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I. ISLAMIC REALMS IN CENTRAL ASIA: THE DOME OF POWER, THE GARDEN OF PARADISE Beginning in the 15th century, descendants of Turkic and Mongolian cavalries distinguished themselves as patrons of grand domes and exquisite gardens. Relying on the architectural traditions established several centuries earlier in Persia, they created new monumental settings in the thinly populated regions ranging from western Iran to Uzbekistan and northern India. A. The Persian Renaissance: From the Timurids to the Safavids 1. Most of the territories between the Mesopotamian Delta, the Central Asian Steppes traversed by the Silk Road, and the Indus Valley came under Muslim rule during the first two centuries of Islam. 2. From the 10th to 13th centuries, the Ghaznavids and the Seljuks, Turkish warrior dynasties from the Steppes, established a pattern of nomadic outsiders taking control and converting to Islam. a. Without a built tradition of their own, they sponsored monuments based on long-standing Persian traditions. 3. During the 13th century, Genghis Khan and his Mongolian hordes swept through the entire region of Central Asia, destroying much of the architectural patrimony of cities such as Baghdad and Samarkand. a. After three generations, however, most of the Khanate ruling class became Muslim. b. Once settled and committed to Islam, the dynasties, such as the Timurids, the Safavids, and the Mughals, sponsored large cities with magnificent gateways, palaces, formal gardens, and funerary cupolas of colossal dimensions. 4. After the decline of the Khanate descendants of Genghis, Timur, often referred to as Tamerlane (Timur the Lame), a general of Mongolian-Turkic origin, succeeded in conquering most of Central Asia. a. Assembled an empire that stretched from Baghdad to Delhi. b. A gruesome and intimidating leader. c. The ancient city of Samarkand became his showcase capital. i. During the first years of the 15th century, Timur commissioned the Great Mosque of Bibi Khanum. 1. Indian elephants dragged hundreds of marble columns across Afghanistan for use in the mosque’s hypostyle prayer hall. ii. At the other end of the city, Timur planned his mausoleum.
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iii. Most of the significant 15th-century projects in Samarkand, including the completion of Timur’s tomb, were planned by Ulugh Beg, the founder’s grandson, who served as governor of the city for 30 years before assuming his brief tenure as emperor in 1447. 1. Sponsored the Great Observatory on the outskirts of the city. 2. Monumental collection of madrasas. 5. The Safavid dynasty in Iran, which claimed genuine Persian origins, tried to keep pace with the monumental achievements of the invaders from the north. a. At the end of the 16th century, Shah Abbas I relocated the Safavid capital from Qazvin in northwestern Iran to the more central Isfahan.
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Christopher Reinemann
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