Legend of Bibi Khanum mosque

In this article we will talk about two legends about Bibi Khanum. Which of this is true, and what fiction is up to you. That's what legend is.

Legend of Bibi Khanum mosque, the 1st version

The name of the mosque - Bibi Khanum - is very poetic, as is the legend associated with its construction. According to legend, Bibi Khanum, the beloved wife of Timur, built the mosque in honor of the return of her husband from a campaign in India. According to her plan, the mosque was to become the most ambitious creation of Samarkand. The architect, who directed the construction of the mosque, fell madly in love with the beautiful queen and in every possible way delayed the completion of the work. Bibi Khanum was furious at this delay, since Timur was due to return very soon, and the building was still not ready. When the queen demanded that the architect hurry up with the construction of the mosque, the architect set a condition for her: the building would be ready on time if she allowed him to kiss her.

In response, the queen ordered the servant to bring eggs painted in different colors, and said to the architect: “Look at these eggs. Only in appearance they are all different, but inside they are the same. Such are we women! I can give you any of the slaves you wish”. Then the architect asked to bring two glasses: one of them he filled with water, and the other with white wine: “Look at these glasses - they look the same. But if I drink one, I won’t feel anything; if I drink another, it will burn me. That is love”!

So the queen had to agree with the conditions of the impudent architect, but his kiss was so passionate that a bright trace remained on the gentle cheek of Bibi Khanum. Timur returned from the campaign. He was delighted with the gift of his wife - a majestic cathedral mosque, which was completed by the architect on time, but a kiss on the cheek of his beloved wife attracted his attention.

It is not known for certain how this story ended. According to one of the common versions, Timur killed the architect and ordered to bury him in the underground mausoleum, where he placed his library. After Timur’s death, this library passed to Ulugbek, who expanded it significantly, but after his death, it disappeared without a trace.

This legend of Bibi Khanum can be compared with real facts. Timur's eldest wife, Sarai Mulk Khanum, with the permission of Timur, decided to build a mosque for good purposes near the bazaar. Simultaneously with the building of the Bibi Khanum mosque, construction works of another madrasah according to the plan of Timur were going. In order the Bibi Khanum mosque was more magnificent than Timur’s Madrasah, the tsarina ordered the architects to erect one of the tallest buildings in the city of that period. But due to an error in the calculations, the building gradually began to collapse.

Legend of Bibi Khanum, the 2nd version

As we mentioned above, the name of the eldest wife of the formidable ruler appears in other legendary stories of past centuries, almost unknown to a wide circle of history buffs. In particular, one of them tells that Bibi Khanum was not of Muslim origin. In this regard respect there are some scientific evidence.

In the early 1870s, the Samarkand administration decided to expand the trading area of the bread market located near the Bibi Khanum Mosque. After the demolition of dilapidated shacks located about fifty meters east of the mosque, a small stone building was found in their place. Upon examination, a nameless tombstone was found. Under construction was a basement in which three more tombstones were found. They did not contain information about who was buried here. Nevertheless, specialists were able to determine the burial period - the era of Timur.

It must be said that the find stunned the archaeologists: all four tombs were stone sarcophagi. According to the archaeologist-orientalist V.L. Vyatkin (the one who dug up the Ulugbek observatory), it was completely unusual, the only such burial in Central Asia. Perhaps this fact served as the basis for the birth of a new legend about Bibi Khanum, Timur's former popular wife.

Rumors spread around the bazaar that every day a snake crawled out of the dungeon and, basking in the sun, was hiding again in its dwelling. Different versions of these stories had something in common, and this prompted local historian M. Rostislavov to write down the legend heard from the lips of a local old-timer. Soon the story was published in the Turkestan Vedomosti newspaper (1875, No. 27), and in 1898 it was reprinted by the Tashkent magazine of the Turkestan circle of archeology lovers. Since then, the legend of Queen Bibi Khanum was no longer published, and therefore remained unknown to the general public.

The snake from the tomb or the appearance of the legend about Bibi Khanum

According to local legend, the kind, wise and beautiful queen Bibi Khanum was Russian by origin and professed Christianity. Despite her disbelief, she, thanks to the wonderful qualities of her soul, enjoyed universal love and respect. Once, a certain holy fool predicted her death from a bite of a phalanx. Bibi Khanum worthily listened to the gloomy news. Then, summoning Timur, in a calm tone she announced about her near death and expressed her desire to be buried not according to the Muslim custom — in the earth, but according to the custom of her faith — in the grave.

Timur was very upset by the news. He did his best to distract his spouse from sorrowful thoughts, but she firmly stood her ground. And then the emir ordered the construction of a grand mosque in honor of his beloved wife, commanding the builders to use clay taken directly from under the building for their work. For this reason, an extensive dungeon was formed under the mosque. When the construction was coming to the end, the queen was invited to inspect the building, which she was pleased with.

Some time passed. Once Bibi Khanum, surrounded by close women, was sitting at the dastarkhan (eastern table) and laying out grapes. Suddenly she felt a sharp pain in her hand, and then she saw a running phalanx. Frightened women called Amir Timur. Bibi Khanum, smiling calmly, reminded him of the holy fool's prediction and repeated her request for burial according to Christian traditions.

The harsh lord fulfilled the will of his beloved wife. The deceased was dressed in rich clothes, a double necklace of corals and pearls was put on his neck, the coffin lid was hammered with gold nails, and the coffin was placed in a stone sarcophagus.

Rumors about this quickly spread throughout the city. One night, ten thieves entered the burial vault. They pulled out gold nails from the coffin, and removed the precious necklaces from the deceased. Not having time to get out, they began to share the booty. But the thieves could not go out: a snake crawled out of the dungeon and killed them with its poison.

The people who had gathered in front of the mosque in the morning realized that the dead men found at the tomb were punished for their crime by an unknown force. Now it was necessary to return the stolen things to the place, but no one dared to do it.

Then one old man came forward. He read the prayer, took the stolen things and, entered the building. He reverently put the jewelry in place. However, when he wanted to go back, the door to the tomb suddenly closed, so tightly that no effort could open it again. The poor old man was buried alive in this crypt. Since then, no one has attempted to enter a gloomy building guarded by a snake.

Today the Bibi Khanum Mosque is one of the most popular places for tourists to visit. If you are also interested in this mysterious building, come to Samarkand within the tours around Uzbekistan.

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