Sunday, April 26, 2015

The Tomb of Prophet Daniel in Samarkand, Uzbekistan

Most sightseeing sites in Samarkand are renowned for their beauty and splendor, but there is one which looks rather modest. However, it is very popular and famous, as this is the tomb of Prophet Daniel of the Old Testament. It is located at the hill over the Siab river. 

This mausoleum is very popular among pilgrims and ordinary tourists, and it seems that local youth come here just to spend time at this nice peaceful place. I guess that is better than a bar. People come to the St Daniel tomb to pray for health, and it is especially popular among women who want to give birth. 

According to Wikipedia, "there are six different locations claiming to be the site of the tomb of the biblical figure Daniel: Babylon, Kirkuk and Muqdadiyah in Iraq, Susa and Malamir in Iran, and Samarkand in Uzbekistan. Tomb of Daniel at Susa is most agreed tomb". 

These tombs come in different sizes and settings. In our case, inside a very modest building, there is a 18-meter (59 feet) sarcophagus covered with the elaborately embroidered silk shell. While the building is relatively new (1900), the grave itself dates to the end of XIV century, when Amir Timur (also known as Tamerlane, Timur the Lame, Emir Temur, etc.) was conquering Middle East. 

"Our" tomb is a "branch" of the one in Susa, which is at the territory of modern Iran. The most wide-spread legend told to us by the guide says that Amir Timur tried to conquer the city of Susa, but with no luck. The garrison of the city was ridiculously small, yet they managed to beat off attack after attack. He had to leave, and then he came back as a pilgrim in disguise, to learn the reason for the failure. He was told that the city was invincible because of the tomb of St Daniel which protected it. After that, either he took back the relics by stealth, or traded them for a peace treaty (which does not seem very logical, since the relics were protecting the city really well) - whatever was his way of doing it, he brought them back to Samarkand, the capital of his empire. Amir Timur chose a nice place on a hill (according to another legend, horses or camels chose it themselves), buried the relics there, and a spring sprouted under the hill. 

The guide cautiously said that it was not known whether Amir Timur brought back the whole skeleton, or a limb (an arm, according to many sources), or just some earth from the original tomb. She said that she preferred to err on the side of caution and say that it was earth, that was mixed with the earth of Samarkand in the new tomb. According to her, the tomb was unopened since the times of Amir Timur, as it is a great sin to disturb the dead ones. 

At the side of the tomb, there is a very old pistachio tree. It is believed that the sapling was brought back from Susa at the same time with the relics, so it must be more than 600 years old. It was completely dry for many years, but sprang back to life - surprisingly, after the Patriarch Alexy II of Moscow who was then the head of Russian Orthodox Church, visited the tomb to consecrate it and pray there. This was in 1996, and in 1997 the tree was in bloom again, which of course can be seen as a miracle. 

And this beautiful door leads to a hermit cave where people used to stay for weeks to pray and mortify the flesh. As you can see, it is locked with a modern padlock, but, as the guide explained, this is not because people around have no sins any more, but rather because the ceiling is in poor condition and needs to be strengthened. I guess there must have been several caves, or there would be a long queue to use this one. Maybe this is just an entrance to a corridor with many caves - a labyrinth under the hill - I wonder. I have a Samarkand friend who I should ask; I am sure that he must have been inside when it was still open. 

The wooden pole with a fox tail marks the place of burial of the saint according to the local tradition. A similar pole can be seen inside Amir Timur tomb, Gur-e-Emir, marking the tomb of his spiritual mentor Sayyid Baraka. And the small square building is where the water from the spring is coming out of several pipes, for people to drink and take home with them. It is a very nice water, cold and clean. You can see construction works in the background; I think the Mayor decided to grow a park there, which is nice of him. 

While this place does not strike me as a particularly beautiful one, it is very peaceful and feels good. People come there to socialise and have rest - and to pray, of course. There is a Muslim preacher who reads sermons now and then in a beautiful rich voice, and people sit and listen and pray with him. And there are always kids, running and playing around, as a symbol of never ending life. 


  1. How interesting! The pistachio tree in bloom really does seem like a miracle. So do Russian Orthodox and Muslims both consider this a holy site?

  2. Wow, that would be absolutely amazing to see!

  3. Fascinating! I especially love the carved wooden door that leads to the cave.
    My brother traveled to Uzbekistan a few times on business and he has shown
    me some photos of the beautiful area you live in :)

  4. what a fantastic post! very interesting history


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