“Should the sky disappear, the dome will replace it”

enthused a poet on glimpsing the peerless cupola a top Tamerlane’s  Gur Emir mausoleum, the Tomb of the Ruler, a few minutes’ walk from the Hotel Samarkand. Between 1400 and 1401 Amir Temur’s favourite grandson, Mohammed Sultan, erected a madrassah and khanagha complex here. Mohammed’s death in 1403 prompted Tamerlane to complete the ensemble with a mausoleum.

Gur Emir Photo SamarkandSpanish envoy Clavijo reported how the ageing emir, carried to the site in late 1404, had demanded it rebuilt with added grandeur in only ten days “under threat of a terrible forfeit to the workmen”. Although he intended burial in his hometown Shakhrisabz, Tamerlane (Amir Temur) was soon laid to rest beside his grandson and followed by descendents down to Ulug Beg, whose presence has spurred recent restoration.

Mohammed Sultan’s blue-tiled portal opens onto a courtyard once cornered with minarets and flanked by madrassah and khanagha, but today only the foundations survive. Their absence emphasizes the simple monumentality of the Gur Emir Mausoleum itself, based on an octagonal chamber decorated with geometric girikh. Above it, belting the tall, cylindrical drum, the inscription ‘God is Immortal’ thunders in white Kufic script three metres (ten feet) high. Crowning the building in fluted majesty is the sky-blue dome, gently swelling to a height of over 32 metres. Across its 64 ribs spreads a skin of coloured glazed tile in a continuous lozenge pattern. Yellow and green offset tur