a song about the region.  This really doesn’t do much to celebrate the history of the place but one can thankfully also spend quiet time in the gardens, mosque or courtyards without the crowds and related chaos.  Also, it gives one time to do a proper location scout.

The area has a lot of history and documenting it all would run into many, many pages of technical sentences and pie charts – what follows is the short, ADHD / looks like an interesting place to film version:

After the death of legendary ruler Timur, his fourth son Shahrukh became the heir to his empire. Selecting Herat in present-day Afghanistan as his capital, he left the territory of Transoxiana (which included Samarkand and Registan Square) to his science + astrology loving eldest son, Ulugbek. Under his control, Registan Square gradually began to change from a dusty square into a centre of learning where he built the madrasah, which still bears his name, between 1417 and 1420.

In the 17th century two more madrasahs were built on Registan Square.  Over the centuries all three buildings suffered major structural damage due to earthquakes and have been conquered by numerous armies, including the Mongols and Russians, who used the old astrology school accommodation as barracks for a while.

The entire square eventually fell into disrepair and was largely abandoned, being used mainly for storage and animal shelter until the Soviets took on the mammoth task of renovating the area, having realised its historical significance. Balancing and securing the minarets were the first priority, followed by years of reconstruction using local materials to match the existing, centuries old structures, which continue to this day.

A bucket list destination, The Registan retains the importance of being the centre of the surrounding cities public life, even if they no longer throw the condemned from the towers or allow livestock to wander freely amongst the stacks of speakers and rotating lights

All images by Gavin McJannet / © Firecracker 2024