The Ulugh Beg Observatory in Samarkand is the visible proof of how far Central Asia was scientifically ahead of the Western world.
Ulugh Beg was one of the grandsons of the founder of the Timurid Empire Amir Temur. His father Shah-Ruchs prevailed in the riots around the throne succession and made Herat the new capital. So he appointed Ulugh Beg as governor of Samarkand.
After Ulugh Beg had already built the Ulugh Beg Madrasah and had gathered 70 scholars there, he built the observatory. It housed a brick sextant with a radius of 36 meters. The round three-storied building was 30 m high.
Together with the scholars Jamshīd al-Kāshī and Qāḍī Zāda al-Rūmī, he calculated the ecliptic, i.e. the angle between the circle of the annual orbit of the Sun and the equatorial plane.
Between 1420 and 1437 they also created a star catalog with 1018 stars. Only in the second half of the 16th century, Tycho Brahe surpassed this star catalog in its accuracy.
After the murder of Ulugh Begs and the destruction of the observatory, the astronomer Ali Qushji escaped with a copy of the star charts and brought it to Tabriz. So the knowledge came via Istanbul to Europe.
Ulugh Beg was dethroned as ruler by his son Abd al-Latif in October 1449 and probably murdered on his behalf. For Ulugh Beg the science was very important. Thus he did not take it so literally with the reign and the religion. This was a thorn in the side of the clergy, Sufis, and dervishes. So, the Hodja (religious scholar) Ubaidullah Ahrar instigated the son of Ulugh Beg to his acts.
After the deposition, one sent Ulugh Beg on pilgrimage. On the way, he was arrested and executed and the observatory destroyed.
Ulugh Beg is the tragic hero of Samarkand. Realizing that knowledge was more important than faith because of the evidence of science, he had to pay with his life and in a certain way became a martyr of science.
Abu’l-Khayr Khan, the founder of the Bukhara Uzbek Khanate, took power in the Timurid Empire.
The underground part of the observatory was rediscovered and excavated in 1908 by the Russian archaeologist Vassily Lavrentyevich Vyatkin.
Today, next to the restored parts of the observatory, there is a small museum with models, inscriptions and photos. A graphic shows Ptolemy, Tycho Brahe, Riccioli, Landgrave William IV of Hesse-Kassel, Jan Geveliy and Ulugh Beg sitting at a table together with Urania.
Leaving the museum, we met the German-Austrian group again, whom we had already met in the Safari Yurt Camp at Aydar Lake. They kindly helped Ursula out with medicine against her stomach problems.
From the viewing platform of the observatory, you have a beautiful view of almost all sights of Samarkand.
To the right, you can see the huge Bibi-Khanym Mosque and the Bibi-Khanym Mausoleum and to the left the Madrasahs on Registon Square.
In the foreground is the rubble mound of the destroyed city Afrasiyab. Left of it is the Shah-i-Zinda ensemble with its domes; It is part of the best-known necropolises in Central Asia.
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