The Samarkand Observatory

A comment from Clive J. Grant reads:

The Samarkand observatory, for the construction of which Ulugh Beg was primarily responsible, was left untouched when Samarkand was conquered by Uzbeks in 1500. Samarkans was incorporated into the Bukhara Khanate. This is very important, because the city of Bukhara, even then, was becoming a major repository of Islamic written (and, later, printed) works. It grew into a major trading center and thousands of precious scrolls and books traveled the Silk Road to western centers of Islamic learning. In large measure, that is why we have available to us the works of so many 11th- to 15th-century Islamic scholars. Samarkand declined in importance until, for about 50 years (172[?] to 177[?]) it had no inhabitants. Long before then, virtually every scrap of paper, silk scroll, papyrus, vellum, &c. had been removed to the covered souks in Bukhara. Imperial Russia partially resurrected Samarkand as a rail center during the 19th-Century Great Game.

Over the centuries, the Bukhara souks had developed into the single largest documentary resource in all of Islam. In some respects, it was a marketing center; in some it was a giant library. Sadly, that first-place distinction was annihilated early in the 20th-Century.

In their first attempt to force Bukhara into the new Red USSR empire, the Bolsheviks were repelled by a small patriotic force. As punishment, Moscow named Samarkand the capital of the Uzbek Soviet Socialist Republic and, simultaneously, sent a modern army against the ancient city. The overwhelming force included heavy artillery, tanks and heavy bombing raids by airplanes. Nothing of the Bukhara archives survived. The canvas covered souks were as ineffective as air against explosives and incendiary devices. Of course, history tends to be written by the conquerors and the USSR, with a penchant for revising history at the drop of a hat, tried to write the barbaric destruction of Bukhara out of history. Western left wing authors occasionally make reference to the ruins of ancient covered bazaars, unwilling as they are to lay the blame where it belongs.

Here are quotations from some paragraphs in David Fromkin's book, A Peace to End All Peace , chapter 56, A Death in Bukhara [of 1918] p. 485
... In the city's seven-mile honeycomb of covered bazaars, ... [t]here was a lively traffic ... A center of the commerce in rare manuscripts and libraries in many oriental languages, Bukhara continued to be the principal book market in Central Asia.

[of 1920] p. 486
In the summer of 1920 the Red Army attacked again, and Russian troops under the command of Mikhail Frunze bombarded Bukhara. . . . the Red Army, with its airplanes and armored vehicles, moved forward on 2 September, bringing Bukhara's medieval rule to an end: the library, containing possibly the greates collections of Moslem [sic] manuscripts in the world, went up in flames.
One can only speculate what untold treasures went up in smoke. But all may not be lost. Today, in Lebanon, there are innumerable early Islamic texts lying unscrutinized by scholarly eyes. One such document, translated quite recently, describes and illustrates an ancient concept of a sun-centered solar system.

Last Updated October 1996