Shahr i Zindah, Samarkand, Uzbekistan
The Shah-i Zinda (lit. "the Living King") is a funerary complex, located on the south side of the Afrasiyab hill in the city of Samarqand. The focal point of the complex is the shrine of Qusam b. Abbas, a cousin of the Prophet Muhammad, who was reportedly beheaded on a site near Samarqand's wall during the seventh-century Arab conquests of Transoxania. The legend, which became popular in the Timurid period, relates that Qusam, carrying his head in hands and led by the prophet Khizr, descended into a well, where he resides eternally in an underground palace as a "Living King." Some scholars suggest that the site was a venerated place before the arrival of Islam, in part because of the reference to prophet Khizr and the story of the Source of Life, but also due to the existence of a spring, historically associated with immortality.
Archeological studies, however, indicate that the earliest structures of the Shah-i Zinda date from the eleventh century of the Common Era, when the shrine and its adjoining buildings were located at an intersection within a populated area of ancient Samarqand, (which is now a mound called Afrasiyab, to the north of the city.) Archeological excavations have also revealed traces of an eleventh-century four-iwan madrasa (probably the first instance of the institution in Samarkand) erected opposite the shrine by the order of the Karakhanid ruler Tamghach Bughra Khan (reg. 1052–1066).
Nevertheless, it was after the Mongol sack of the city in the early thirteenth century that, following the relocation of central Samarqand from Afrasiyab hill to its present place, the site turned into a necropolis. The tombs first erected clustered around the Qusam's shrine at the top of the hill, and the later structures descended the southern slope in a long string. The bulk of the structures were constructed between 1370 and 1405, mostly for the female members of the Timurid family.
The final form of the complex was shaped in 1434-5, when Ulugh Beg, Timur's grandson and the governor of Transoxiana (1409–1447), erected a monumental gateway at the southern end of the alley, which provided a well-defined ceremonial entrance for the complex and linked the necropolis to the city. Later interventions had minimal impacts on the general organization of the site.
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