8th./9th.October 2019, Samarkand 2
Today was theoretically the last walking day, which most surprised our guide. Actually we drove 40 km and climbed 1300 steps to the top of a hill and then 200 steps down to see the cave of the prophet David. The cave turned out to be just a narrow cleft in the rocks with 2 candles at the end of it. It was certainly not worth the effort. It was some compensation for me to be able to make a short camel ride on the plateau at the top of the hill, since I had not been able to do this at the yurt camp.
In the afternoon I walked round the sights and bazaars again with some of the other group members. One of them received a jacket as a present from the others who were with her in Moscow which she had organised and where she did all the guiding herself. To complete the day we had our last dinner on a restaurant terrace from which we could see the sunset behind the Bibi-Khanym Mosque.
The last morning was free according to the programme but our guide escorted us first to the site of the observatory of Ulugbek, a grandson of Amir Timur. He was certainly my favorite ruler of Usbekistan, but he must have concentrated too much on his scientific studies and the good of the people, neglecting his own safety. He made enemies of the radical mullahs when he reduced the tax they received from the peasants from 90% to 50%. They plotted his downfall together with his weak son and on a pilgrimage to Mecca he was attacked and beheaded. The son also died a year later. The observatory was razed to the ground and nothing is left except the underground part of a huge sextant used for accurate observations of the stars. There however a very interesting museum of the history of astronomy which was well worth a visit.
We moved on to the grave of the prophet Daniel situated on the edge of Afrosiyob plateau which was the site of ancient city preceding Samarkand. There was a modern cemetery nearby but it was not possible to walk out onto the plateau.
This was our last sightseeing and we drove to a hotel for our last and best lunch of the holiday. Later we were joined by the manager of the local travel agency who came to discuss our holiday experience with us. This took place mostly in Russian which one of us spoke. We waited there until it was time to go to the station for the train to Taskhent, a fast train this time not a slow night one. Nevertheless we arrived late at the Usbekistan Hotel and only had time for a short sleep before going to the airport. The flight to Moscow was delayed because of some problem with the plane, but after about an hour we could leave and were just in time for the connection to Zürich.
One of the famous holy places in Uzbekistan is found 40 km to the south-west of Samarkand, in the Aksay village. The Cave of Hazrat Daud (St. David), is worshipped by three world religions. According to an Arab legend the Lord sent the biblical King David to Asia to preach monotheism. The preaching of Hazrat Daud, as he was called by Muslims, kindled the anger of Zoroastrians, who lived there, causing them to pursue him. Daud took refuge in the mountains, and praying to God, was able to move apart the rocks by hand and hid in the mountain.
The cave is believed to fulfill any, even the most incredible desire. To reach it one needs to climb 1303 steps, scaling up the mountain peak. At the top, one can pray at the ancient mosque. Then one has to go down 200 steps to the cave, which is in fact a dark tunnel from 0.5 to 4-m wide, up to 15-m high and 60-m long. There one can supposedly see Daud’s hand and footprints at the end. In order to make a wish one should touch them.
Observatory of Ulugbek, Samarkand
The astronomical miracle of medieval Uzbekistan. Among the historical monuments of Samarkand observatory takes special place, being associated with science rather than religion. It was constructed by Ulugbek in 1428-1429 on one of the hills near the city and was a unique construction for its time. According to Babur, who saw the observatory, it was three-storied building covered with beautiful glazed titles. It was of circular form 46 meters in diameter and 30 meters in height. In the main hall a huge instrument was placed for observations of the moon, sun, and stars of the vault of heaven. The basis of the observatory was a giant goniometer (vertical circle), with a radius of 40,212 meters and length of the arc of 63 meters. This main sextant instrument was oriented with amazing exactness along the line of the south to north meridian.
The exactness of the observations of the Samarkand astronomers is amazing because they were made without the help of optical instruments, using only the unaided eye. Ulugbek made astronomical tables containing the coordinates of 1018 stars. This catalogue has not lost its value even today. The calculation of the length of a star year was made with amazing exactness. By Ulugbek’s calculation this is equal to 365 days 6 hours 10 minutes 8 seconds compared with an actual length by modern instruments of 365 days 6 hours 9 minutes 9,6 seconds. Thus the error was less that one minute.