It was on a bright, clear afternoon that I went to the Registan and walked to the centre of the tiled expanse. All around me loomed impossibly ornate portals, patterned minarets and glistening cupolas. The world was suddenly rife with glazed mosaics in liquid shades of blue. The motifs around me would have been impressive enough on a teacup, but in such profusion and on so massive a scale they soon had me dizzy. The effect, it seems, was intended.
They’re part of the legacy of king Timur in his ancient city of Samarkand, located in modern-day Uzbekistan. One of Timur’s monuments bears the proverb: “If you want to know about us, examine our buildings.” Centuries later, in 1888, the traveller and future viceroy of India, George Curzon, called the Registan “the noblest public square in the world”, the article reads.
These buildings – the Registan and other wonders of Timurid Samarkand – were the result of the coming together of craftsmen and builders from across the empire in the late 14th century. Their influence would likewise range far, and shape the character of distant cities.
The Safavid monuments of Persia and Mughal architecture in what is today Pakistan and India drew inspiration from here. In the Imam Mosque at Isfahan, the Taj Mahal at Agra, and even in the early 20th-century mosque at St Petersburg, traces of the Registan can be seen.