The Ulugh beg Observatory in Samarkand, created in the 1420s by the Timurid astronomer Mirzo Ulugbek (1394-1449), is a historical monument and one of the best observatories in the Islamic world. At one time, such scientists as Kazi-Zade ar-Rumi (1364-1437), Al-Kashi (1380-1429), and Ali al-Kushchi (1403-1474) worked here.
The history of the Ulugh beg Observatory, rooted in ancient times, is associated with the name of the famous scientist Mirzo Ulugbek. Few people know that Muhammad Taragai (the name given to Ulugbek at birth) was the grandson of the legendary Turkic-Mongol military commander and conqueror Tamerlane. The genius and greatness that characterised Ulugbek, apparently, was inherited by his grandson from his grandfather. But, unlike his famous ancestor, Ulugbek approached to a peaceful life and fought exclusively on the scientific field, engaged in self-education from a young age. In more mature years, Ulugbek studied science with well-known scientists and philosophers in that era.
One of the turning points in the life of young Muhammad happened during a campaign in Sultania (a city in northwestern Iran), where he went with his grandfather. An unusual building could not hide from the young man’s curious look, which turned out to be a building for observing various objects and phenomena on Earth and in space. Perhaps it was at that moment that Ulugbek’s dream of creating his own observatory appeared. Whether events really developed in this way, the current generation, unfortunately, will not know. Be that as it may, in the very first years after the accession to the throne, Muhammad Taragay ordered to begin construction of a star house in his beloved city of Samarkand.
The erection of the monumental structure, which lasted 4 years, began in 1424. At the head of the masters who participated in this grandiose project, Ulugbek placed his teacher Rumi. After the completion of the main construction work, the designers were faced with the task of equipping the building with devices for observing the starry sky. The implementation of this responsible matter was entrusted to the famous scientist Jamshid Kashi, who became the manager of the observatory after the beginning of its work. It should be noted that Ulugbek often visited the star house, spending all his free time in its walls. The ruler showed favour to scientists, encouraging their research, and sought to participate personally in research.
After the death of Kasha, the mentor of the ruler Rumi, who spent 6 years in this post, was at the head of the observatory. A big preoccupation with government issues did not allow Ulugbek to closely engage in the observatory, so he began to think about closing it. The renowned mathematician and astronomer Kushchi Ali persuaded the ruler to abandon this venture. Unfortunately, in 1449 Ulugbek was killed, becoming a victim of conspirators. After his death, the observatory functioned for about 20 years. After the closure, the deserted star house stood for many years, and only at the end of the 16th century, the inhabitants of Samarkand began to dismantle the building into bricks.
Design of Ulugh Beg Observatory
The building of the cylindrical observatory about 30 meters high was built of brick, which was easily accessible but was not sufficiently stable. In accordance with the radius of the sextant (a tool for geodetic and astronomical observations), the height of the building was supposed to be so large that it could lead to its destruction. Designers were able to solve this problem by building half a sextant underground, which allowed them to preserve the size of the instrument and ensure the safe height of the observatory.
The observatory consisted of three floors: the first one was adapted for the life of staff, and the second and third floors with a large number of arches were used to observe celestial bodies. The roof of the building was flat, which allowed the use of tools directly on the roof.
Mirzo Ulugbek Memorial Museum was opened near the building of the observatory, which opened its doors to visitors in 1964. The design of the museum was carried out by artists and craftsmen from the public fund at the Academy of Arts of the Republic of Uzbekistan. Among the exhibits, there are photographs from the excavation sites and fragments of frescoes depicting some periods of the ruler’s life, tools used by scientific astronomers, and other objects found at the research site. Opposite the museum building in 2010, in a solemn ceremony, a monument to the great statesman was unveiled.
How to get there
Near the attraction is the bus stop “Ulugbek Observatory”, which can be reached on route number 45. You can also reach the destination by taxi. The road without traffic jams from the airport (5 kilometers) will take about 8 minutes, and from the railway station (10 kilometers) – about 15 minutes.
- Entrance ticket: 1500–50000 uzb sum
- Opening Hours: Observatory: 08: 00–18: 30 Museum: 08: 00–18: 00