The article describes the important contribution to Astronomy made by the grandson of Tamerlane. Ulugbeg earned a place in history not for the military conquests, for which the Timurids, particularly the founder of the Timurid Dynasty, are better known, but for indulging in research on Astronomy. Unlike his father and grandfather Ulugbeg devoted his entire life to educational pursuits and promotion of science. The Ulugbeg Observatory outside Samarqand made an important contribution to Astronomy in the 15th century.
ULUGBEG’S OBSERVATORY –
Major contribution towards building blocks of Astronomy
The Tashkent Highway extends in the north-easterly direction from the great historical metropolis of Samarqand in the direction of the Afrasiab Hill. About 10 kilometers from the walls of the city of Samarqand and 5 kilometers beyond Afrasiab Hill, another hill takes off from the right-hand side of the highway, which unlike the Afrasiab Hill, is covered with greenery. About 10 meters above the level of road, on a terrace cut into the side of the hill, is a magnificent gold-colored statue of a turbaned gentleman seated on a divan. Behind the grandiose figure of the seated gentleman is a blue-colored luminous panel of plexi-glass, which gives the appearance of a clear blue sky decorated with numerous stars and other heavenly bodies. The inscription on the pedestal of the statue reveals the identity of the seated gentleman – Mirza Ulugbeg.
Beyond the terrace, where the statue of Ulugbeg is located, the road curves and climbs another 80 meters before a massive gateway decorated with floral design panels begins to make its appearance. A pointed arch in the inner rectangle of the gateway leads to the gates, which provide entrance to an Observatory. This impressive model of a scientific installation provides the link with the statue.
Mirza Ulugbeg’s Statue
Mirza Ulugbeg was the grandson of Amir Timur (Tamerlane) the founder of the Timurid Empire, and the third ruler of the Timurid Dynasty (He remained ruler for just two years before he was brutally murdered by fanatics, who were opposed his devotion to science). Ulugbeg accompanied his grandfather Timur and his father, Shahrukh, on numerous military campaigns across Central Asia, Iran and Anatolia. During one of these campaigns he had a chance to visit the Maragheh Observatory in the Azerbaijan Province of Iran, which generated considerable interest for science in the young prince, particularly in astronomy and mathematics. After the death of Timur, his son Shahrukh became Emperor, and Herat became the seat of the Empire. Shahrukh appointed Mirza Ulugbeg as Governor of Transoxiana Province. He was just 15 then. In the period, when he remained Governor of Transoxiana (1409-1447) Mirza Ulugbeg gave considerable importance to setting up educational institutions and promotion of science. He acquired the services of numerous scientists from various parts of the vast Timurid Empire, among whom Al-Kish, the famous astronomer and mathematician from Iran, and Qazi-zadeh Rumi from Anatolia deserve special mention. Ulugbeg co-opted Al-Kish to work for him in the construction of the Observatory. The construction began in 1420 and was completed in 1424, when Al-Kish became its first Director.