The silk road city Shakhrisyabz in what is now southern Uzbekistan reached its cultural and architectural peak in the 14th and 15th centuries, when Amir Temur, founder of the Temurid empire, chose it as the site for Ak-Saray, his massive summer palace.
At the time, the city (pronounced shah-ree-shabz) was one of the main hubs of the most expansive military power in the world, with an empire stretching from the Mongolian steppe to modern Turkey. Temur’s palace reportedly had a pool and fountain on its roof, with towers more than 230-feet tall.
Today, only the palace’s monumental gates remain, but they’re accompanied by an elaborate funeral complex built for Temur and his family that includes a mosque, prayer hall, and tomb. For the last 500 years, these unparalleled examples of Islamic architecture and design have survived dozens of wars relatively unscathed. What might bring them down, finally, is a combination of urban sprawl and neglect.
Tourism, also, is a point that stands out in a 2016 Unesco report (PDF): “Old residential areas, historic urban layers and buildings from the 20th century have been demolished and replaced with tourist kiosks and a modern ‘theme park,’” it reads. “These interventions have brought about irreversible changes to the original appearance of the historic centre of Shakhrisyabz, the setting of the architectural monuments, and the overall historical town planning and traditional houses. ”
The organization has been chronicling the city’s decay since 2000, when it was declared an official Unesco World Heritage Site. After an inspection in 2002, the organization found that “the rise in ground water and weathering (rain and frost), were persistent issues threatening the structures, in addition to the major cracks which resulted from large scale earthquakes in the past.”
Shakhrisyabz lies about a two-hour drive south of Samarkand, Uzbekistan’s better-known beacon of Temurid architecture. Hotels in the city aren’t exactly luxurious, though several, including the Hotel Shakhrisabz, were built fairly recently. Before you plan your trip, check out some of the ancient city’s highlights below.