It seemed to have been written in the stars that the first place I would be drawn to in Samarkand is the remnant of an observatory that was the most well-known throughout the Islamic Golden Age and the largest in Central Asia, preceding Tycho Brahe’s Uraniborg and Taqi al-Din’s observatory in Constantinople by more than a hundred years.
The great mathematician and astronomer behind this observatory, whose computation of the length of the sidereal year was more accurate than that of Copernicus’s, is Ulugh Beg.
Although what remains of the observatory is the arc of a gigantic sextant (used to measure the transit altitudes of the stars and to produce the most comprehensive star catalogue in the period between Ptolemy and Tycho Brahe); the splendid madrasa that he built right at the heart of the city still stands.
He turned Samarkand into an intellectual center, inviting mathematicians and astronomers to study there — but no longer by force. He was, after all, a sultan of the Timurid Empire, the grandson of Tamerlane, and his tomb lies at the foot of his grandfather’s in the Amir Timur Mausoleum.
…to trace the constellations of Samarkand’s history and look at the stars that have burned the brightest… and bask in their afterglow… what a dream.