Thursday, December 13, 2018

North Macedonia | Skopje | Stone Bridge

Macedonia Square with statue of Warrior on a Horse (Alexander the Great, but don’t tell anyone). Click on photos for enlargements. 
The northeast side of 435 foot-long and 250 foot-wide Macedonia Square faces the famous Kameni Most, or Stone Bridge, across the Vardar River.  The 241 mile-long river, which drains at least two-thirds of the country and divides the city of Skopje into two parts, finds its source only about eighteen miles to the northwest of Skopje, near the Kosovo border, but loops far to the south before heading north to Skopje, picking up many tributaries along the way, including the sizable Treska River (home of the famous Matka Canyon resort area), which flows into the Vardar 4.5 miles upstream from downtown, and has already grown into a sizable stream by the time it flows through the city. The river continues on to the southeast and crosses the Greek border near the town of Axioupoli, where is suddenly takes on the Greek name of Axios River, before flowing into the Aegean Sea west of the city of Thessaloniki in northern Greece. The meaning of “Vardar” is much debated, but the name it probably based on an ancient Proto-Indo-European word meaning “Black Water”. 
The Stone Bridge
The Kameni Most, or Stone Bridge, across the Vardar, has become a symbol of Skopje and is found on the city’s coat-of-arms and on the city flag. 
Skopje-coat-of-arms
According to an historical signpost on the bridge itself, the Kameni Most was built by order of Ottoman Sultan Murad II during the years 1421–51 on the foundations of an earlier bridge dating to the sixth century when current-day Macedonia was part of the Byzantine Empire. Other sources suggest, however, that the bridge was by Sultan Mehmed II the Conqueror between 1451 and 1469. Perhaps both sultans had a hand in its construction. As for the earlier bridge, the historical record is unclear, but since it was built in the six century, it is interesting to speculate that it was constructed during the reign of Byzantine Emperor Justinian I (r. 527-565), who was born in the village of Tauresium (now called Taor), twelve miles southeast of current-day Skopje. In any case, as part of the Skopje 2014 Project an imposing 16.5 foot-high white marble statue of Justinian sitting on his throne has been installed on the bank of the Vardar River just a hundred feet north of the bridge. It was made in Florence, Italy, reportedly at a cost of over just over one million euros.
Byzantine Emperor Justinian I (r. 527-565)
Justinian

Justinian is perhaps most famous for building Hagia Sofia in Constantinople (Istanbul), to this day one of the world’s most magnificent edifices (it was first a church, then a mosque, and now a museum), and for marrying the notorious ex-prostitute Theodora
Interior of Hagia Sophia
“Glory to God, Who has deemed me worthy of fulfilling such a work. O Solomon, I have surpassed thee,” Justinian reportedly said when entering the newly completed Hagia Sofia for the first time. History does not record what he said after entering Theodora for the first time. 
Four of the twelve arches of the Stone Bridge

The bridge built by the Ottomans was heavily damaged during an earthquake in 1555 and eventually repaired. Further repairs and renovations took place in the 18th, 19th and early 20th centuries, with the last update in 1994. In 1944 Nazi troops who had invaded Macedonia rigged the bridge with explosives, intending to destroy it to cover their retreat, but this plot was foiled and the bridge survived.The current bridge, 702 feet long and twenty feet wide, consists of columns of huge stone blocks divided by twelve semicircular arcs.
View downstream from the Stone Bridge, toward the Bridge of Civilizations in Macedonia, also known as the Eye Bridge.
View upstream from the Stone Bridge. Another pedestrian bridge is under construction.
About two-thirds of the way across the bridge is a column containing a mihrab, or prayer niche, apparently pointing in the direction of Mecca, dating to 2008, although there may have been an earlier version.
Prayer niche on the bridge
A bit further on, on the other side of the bridge is an historical signpost marking the spot where the illustrious Karposh, the Christian leader of an anti-Ottoman uprising in 1689, was executed by the Ottomans. The northern end of the bridge debouches onto Karposh Square, named after the Macedonian freedom fighter.
Sign indicating where Karposh was supposedly executed
Northern end of the Stone Bridge debouching onto Karposh Square
Statue of Karposh
Statue of Karposh
Statue of Karposh

Sunday, December 9, 2018

North Macedonia | Skopje | Fountain of the Mothers of Macedonia


At the northern end of the famous Stone Bridge across the Vardar River in Downtown Skopje, in Karposh’s Rebellion Square (more on the illustrious Karposh later), and just in front of the apartment building where I am staying, is the charming Fountain of the Mothers of Macedonia.
View of the Fountain of the Mothers of Macedonia from the window of the my apartment (click on photos for enlargements)
Fountain of the Mothers of Macedonia 
Mother and Child
Mother and Child
Pregnant Mother-to-be
Fountain Pool
The pool of the Fountain of the Mothers of Macedonia. The fountain is apparently turned off in wintertime. Is it just my imagination, or is the fountain pool shaped like an enormous Vulva?

Friday, November 30, 2018

USA | Pennsylvania | Allegheny Mountains | Deer Season

Just checked out the on-line version of the local newspaper in the area where I was born and grew up. Seems that deer season has just began and the paper was engaging in one of its most hallowed traditions: posting photos of successful hunters and their deer. Deer hunting is a huge deal in this area. They don’t even have school on the first two days of deer season because if they did no one would show up. Looking at the photos one thing struck me as unusual. When I lived in the area I did not know any girls or women who hunted deer. Now apparently female hunters are quite common. I can just hear the girls now: “If boys can hunt deer why can’t we?” Here is a sampling of the photos:
Grace Leiford, age 16 (click on photos for enlargements)
Emma Carter, age 15, from Shanksville. Yes, that’s the Shanksville of 9/11 notoriety.
Another unusual thing: when I lived in Pennsylvania you had to be at least 12 years old to hunt legally. No more, apparently: witness Lily Ream, age 11.
Lily Ream, age 11
(Addendum: I received this update from a local informant: “Pennsylvania has a Youth Mentor hunting program, if a child is accompanied by an adult license holder, there is virtually no age minimum. It's a Game Commission initiative to help encourage the next generation off their phones and tablets and become the next generation of license buyers . . . We need all the hunters we can get, there are more and more expensive deer vs. vehicle accidents.”

This is the most amazing photo, however. Six-year-old girls are now hunting deer? What kind of rifle was she using? The recoil of your average deer rifle would knock most six-year-olds flat on their behinds. Must be one tough little six year old. No one is going to mess with her when she get older! 
Libbie Boozer, age 6
Oh how I wish I was growing up in this area right now. What could be more romantic than to ask a girl out to go deer hunting together on the first day of deer season? Bonding over a freshly killed buck! Much, much better than the stupid Prom!

Wednesday, November 28, 2018

North Macedonia | Tikves Wine District | Demir Kapiya | Popova Kula Winery | Stanushina


I Mentioned Earlier that I drink only wines indigenous to the place I happen to be at the time. At the moment I am staying at the Popova Kula Winery in the Tikves Wine District of Macedonia. In addition to making wine from the more famous varieties of grapes—Cabernet Sauvignon, Merlot, Pinot Noir, Sauvignon Blanc, Chardonnay, etc, all of which originated outside the Balkan Peninsula and have been replanted here—the winery also features several wines indigenous to the Balkans. It also features one wine indigenous to Macedonia itself. This wine, known as Stanushina, is made from a variety of grapes which originated in the Tikves Wine Region of Macedonia and to this day is grown nowhere else. The Popova Kula Winery claims to be the only winery in Macedonia—and thus the world—to make wine from this grape. This is a truly indigenous wine, and sampling it is the main reason I have come to Demir Kapiya. 
Stanushina (click on photos for enlargements)
A bottle of regular Stanushina (there is also an aged-in-oak-barrels version) cost $4.43 at the winery store. Although the weather is cool—in the 50ºF—and rainy, with surprisingly strong gusts of wind sweeping down the Vardar Valley, I retire to my balcony with the wine and an assortment of walnuts, figs, and dried apricots that I bought at the Old Bazaar in Skopje. I am perfectly comfortable in a Mongolian Cashmere sweater. The wine is light scarlet in color, fruity and flowery, with a mouthful of cherries and hints of strawberry and raspberry. As often happens when I drink wine—especially light, fruity wine, my thoughts turn to Omar Khayyam (1048 a.d. – 1131 a.d.). Most famous in the Occident as a poet—he is the “A loaf of bread, a jug of wine, and thou” guy—in Persia itself he is best known as a Mathematician and astronomer. 

As I started on my second glass of Stanushina I began to recall quotes and poetry by Omar Khayyam:

Drink wine. This is life eternal. This is all that youth will give you. It is the season for wine and roses. Be happy for this moment. This moment is your life.
So much wine I will have drunk that its perfume
Shall stream from my tomb once I am laid to rest.
And when a true believer passes by
The aroma shall overwhelm him with drunkenness.
 A glass of wine is worth more than the entire kingdom of China.
Before death springs upon you unannounced 
Make sure to ask for the finest of vintages.
Something in my third glass of Stanushina triggered thoughts about the legend involving Omar Khayyam, Nizam al-Mulk, who was the vizier of the Seljuq Empire from 1064 a.d. to 1092 a.d., and Hassan-i Sabbah (1050 to 1124), the Nizari Ismaili who founded the notorious sect of the Assassins. According to the legend—admittedly the historicity of this tale has been questioned—the three men while still young swore a pact of eternal friendship, vowing that if one of them rose to prominence he would help the other two in whatever way he could.  Nizam al-Mulk achieved achieved power first by becoming vizier of the Seljuq Empire. He then offered both his friends important positions in the Seljuq government. Hassan-i Sabbah accepted a government post but Omar Khayyam declined, preferring instead to stick to his study of mathematics and astronomy and to his devotion to women, poetry, and wine. Nizam al-Mulk eventually decided that Hassan-i Sabbah had become too powerful and was threatening his own position in the Seljuk court. He then engineered a plot to have Hassan-i Sabbah removed from office and disgraced. Hassan-i Sabbah never forgave Nizam al-Mulk for this betrayal. Years later, after he had organized the Assassin sect at Alamut in Iran, Nizam al-Mulk was the very first victim of Hassan-i Sabbah’s trained assassins. When I was in Iran I visited Alamut and also the tomb of Nizam al-Mulk in Esfahan. Unfortunately I was unable to visit the tomb of Omar Khayyam in Nishapur. I was still ruing this omission when I finished the bottle of Stanushina.
Entrance to the tomb of Nizam al-Mulk in Esfahan, Iran

Sunday, November 25, 2018

North Macedonia | Skopje

When residing in Mongolia I usually do not break out my winter coat until temperatures fall to –10ºF or colder. Until then a down jacket is usually sufficient. A few days ago the temperature dropped to –16ºF. As I was digging out my winter coat a thought hit me. Instead of breaking out the winter coat why not just head for warmer climes? I checked the weather in various cities and discovered that it was a relatively balmy 62ºF in Skopje, Macedonia, a city that I had visited before and found quite appealing. I immediately booked a Flight On Turkish Airlines to Skopje. The plane left Ulaanbaatar at six o’clock the next morning. After an eleven hour flight (including a one hour layover in Bishkek, Kyrgyzstan) I arrived in Istanbul, where I spent the night in a hotel near the airport, and  early the next morning caught the one hour and fifteen minute flight to Skopje. From the airport I took a taxi to my hotel in the Stara Charshiya, the old bazaar quarter of Skopje. 
Macedonia, in the middle of the Balkan Peninsula (click on photos for enlargements)

Macedonia, a former province of Yugoslavia and now an independent country, is officially named the Former Yugoslav Republic of Macedonia, an unwieldy name that pleases nobody. Attempts to change the name are now underway (more on this extremely contentious issue later). Located in the heart of the Balkans, Macedonia—most people use the shorthand name—is surrounded  by the countries of Kosovo, Serbia, Bulgaria, Albania and Greece and covers 9,928 square miles, making it slightly bigger than Vermont and slightly smaller than Massachusetts. Put another way, sixty-six Macedonias would fit inside the borders of the state of Alaska, and sixty-one within the borders of Mongolia. The population is roughly 2,100,000, with 507,000 living in Skopje. About 65% of Macedonians are Christians; 35% are Muslims. As of 2012, the country had 1,842 churches and 580 mosques. The vast majority of the Christians belong to the Macedonian Orthodox Church, which became autocephalous, or self-ruling, in 1967 and is not officially recognized by any of the other branches of Eastern Orthodoxy.
Former Yugoslav Republic of Macedonia—for the moment.
The city of Skopje is divided into two parts by the 241 mile-long Vardar River, which drains at least two-thirds of the country. The Vardar starts only about eighteen miles to the northwest of Skopje, near the Kosovo border, but loops far to the south before heading north to Skopje, picking up many tributaries along the way. It has already grown into a sizable stream by the time it flows through the city. The river continues on to the southeast and crosses the Greek border near the town of Axioupoli before flowing into the Aegean Sea west of the city of Thessaloniki in northern Greece. The name “Vardar” is probably based on an ancient Proto-Indo-European word meaning “Black Water”.
Center of Skopje. The Stone Bride can be seen in the middle.
The boisterous Varder River
The Stone Bridge connecting Macedonia Square, in the center of Skopje, to the Old Bazaar, where I am staying, is the oldest bridge in the city. The 702 foot-long, 20-foot wide bridge was built by order of Ottoman Sultan Mehmed II the Conqueror between 1451 and 1469 on foundations of an earlier bridge dating to the time of the Roman Empire.
The Stone Bridge
One of several pedestrian bridges across the Vardar
Statue in Macedonia Square, in the center of Skopje. It is generally thought to be a statue of Alexander the Great, although that is not its official name. More on this later . . . 

Sunday, November 18, 2018

Turkmenistan | Gurganj–Konye Urgench | Temür Qutlugh Minaret

 Temür Qutlugh Minaret
Wandered out to Konye Urgench in northern Turkmenistan. In the thirteenth century the city was known as Gurganj. Then located on the lower Amu Darya (the river has since changed course), Gurganj was the original capital of the Khwarezm Empire and one of the largest and most prosperous cities in Inner Asia. It may have reached the height of its florescence during the first two decades of the thirteenth century. The well-travelled Syrian geographer Yaqut al-Hamawi (1179–1229), who visited the city in 1219, deemed it perhaps the richest and most highly developed city he had ever seen. Thus it was only natural that it had attracted the attention of Chingis Khan. In the summer of 1220 he dispatched his two sons Ögedei and Chagaadai to the lower Amu Darya with orders to seize Gurganj and other cities in the area, including Khiva and Gyaur Qala. His oldest son, Jochi, who was then leading his own campaign on the lower Syr Darya River, was to rendezvous with his brothers on the lower Amu Darya. The following account of the investment and fall of Gurganj is from Chingis Khan Rides West: The Mongol Invasion of Bukhara, Samarkand, and other Great Cities of the Silk Road, 1215-1221:
. . . as we have seen, Terken Khatun, the Khwarezmshah’s mother and nominal ruler of Khwarezm province, had fled Gurganj several months earlier, leaving a power vacuum in the city. It soon became clear that those who remained behind were neither the best nor the brightest. According to Juvaini, the civil administration of Gurganj was seized by an officer named Ali Durughini, (because of his propensity for lying Nasavi nicknamed him Kuli-Durughan [Mountain of Lies], a play of words on his actual name). This worthy proceeded to loot what he could from what remained in the state treasury kept in Urgench. He did not, however, make any efforts to rally the 90,000 troops who still remained in the city. Then at some time during the summer of 1220 Timur Malik, the hero of Khojend who had just escaped from Jochi’s dragnet on the lower Syr Darya, as described earlier, arrived in town. An experienced commander and obviously a charismatic leader, he rallied a contingent of troops—it’s not clear how large—and rode north to attack Jochi’s troops who were still on the Syr Darya. He actually managed to seize the city of Yanikent and kill the Mongol governor. Instead of following up on this victory, however, he soon returned to Gurganj with his troops. Apparently there was dissension between him and the military faction which still remained nominally loyal to Terken Khatun, and once again the disputing parties were unable to decide on any concerted approach to the Mongol threat. 
In early winter of 1220 two officials who had been in charge of the Khwarezm treasury under Terken Khatun but who had earlier fled Gurganj arrived back in the city. They claimed that they had been in touch with the Khwarezmshah and that they were taking control of the province of Khwarezm on his behalf. The chronology is uncertain, but at this point the Khwarezmshah was probably somewhere in western Iran in headlong flight from Jochi and Sübedei. Whether these two officials were in fact speaking for the Khwarezmshah or simply acting on their own account is uncertain. 
Shortly thereafter the situation took a completely different turn. The princes Jalal-ad-Din, Uzlagh Shah, and Aq Shah and an entourage of seventy men arrived in the city with the dramatic news that they had been with the Khwarezmshah when he had died on the island in the Caspian Sea and that they had overseen his burial. Whether they were actually there or not is uncertain. Nasavi implies that they were, but Juvaini does not mention them. In any case, the princes now made a joint announcement proclaiming that before his death the Sultan had altered his will, making Jalal-ad-Din his heir instead of Uzlagh Shah. Terken Khatun had earlier prevailed upon her son, the now deceased Khwarezmshah, to name Uzlagh Shah as the heir to the throne of the Khwarezmian Empire instead of his older half-brothers Jalal-ad-Din and Rukn al-Din, no doubt because Uzlagh Shah’s mother and Terken Khatun were member of the same clan of Qangli Turks. WIth Uzlagh Shah as the new head of the Khwarezmiam Empire the Turkish military faction would at long last gained ascendency over the aristocratic party of the Khwarezmshahs.  
Apparently Uzlagh Shah agreed to step aside in favor of his older half-brother and was willing to accept Jalal-ad-Din as the new Khwarezmshah. He was relatively young at the time and as Juvaini notes, “not quick in his studies.” The tribal Turkish amirs who had made up the military faction under Terken Khatun could not reconcile themselves with the decision to sidestep Uzlagh Shah in favor of Jalal-ad-Din, however, and soon hatched a plot to eliminate the latter. The leader of the conspirators was one Tuji Pahlawan, who bore the title of Qutlugh Khan. He was considered the leader of the old Turkish military faction which had flourished under Terkun Khatun and had probably served as the governor of Jand and Yanikent on the lower Syr Darya before the invasion of the Mongols. He had roughly 7,000 men under his command. Now he and his co-conspirators intrigued to kill or imprison Jalal-ad-Din and put Uzlagh Shah on the throne, presumably as their puppet. Tipped off to the plot, probably by Moghol Hajib, a confederate of the prince who had earlier escaped from the debacle at Bukhara, Jalal-ad-Din and the ever-resourceful Timur Malik along with 300 loyal soldiers fled south to Khorasan. They were probably spurred on by reports that the Mongol armies under Chagaadai and Ögedei were rapidly approaching the city. Apparently the schemes of Tuji Pahlawan to enthrone Uzlagh-Shah fell on deaf ears, since three days later both Uzlagh-Shah and Aq Shah also fled the capital.  
Thus at this crucial moment the dead Khwarezmshah’s sons abandoned Gurganj and gave up all pretense of leadership in defending the ancient capital of Khwarezm. According to Juvaini, Khumar Tegin, a relative of Terken Khatun’s and a leader of the army faction, had elected to remain behind in Gurganj after the princes had fled. With him were other emirs including Moghol Hajib, Er Buqa Pahlavan, Ali “Mountain of Lies” Durughini (his earlier indiscretions now apparently overlooked), and, as Juvaini disdainfully adds, “others of the same sort.” Apart from these panjandrums, “there were so many notables of the town and learned of the age as could be neither counted or computed; while the number of inhabitants exceeded that of grains of sand or pebbles.” Aware of the threat posed by the Mongols and of the need for a united front these citizens now rose up and with “one voice” declared Khumar Tegin their new Sultan and “Nauruz King” (King for Day). Thus it was Kumar Tegin who would be tasked with confronting the Mongols who soon appeared outside the wall of Gurganj. 
Although all of our Persian sources comment at length on the battle of Gurganj, none of them bother to enlighten us about when the Mongols first arrived at the city walls. Nasavi says the city finally fell on April of 1221. The others say only that the siege lasted anywhere from five to seven months. From this we can conclude that the Mongols appeared before the city in the late autumn or early winter of 1220. A Mongol advance party led by Taji-Beg reached the Gurjganj first. According to Juvaini, the defenders of the city “beheld a small troop of horsemen like a puff of smoke, who arrived before the gates of the town and busied themselves with driving off cattle. Hereat some short-sighted persons became exultant thinking that they had come in so small a party out of bravado and that they had ventured on in such insolence out of sport.” Both calvary and foot soldiers rushed out the city gates to confront the Mongols. “The Mongols, like wild game, now startled, now cast a glance behind them and ran.” The Khwarezmians pursued them to a place called Bagh-i-Khurram (the Garden of Happiness, according to one rendering), about four miles from the city walls. 
It was a trap. A larger contingent of Taji-Beg’s men which had been held in reserve suddenly appeared on the flanks of the Khwarezmian contingent. “They cut off the road before and behind and fell briskly upon them wolves upon a flock without a shepherd.” The fighting continued most of the day and by early evening all the Khwarezmians had been massacred. Both Juvaini and Rashid al-Din (the latter perhaps relying on the former’s account) put the death toll among the Khwarezmians at 100,000. This was certainly an exaggeration. Barthold opines that Juvaini must have meant 1,000 and that Rashid al-Din was simply repeating what Juvaini said. In any case, the Mongols, emboldened by this sudden success, proceeded to Gurganj and entered the city via the Qabilan Gate. This daring sortie must have struck terror into the hearts of the populace, but the invaders were still relatively few in number and in no position to hold the city. Fearing that they would get trapped within the city walls they withdrew as night fell. The Khwarezmians did not venture out of the city the next day. The Mongols attacked one of the city gates, but 500 men under the command of Faridun Ghuri, one of the Khwarezmshah’s chief generals, managed to repulse them.
At this juncture the main Mongol army began trickling in. Ögedei’s corps arrived first, followed by a personal division of Chingis’s under the command of Bughurji-Noyon. Last came Chagaadai’s corps, under the command of Tulun Cherbi, Ustun-Noyon, and Qadan-Noyon. The amassed Mongol army, including auxiliaries who had rallied to the Mongol cause may numbered over 100,000. The Mongol chieftains made a show of strength by circling the entire army around city and then sent in emissaries to demand its surrender and submission. As no answer was immediately forthcoming they prepared for a protracted siege. Mangonels were set up, but since there were no large rocks in the area, projectiles had to be made from sections of large mulberry trees that were hardened by soaking them in water. Meanwhile, Mongol envoys continued to cajole the city fathers with “promises and threats, inducements and menaces,” all to no avail. 
Then Jochi’s corps from Jand on the lower Syr Darya arrived on the scene and with their help the Mongols were able to further tighten the noose on the city. Whether Jochi accompanied them is a matter of some dispute. Juvaini implies that he did not. Given his ongoing feud with his brother Chagaadai, he might well have wanted to keep his distance. Other Persian sources, however, say that he did accompany his troops and that he played in crucial role in deciding the ultimate fate of the city, as we shall see. 
The investment of the city continued. Levies, presumably seized in Khiva and other cities that the Mongols had already taken in Khwarezm and perhaps some brought along with Jochi’s corps from the lower Syr Darya, were pushed up to the city walls and made to fill in the moat with rubbish and whatever else came to hand. This operation took ten days, according to Rashid al-Din. Then the prisoners were tasked with undermining the city walls. All the while mangonels hurled hardened chunks of mulberry trunks into the beleaguered city. Then the Mongols attacked: “loosing a yell like thunder and lightning they rained down missiles and arrows like hailstones.” Terrified by these assault, Khumar Tegin, the “counterfeit Sultan and leader of the army,” as Juvaini styles him, quickly lost heart: “The signs of the Tartar [Mongol] army's victory agreed with his secret surmise.” He left his position by one of the main city gates and personally surrendered to the Mongols. His subsequent fate is unknown. 
Continuing the assault, the Mongols were soon able to plant their standards on the top of the city walls. But the fight for Gurganj was just beginning. What is now called urban warfare ensued. “The inhabitants opposed them in all the streets and quarters of the town,” according to Juvaini, “in every lane they engaged in battle and in every cul-de-sac they resisted stoutly.” The Mongols responded by torching whole quarters of the city with naphtha, a primitive form of napalm, and “sewing the people to one another with arrows”. This street-to-street fighting went on for at least two days, during which large sections of the city were completely destroyed.
At this point a rift developed in the Mongolian leadership. The whole point of attacking a city was to seize its wealth. If the entire city was burned to the ground before they had a chance to loot it, all their efforts would have come to naught. “By now,” Juvaini explains, “the greater part of the city was destroyed; the houses with their goods and treasures were but mounds of earth; and the Mongols despaired of benefitting from the stores of their wealth.” As we have seen, Juvaini maintained that Jochi was not present at the siege of Gurganj. Both Rashid al-Din and Nasavi claims that he was, however, and that he had serious objections about the scorched earth policy that was obliterating the city. Not only was he concerned about the loss of loot in the short term. Gurganj, the richest city in Khwarezm and one of the richest in Inner Asia, was to be a part of his patrimony when Chingis Khan died. If the battle for the city continued in the same fashion he would inherit nothing but a heap of ashes. According to Nasavi, Jochi himself did everything possible to halt the destruction of Gurganj, including sending numerous envoys to the town fathers seeking their peaceful surrender.
Apparently even the Khwarezmshah, in the last days of his life on the island in the Caspian Sea, had sent a letter to the leaders of Gurganj advising them not to oppose the Mongols. Many of the town fathers had advocated coming to terms with the invaders in the hope of saving what they could of their city, but according to Nasavi the “blockheads” among them refused to surrender and in the end these die-hards prevailed. Jochi’s opponent in this, as might be expected, was his younger brother (half-brother actually) and long-time nemesis Chagaadai. The feud between them, which had come to a head at the conference in 1219 when Chingis Khan has named their younger brother Ögedei to be his successor as Great Khan now flared up again. Chagaadai apparently wanted to press on and take the Gurganj by any means possible. If this meant reducing the city to ashes it meant nothing to him. 
For the moment Jochi’s viewpoint prevailed. According to Juvaini, the Mongols “agreed among themselves to abandon the use of fire and rather to withhold from the people the water of the Oxus [Amu Darya], across which a bridge had been built in the town.” This is one of the Persian pen-pusher’s more perplexing passages. Clearly the Amu Darya did not run through the city. The main branch of the Amu Darya is now twenty-five miles east of Gurganj, but in the thirteenth century it apparently flowed by right to the south of the city. There were canals leading off the river, but Barthold, who has studied in some detail the layout of thirteenth century Guganj, maintains that because of a lack of space none of the ariqs, or canals, ran through the town in the thirteenth century. So where was this bridge to which Juvaini refers? Barthold does tell us that that some 300 feet from the walls of Gurganj a wooden dam had been built to deflect water of the river away from the city. Was this wooden dam the “bridge” to which Juvaini refers? Juvaini implies, however, that the “bridge” was within the city, while the wooden dam was clearly outside the city walls. In any case, the Mongols now attempted to seize the bridge or dam—wherever it might have been—apparently with the intend of destroying it and flooding the city. Here the Mongols suffered a setback. The 3,000 troops devoted to this task were quickly surrounded by the Khwarezmians and massacred. 
This fleeting victory in the battle of the bridge emboldened the defenders, but it also hardened the resolve of the Mongols. According to al-Athir, Mongol causalities during the siege had already outnumbered those of the city’s defenders. Rashid al-Din claimed that hillocks made of the bones of Mongols killed during the siege were still visible in his time, more than sixty years later. The lost of 3,000 men in one skirmish appeared to weaken the hand of Jochi, who wanted to save the city from total destruction, but apparently he was not yet ready to give in to Chagaadai and the hardliners who wanted to take the city by any means possible. The dissension between the two brothers was finally reported to Chingis Khan, and he responded by putting the entire army under the command of Ögedei, in effect taking the ever-quarreling Jochi and Chagaadai out of the decision-making process. Jochi’s attempt to save what he could of the city had failed. Under Ögedei the street-by-street assault on the city resumed. Quarter after quarter of the city fell into the hands of the Mongols until only three remained untaken. The inhabitants of these quarters finally decided to send a local dignitary, Ali ad-Din Khayyati, to Jochi and have him beg for mercy. But their entreaties were too late; not even Jochi could save them now. Sometime in April of 1221 the last resistance was overcome and the city of Gurganj was completely overrun by the Mongols.
The surviving inhabitants were driven out into the surrounding fields. The artisans and others with valuable skills, said to number over 100,000, were separated from the rest and, according to Juvaini, sent off to “Eastern Lands,” presumably in China and Mongolia. Juvaini, writing in the 1260s, adds, “Today there are many places in those parts that are cultivated and peopled by the people of Khorazm” (whether the Hui, a sizable Islamic minority now found in China, are the descendants of these forcibly resettlement craftsmen is a matter of some dispute). The women and young children were enslaved and parceled out to their new masters. Some skilled men had hidden their talents, believing that instead of being sent off of the East they would be allowed to return to the city as common laborers. They were sorely disappointed. The remaining men were divided among the Mongol troops and each soldier was tasked with executing twenty-four victims. 
According to al-Athir, the Mongols were not yet done with the destruction of Gurganj. After they had looted what they could from burned out ruins, they decided to flood the city: “They opened the dam which kept the waters of the Oxus away from the city, so that it was completely inundated and buildings collapsed. The site was left an expanse of water. Not one of the populace survived, although in other cities some of the people had survived; some hid, some fled, some got out and escaped and yet others threw themselves down among corpses and so were saved. However, from among the people of Khwarazm those who hid from the Tatars [Mongols] were either drowned or died under the rubble. The city became a deserted ruin.” 
The number who died is uncertain. Juvaini refused to speculate: “I have heard such a quantity of slain that I did not believe the report and so have not recorded it. ‘Oh God, preserve us from the ills of this world and torments of the world to come.’”
Some structures in Gurganj did survive the Mongol onslaught, although most if not all of them were heavily damaged. Perhaps the most notable pre-Mongol invasion monument was the 196-foot Temür Qutlugh Minaret. Based on its design and the techniques used in its construction some historians have posited that it was built in the tenth or eleventh century. Most agree that it was later repaired and restored by its namesake,  Temür Qutlugh (r. 1370 – 1399), a khan of the Golden Horde.
 Temür Qutlugh Minaret  (click on photo for enlargement)
 Temür Qutlugh Minaret
 Base of the minaret. Note that the pilgrims are circumambulating counter-clockwise, as is the custom with Islamic monuments. Buddhist monuments are circumambulated clockwise. 
Top of the minaret

Wednesday, August 1, 2018

Uzbekistan | Samarkand | Shah-i-Zinda Necropolis

After my pilgrimage to the Tomb of Khazret Khizr, the Patron Saint of Wanderers and Marijuana, I wandered by the Shah-i-Zinda Necropolis. Although most of tombs here date to the Timurid Era in the 14th and 15th centuries, the complex was founded in the eleventh century, before the invasion of Chingis Khan in 1220, and I was curious to see what if anything had survived the Mongol onslaught. Since the complex is quite large and I doubted if anything which survived Chingis’s assault on the city would be marked I decided I better hire a professional guide. I was extremely lucky in acquiring the services of Denis Vikulov, who has worked as a guide for numerous professional photographers, reporters, and writers as well as run-of-the-mine tourists like myself. Not only was he already aware of some parts of the complex said to date to before Chingis’s invasion, he also called one of his old college professors who gave him some additional hints as to what to look for.


The entrance to the Shah-i-Zinda Necropolis. The south-facing ceremonial gate was constructed by order of Ulugh Beg, grandson of Amir Timur (Tamurlane) in 1434–35.
Staircase, also said to have been built by Ulugh Beg,  leading from the ceremonial gate to the main complex of mausoleums.
More than twenty mausoleums, most of them built by order of Amir Timur, line the narrow walkway through the complex. These include the tombs of Amir Timur’s favorite niece, Shadi Mulk Aga, built in 1372, his sister Shirin Bika Aga, and other relatives and members of the Timurid aristocracy. There is also a mausoleum devoted to well-known scientist and astronomer Kazi Zade Rumi, built by Amir Timur’s grandson Ulugh Beg, who had A Thing for Astronomy, in 1434-1435.
Walkway through the complex lined with mausoleums
Front of one of the mausoleums
Detail of one of the mausoleums
Walkway with tombs on either side
Next to Shirin-Bika-Aga Mausoleum is the so-called Octahedron, an unusual octagon-shaped open crypt which dates back to the beginning of the fifteen century.  According to my guide, pilgrims from Azerbaijan who have visited the Shah-i-Zinda Complex (pilgrims come here from all over the world) say that such octagonal crypts are common in their country. Apparently this is the only one found in Uzbekistan. 
The Octahedron
More to the point, however, the base of the Octahedron dates back to the eleventh century, according to local historians, or before the invasion of Chingis. Whatever was originally built on the foundation was destroyed, and later the Octahedron was built on it. Historians claim the stonework of the base is typical of the tenth and eleventh centuries. 
Base of the Octahedron, said to date back to before the Chingisid invasions.
Farther north from the Octahedron is the heart of the whole Shah-i-Zinda complex, the tomb and mosque of Kusam ibn Abbas, the cousin of the prophet Muhammad. Kusam ibn Abbas supposedly accompanied one of the very earliest invasions by Islamic Arabs of Transoxiana and was killed here in Samarkand. I have been unable to determine if this story is based on an historical incident or if it is simply a pious legend. In any case a whole corpus of legends have grown up around Kusam ibn Abbas and his tomb and mosque here in the Shah-i-Zinda complex. These need not concern us here, although I may return to this at a later date. 
Ancient wooden door at the entrance to the tomb of Kusam ibn Abbas.
Detail of the door. The inscription on the column to the right gives the name of the man who carved the door and when it was made: 1404-05 
Of more interest is the claim that parts of the Kusam ibn Abbas complex date back to before the Mongol conquest. The existing tomb and mosque, reportedly built in the fifteen and sixteenth centuries, as indicated by the door above, is said to have included some structures which survived the destruction of the original complex by the Mongols.  For instance, just inside the main door is the base and entryway to a minaret said to date to the pre-Mongol era. The top of the minaret itself was destroyed by the Chingisids but the base and entryway was incorporated into the now-existing structures. 
 Base and Entryway to Pre-Chingisid Minaret
The Tomb of Kusam ibn Abbas is behind the door at center. The inner tomb room is usually not open to the public. 
 Ceiling decoration in the outer tomb room
Detail of ceiling decoration
Just outside the tomb room of Kusam ibn Abbas is a wooden wall also said to date to before the Chingisid invasion. It survived the destruction of the orginal complex and was incorporated into the now-existing structure. Local historians claims the carvings on the wooden wall are indicative of the tenth and eleventh centuries. 
  Pre-Mongol Wooden Wall
A carved beam also said to date to before the Mongol conquest. At the top right is the carved head of a sheep, with the nose broken off. 
Just outside the outer room of  Kusam ibn Abbas’s tomb is a locked door opening onto a staircase which leads down to an underground chamber where Sufis used to do 40 day solitary meditation retreats. My guide, who over the years has managed to gain access to normally closed places like the underground crypt of Amir Timur, the Inner Tomb Room of Kusam ibn Abbas, and other even harder to enter Holy of Holies, says that he has never been able to get permission to visit this meditation chamber, and it remains somewhat of a mystery what is going on down there. Some speculate that it might still be in use by solitary meditators.