Bibi-Khanym Mosque – Samarkand, Uzbekistan - Atlas Obscura

Bibi-Khanym Mosque

Controversially restored in the 1970s, this giant 15th-century mosque is shrouded in legend. 


Legend has it that the construction of this immense mosque was commissioned in 1399 by Temur’s senior wife, Bibi Khanum, better known as Saray Mulk Khanum, as a surprise while he was away. Able to accommodate a congregation of up to 10,000, it was by far the largest in Central Asia.

The mosque’s ambitious size led to hasty construction, rendering it structurally unsound. After being damaged by an earthquake in 1897, it was rebuilt by the Soviets in the 1970s. However, both the original restoration and subsequent restorations have faced criticism for including inauthentic inscriptions and miraculously taller walls.

According to lore, the architect overseeing the mosque’s construction fell deeply in love with Bibi Khanum and demanded a kiss from her before completing the project. However, this act left a mark on her face, enraging Temur, which ultimately led to the execution of the architect. Temur’s death in 1405 halted the construction as subsequent leaders lacked the means or motivation to continue.

In the middle of the courtyard stands a giant marble Quran stand, which, it is believed, would miraculously aid a woman in becoming pregnant were she to crawl underneath it.

However, this tradition was abruptly halted in 2023 when a glass case was erected around the structure for protection. Whether Samarkand is now safeguarded from unexpected population booms remains to be seen.

Know Before You Go

Due to its size and central location, the Bibi-Khanym mosque is easy to find. There is a beautiful view of the mosque and surrounding area from across the valley at the Hazrat Khizr Mosque. 

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