Clavijo's Embassy to Tamerlane
One of the best accounts of the western half of the Silk Road is that by Ruy Gonzalez de Clavijo (d. 1412), who was sent as ambassador to Tamerlane by King Henry III of Castile and Leon in Spain. Clavijo's journey from 1402 to 1406 took him through Constantinople, Trebizond (on the Black Sea shore of Anatolia) and then inland across northern Iran and into Central Asia, where he was received by Tamerlane in Samarkand. The return journey followed approximately the same route but for a swing up into the southern part of the Caucasus. The following map shows the complete route of the embassy:
Clavijo's account is particularly rich for its information on some of the major commercial and political centers along the way and for the his descriptions of the conditions of travel. No other account of Timur's family home of Kesh (Shahr-i Siabs) and Timur's capital Samarkand provides the kind of interesting detail Clavijo does.
The extracts and maps here are from the translation by Guy Le Strange, Clavijo. Embassy to Tamerlane 1403-1406 (New York and London: Harper, 1928).
For convenience in locating material, I have added some headings and provided direct links to the Table of Contents. To return to the Table of Contents at the end of any section, click on the arrow [Ü ].
1. Eastern Anatolia
2. Herders near Mt. Ararat
3. Approaching Tabriz
5. Travel Conditions and the Postal Relays beyond Tabriz
6. Sultaniyah and its Trade
7. A Caravanserai and the Postal Relays in Korasan
8. Nomadic Kurds
9. The Holy City of Meshed
10. Chagatay Herders
11. Desert Travel
13. The Oxus River (Amu Darya)
14. Through the "Iron Gates" to Kesh
15. Kesh (Shahr-i Siabs)
16. Initial Reception by Tamerlane; Presence of Chinese Ambassador
17. Tent Pavilions of the Timurid Court
18. The King of Badakhshan and the Source of Rubies
19. The Timurid Mausoleum (Gur Emir)
20. Urban Renewal in Samarkand
21. The Bibi Hanim Mosque
22. Description of Samarkand
23. Relations with China
24. Starting for Home; Bukhara
25. Desert Travel
26. Qazvin; Winter Travel in Northern Iran
27. Through the Mountains to Georgia
28. From Trebizond to Constantiople; via Genoa Home to Spain
[Clavijo's party is approaching Erzinjan (Arzinjan) on the upper Euphrates River in Eastern Anatolia. This passage gives a sense of the accomodation provided for travelers, where, because of the nature of the embassy, his party seems to have been particularly well treated.]
...This our last day's journey had been by a very rough road passing over the ridges of high mountains. In the village of Alanza we found a Turkish noble who was headman acting in the name of the Governor of Arzinjan; he received us very courteously, allocating lodgings to us, with provisions and all that was necessary to our comfort. It was in this village and from this same Turk we first learnt that Timur had already departed from Qarabagh, where he had wintered, and had set forth on his march into the plains of Sultaniyah in Persia. The following day Saturday which was the 3rd of May  we left Alanza coming on to a village where they gave us good reception supplying us with food, also horses were now provided for us which we should ride, and sumpterbeasts for our baggage. That night we slept at a village further on where we had provisions amply supplied with fresh horses promised for the morrow.
Thus it was and all that we needed on every occasion they freely supplied to us, for it is the custom of this country [where we were now come governed by Timur] so to do. Wherever we halted whether passing through by day, or to stay the night, they would bring out carpets from the houses and seat us honourably upon them. Next they would produce a leather mat for a table-cloth, as might be with us a round of [Cordovan] leather such as we call Guadamacir, and this with them is known as a Sofra, and on this they would place bread. Their bread in these villages was indeed of very bad quality, being made after a strange fashion. They take a little flour, knead it and make pan-cakes of the same. Then they take a frying-pan set it on the fire and when it has got hot throw the thin cake of dough into it, which as soon as it is heated and baked through they remove. This was the only bread that they supplied to us in these villages. On the leather mat aforesaid they would place meat in plenty, also bowls of milk and clotted cream with eggs and honey. Thus indeed the best of victuals they supplied to us: in all houses it was the same, and if we had to remain the night they gave us more food than we could possibly eat. In any village where we came, immediately there would appear and stand before us the headman, and thereupon Timur's Envoy who, as said, was with us, would order him to bring food for our needs, further the headman had to supply us with horses to ride and attendants to serve us. And if he did not carry out these commands quickly enough to please that Tartar the Envoy, then he would administer blows with stick and whip that were to us an amazement to witness. Thus the people of all these villages we passed were admonished: and indeed no sooner did they see that Chagatay lord appear than all the folk would seek to hide themselves from him. This name of Chagatay is given to all those who are of the clan or family to which Timur belongs, being thus of the royal lineage and tribe.
To continue: that same day therefore we left the village just mentioned travelling forward: and we noticed that in many of the hamlets passed through there were Armenians who are Christians, the inhabitants there. Next day Sunday the 4th of May we arrived in the city of Arzinjan at the hour of vespers. The road we had travelled was bad crossing steep hill ranges and through forests; and near the city much snow had fallen. A goodly company now came forth from the town to see us enter and to give us welcome, but we passed straight to our lodgings which had already been prepared, and that evening the Governor of the city sent in for our rations many dishes of cooked food, with fruit in plenty and wine and bread.... [Ü ]
[Not far from Mt. Ararat [photo below], near the town of Khoy, Clavijo's party encountered a group of herders.]
....The next day Tuesday we slept at an encampment of the Chagatay Tartars, who were pasturing their flocks in those meadow lands, where there were pitched more than a hundred of their tents. Wednesday again we slept at the tents of another camp of the Chagatays, and these folk supplied us with all necessary food, also horses to carry us forward, just as similarly in the villages and towns that we passed through they had everywhere attended to our service. The country we were now travelling across was very mountainous, but fertile in grass lands, being well watered by numerous streams. All around and about we met with the Chagatays who though nomads are accounted as belonging to the township of Khoy. On Thursday the 5th of June at midday we reached that same city, which lies in a plain, encircled by many orchards and corn lands, these again being surrounded by extensive grazing pastures irrigated by many streams and conduits of water. The city of Khoy itself is defended by a wall of baked-bricks, with many towers and barbicans: and at this city the province of Upper Armenia has its limit, the frontier into Persia being passed here, but in Khoy itself the population for the most part is of the Armenian race. [Ü ]
[Clavijo's party fell in with an embassy to Timur from the Mamluk Sultan in Egypt. Among the gifts being sent by the Mamluks was a giraffe, which Clavijo describes at some length. Following that description, he resumes his account of the journey from Khoy and on to the important city of Tabriz:]
...To one who never saw the Giraffe before this beast is indeed a very wondrous sight to behold.
We remained in this city of Khoy the Thursday night after our arrival, also Friday, Saturday and Sunday following, and on this last day which was the 8th of June at noon took our departure onwards. In the city of Khoy no horses for our journey could be procured, hence orders had been sent out to the troops stationed round and about, and thus our need was supplied. Setting out we made our camp that night in the open meadows. Our journey from Trebizond as far as this city of Khoy had stage by stage been through mountain lands where the heights had been covered with snow, but from here onward the climate became warmer, and no more snow was met with. On Monday following by midday we had come to a very populous fine township of the name of Tassuj,which lies in a plain and is surrounded by many orchards, that are irrigated by numerous streams. This place stands on the borders of the salt lake [of Urumiyah] the circuit of which may measure a hundred miles, and in this lake are three islands one of which is inhabited. We passed on forward that evening and slept at a hamlet called Kuzah Kunan which had been a large place, but most of it now in ruins: they say it was Toktamish, the Tartar Emperor [of the Golden Horde] who destroyed this town, he whom Timur afterwards overcame, ejecting him from his sovereignty, whereby he is now powerless to do evil... At Kuzah Kunan we noticed that many Armenians had taken up settlement to reside there. The following day Tuesday we came to a village called Chauscad, which lies in the plain. It is surrounded by orchards and vineyards, with fruit trees and there is shade all around, while from hills near by came many streams of water irrigating its gardens. Great quantities of fruit are carried thence into Tabriz, and even exported to places beyond. That same night of Tuesday we slept in camp in the open, and all the next day our road went skirting orchards and vineyards, watercourses passing through them, and the road lay through the low lands, most pleasant to travel along by reason of those garden lands. [Ü ]
On Wednesday the 11th of June at the hour of vespers we entered the great city of Tabriz, which lies in a plain between two high ranges of hills that are quite bare of trees. The city is not surrounded by any wall, and the hill range on the left hand comes close up to the town limits. This hill slope [facing south] has a hot aspect, and the streams that flow down from it are unwholesome for drinking. The opposite hill slope lying on the right hand stands back from the town land facing north] has a cold aspect, while beyond on the summits of a range of hills seen here snow lies all the year round. The streams flowing down from this quarter give excellent drinking water, which same is conducted into Tabriz where conduits pass through the city reaching all the houses. In this mountain range to the south, which can be clearly seen from the town, there appear two peaks which, it is said, were once so close together as to form but one mountain summit, but which year by year are now become two peaks and separating apart more and more. In the opposite hill range to the north of the city, and standing about a league distant therefrom, is a very high hill. Here, as they told us, certain Genoese merchants in past days had bought the land from [the Il-Khan] Sultan Oveys [the Ilkhanids were the Mongol rulers of Iran and Iraq, following the taking of Baghdad in 1258], in order to found there a castle to their own use. But no sooner had this Sultan sold the hill to them than he began to repent his bargain: wherefore when the Genoese set to begin the construction of their stronghold, he sent and told them that in his country it was never customary for merchants to build or buy castles. They indeed could buy as much merchandise as they would, and that same they might export, carrying it away with them into their own country: willingly this they should do, but if they should build for themselves a castle, they must also take this up, carrying away the ground on which it was built elsewhere to some place outside his dominions. The Genoese merchants on hearing this had come to words with him, whereupon as we learnt Sultan Oveys had incontinently ordered that they should all be beheaded.
From the hills that are on the right hand to the south a great river flows down towards Tabriz, but before it reaches the city most of its waters are drawn off in irrigation channels. Many conduits later are drawn from these which entering the town the waters flow along through the streets and squares. Throughout the city there are fine roadways with open spaces well laid out: and round these are seen many great buildings and houses, each with its main doorway facing the square. Such are the caravanserais: and within are constructed separate apartments and shops with offices that are planned for various uses. Leaving these caravanserais you pass into the market streets where goods of all kinds are sold: such as silk stuffs and cotton cloths, crapes, taffetas, raw silk and jewelry: for in these shops wares of every kind may be found. There is indeed an immense concourse of merchants and merchandise here. Thus for instance in certain of the caravanserais those who sell cosmetics and perfumes for women are established and to be met with, the women coming here to these shops to buy the same, for they are wont to use many perfumes and unguents. Now the dress the women wear in the streets is that they go covered in a white sheet, and they wear over their faces a black mask of horse-hair, and thus they are concealed completely so that none may know them. Throughout Tabriz many fine buildings may be seen, the Mosques more especially these being most beautifully adorned with tiles in blue and gold; and here they have glass bowls [for the lamps] even as we had seen in Turkish lands.
They told us that all these fine buildings had been erected in days past when there had been living in Tabriz many famous and rich men who had vied each with his neighbour as to who should build the finest house, each spending willingly his wealth in what he did. Of such buildings we visited especially one, a great palace that stands surrounded by its own wall most beautifully and richly planned, and within this building were twenty thousand rooms and separate apartments. We learnt that this great palace had been built by that monarch [already mentioned above] named Sultan Oveys [Jalair], who had constructed it using the treasure that had come to him in tribute paid during the first years of his reign by the Sultan of Egypt. The place is now known as the Dawlat Khanah [the Government House] a name which might also exactly be rendered as "the House of Fortune." This enormous palace for the most part is still standing intact, and indeed it might have been hoped that likewise all those fine buildings in Tabriz would have been left to stand in their early condition, but unfortunately many have of late been pulled down by order of Miran Shah that Prince who is the eldest son of Timur, but the cause will be explained later. Tabriz is indeed a very mighty city rich in goods and abounding in wealth, for commerce daily flourishes here. They say that in former times its population was even greater than it is now, but even at the present day there must be at least 200,000 householders within the city limits, or perhaps even more. We found that in many of the public squares they sold food all ready cooked and nicely served forth for present eating, being prepared in various ways; and fruit too in abundance is to be had there.
In a street of the city near one of the squares is a certain house where a dead withered tree trunk is to be seen, of which they tell the following. It is a belief among the common people that at some near future time this withered tree will put forth green leaves, and next it shall come to pass that one who is a Christian Bishop will appear in the city, surrounded by many Christian folk, and he will bear in his hand a Cross, and forthwith he will convert all the inhabitants of Tabriz to the True Faith in Christ Jesus. For all this as they told us, a certain great saint of the Moslems, who was a Dervish hermit, had made prophecy publicly not long before, on which occasion the common folk of Tabriz much incensed had rejected [what he spoke as to that tree] despising his prophecy. Further the people had assembled together in numbers, intent on cutting down that withered tree, but three blows with the axe having been struck on it, every one who was a striker had had his arm broken. We were informed that this Moslem saint had but quite recently died; and he had prophesied many other marvellous events as about immediately to come to pass. They reported further that when Timur not long since was passing through Tabriz he sent for this saint to come and see him, who then had repeated to him his prophecy [as to the Christian Bishop] with many other amazing matters. The tree just spoken of stands in that very same street at the present day, and no one now dare touch it.
In many of the roads and open places of the city are seen fountains and troughs for drinking from, and in these last in summer time they are wont to cool the water with pieces of ice, and they stand therein their brass and copper pots from which folk drink. The governor of Tabriz is a relative of Timur and they call him the Daroghah [which is the Mayor]: he was most polite in conduct, paying us all honour. There are, as said, many rich and beautiful Mosques in the city, also bath-houses the most splendid, I think, of any in the whole world. We remained in Tabriz for nine days, and when the time for our departure had come for us to set out on the journey forward they brought us horses for us to ride of those that were the property of Timur himself: indeed not only for us the ambassadors but likewise for all our attendants, with sumpter-beasts for our baggage. [Ü ]
[The system of relays for fresh horses, and the conditions of travel beyond Tabriz.]
It is to be noted that from Tabriz all the distance to Samarqand Timur has established relays of horses kept ready at command so that his messengers may ride on his missions night and day without let or hindrance. The post-houses have been built at intervals of a day's journey apart, or sometimes of half a day's Journey. In some post-houses a hundred horses will be found, in others only fifty, while in a few there may be as many as two hundred: and thus the high road all the way to Samarqand is served. We were told that from Tabriz to Cairo they count it to be ten days' journey, and the city of Baghdad lies to the right hand of one going thither.
On Friday the 20th of June, therefore, we left Tabriz at [three of the afternoon, which is] the hour of none, and we slept that night at a castle that is called Saidabad. The next day Saturday we dined at the village of Ujan, and the night following we camped in the open. On Sunday in the forenoon we passed Seygan, and we dined at the village of Tunglar where the people were all Turkoman tribesmen. Our journey daily was now through the plains, the hill-country being left behind, and the weather had come to be very hot. At each village where we halted they would bring us out food in abundance and serve it to us. Thus their custom was that on our coming to any place forthwith they would beg us to alight, and then seating us upon carpets that were spread on the grass in the shade, from the houses near by they would immediately bring us refreshments, namely bread and sour milk, followed by a soup that they are wont to prepare with rice and dumplings of dough. If we purposed to remain the night at any village, meat would then be cooked for us, seeing that what had gone before was merely as might be a refreshment following the afternoon stage. From Tunglar onwards it now became our custom to travel by night, for at this season, namely the month of June it is impossible to ride during the day hours on account of the great heat: further too by reason, during daylight, of the plague of gad-flies which abound throughout this region, and indeed from their bites both men and beasts often die. Thus when we had come to this village of Tunglar although the heat of the sun was by no means excessive, yet that day the gad-flies already were become so numerous that the horses could hardly stand the annoyance of their stings, and do what we would to ward off their settling on our beasts these were all bleeding most terribly after that day's march.
Monday the day following at the hour of prime [that is 6 o'clock of the morning] we had come to a village called Miyanah, and this name in Persian has the meaning of "Half-way." Here we remained all day and at nightfall very comfortably riding excellent horses proceeded on our journey travelling the night through: and these horses were provided for our use from the stables kept here for the messengers of Timur's service. On Tuesday at daybreak, that being the feast of Saint John [the 24th of June] we came to a great building [which was a Caravanserai] set here for the accommodation of travellers and for merchants on the road, and there we rested till the hour of vespers.
...In the course of the night following we came to a place that is known as Zanjan, and the most part of the town here is now uninhabited, but in former times they said this had been one of the greatest cities in all Persia. It stands in a plain lying between two ranges of high hills that are bare of forest. We noticed that the town wall had fallen to disrepair but within its circuit many fine houses and mosques were yet standing, and through its streets passed excellent water conduits, but these all now had gone dry being in disuse. They relate that Zanjan was aforetime the city where King Darius had lived, this being the capital of his empire and occupied by him as his chosen and favourite abode. Further it was from here that he set forth at the head of his host when he went to combat Alexander the Great. ...On that Thursday the 26th of June, by midday we finally arrived at the great city of Sultaniyah where we found Prince Miran Shah the son of Timur awaiting our coming.... [Ü ]
[Sultaniyah and its Trade]
This city of Sultaniyah stands in a plain, and it has no wall round it. In its midst however there is a great castle, built of stone, and this has many strong towers: these and the castle walls being adorned with blue tiles which give an enlaced pattern. In each of these towers there stands a small piece of cannon. Sultaniyah is a very populous city, but not so great as Tabriz, though it is a more important centre of exchange for merchants and their goods. In the months especially of June, July and August each year great caravans of camels with merchandise arrive here-they use this word "Caravan" for what with us would be any large company of beasts of burden. The city then is in a state of great commotion, and immense are the customs dues that accrue to the Treasury. Thus every year Sultaniyah is visited by numerous merchants from Lesser India [i.e., Afghanistan and other territories between Persia and India] who bring with them all kinds of spiceries. Hither too are imported the best sorts of the lesser spices that are not to be found on sale in the Syrian markets, such namely as cloves, nutmegs, cinnamon, manna, mace and the rest. These are prime spiceries that never reach the markets of Alexandretta and hence are not to be procured in the warehouses there.
To Sultaniyah further is imported all the silk that produced in Gilan which is a province that lies along the southern shore of the Caspian and where much of that commodity is produced and manufactured. This Gilan silk is exported from Sultaniyah to Damascus and other parts of Syria, also to Turkey and to Kaffa [in the Crimea] with the neighbouring lands. Further to Sultaniyah is brought all the silk made at Shamakhi [in Shirvan] which is a place where much of this article is woven, and Persian merchants travel thither to buy it, also Genoese and Venetians. These countries where silk is made are all so hot that any strangers who go there suffer much from sunstroke, which indeed at times may kill; they say that the stroke goes straight to the heart, causing first vomitings and then death. To the sufferers their shoulders will seem to burn, and they say too that those who escape with their lives ever afterwards are yellow in the face or gray, never regaining their natural complexion. Again from the country round and about Shiraz which lies towards the border of Lesser India, they import to Sultaniyah many kinds of cloths woven of silk or cotton, and taffetas with crape-stuffs of various kinds; while from Yesen and Serpi and the province of Khurasan is brought much cotton both spun and in the raw state, and some woven into cloths of many colours. These the people use here and they are made up for wear. This province of Khurasan is a very great district lying between the lands of Tartary and the lands of India the Less, and very soon we were to pass through a part of it on our journey forward to Samarqand.
The lands round Shiraz [lie to the southward of Khurasan and beyond is] the great city of Ormuz which of old was counted as of Lesser India, but at the present day is included in the dominions of Timur. From this port there is brought to Sultaniyah great quantity of pearls also many precious stones; for these are carried to Ormuz from Cathay by sea. The ships go up in ten days to this port [of Ormuz by the river Minao] after leaving the waters of the Persian Gulf which is the sea that here borders the lands of Persia. Now all the ships and boats that sail in the Persian Gulf are built having their planks put together without the use of any iron nails, and in their place use is made of pegs of wood, further they stitch the planks together with twine. Were they not thus to construct them, but to use nails, the iron would be drawn out and the ships immediately fall asunder by reason of the quantity of loadstone that is found in these seas. These ships therefore carry the pearls to Ormuz city, in order that there they may be pierced and strung, also they bring hither the rubies from Cathay where alone they are found of fine quality, further spiceries; and from Ormuz these commodities are dispersed in export to all parts of the western world. Now most of the pearls we have [in Spain] come from the seas of Cathay, and they are invariably brought to Ormuz to be bored and strung, for merchants, whether Christian or Moslem all agree that it is only by the skilled men of this city that the work can be perfectly carried out. The caravans that pass from Sultanyah to Ormuz accomplish the journey in sixty days. They always tell us in the west at home that the pearl is produced in certain great shells which go by the name of Nacar [or Mother of Pearl]: but travellers who come from Ormuz and Cathay all agree that the pearl is the produce of an oyster, adding that the oysters in which pearls are found are of a very large size and white like paper. Pearls and [this Mother of Pearl] or Nacar with other like shells are imported thus to the cities of Sultaniyah and Tabriz where they are worked up into rings and ear-rings. Every year therefore at this season aforesaid the merchants from Christian lands, namely from Kaffa and Trebizond, with Moslem merchants from Turkey, Syria and Baghdad all are wont to assemble together meeting at this city of Sultaniyah in order to carry out their business transactions.
The city of Sultaniyah lies in a plain, and the town is intersected by many water conduits. We saw fine streets and squares where much merchandise was exposed for sale: while in all quarters hostels are to be met with very conveniently disposed for the accommodation of the merchants who come to the city. Beyond Sultaniyah to the eastward begin the great plains which continue on for a long space, and all the country here is well populated. On the right hand [south] is seen a range of high bare hills, with no forest, and beyond lies the province known as Kurdistan. These hills are very savage and all the year round the snow lies on them. On the left hand side [north] there is another range of high bare mountains, where the climate is warm, and behind these comes the province that is known as Gilan; and it borders the Caspian which is a great inland sea, that has no communication with the outer ocean. From Sultaniyah over to the Caspian Sea is a distance of six days' journey. There are in the Caspian Sea certain islands, and from there they obtain diamonds. This province of Gilan has so hot a climate that no snow ever falls there: and lemon trees and limes and orange trees grow freely. The city of Sultaniyah is so full of commerce that a great sum in customs is brought in yearly to the Imperial Treasury.
In former years Sultaniyah and Tabriz with the whole kingdom of Western Persia all was under the government of Prince Miran Shah the eldest son of Timur, but in recent days he has been deposed from this government for reasons which we may now proceed to state. Prince Miran Shah when first he was established as viceroy in Persia had appointed to him a great host of troops and many nobles whom his father had sent to attend on him. When he had come into residence at Tabriz the mania of madness took him to demolish all houses: ordering the mosques and very many great public buildings also to be pulled down: and much of this demolition was in fact carried through. Then leaving Tabriz he came on to Sultaniyah, where he began to order the accomplishment of the like ruin. Next entering the great castle at Sultaniyah, where his father had caused much treasure to be stored, he ordered this forthwith to be distributed among the nobles and his personal attendants. Standing some distance outside the city is an immense [mosque and] palace of many apartments that was built in past times by a certain great lord, whose body was later buried here in a magnificent tomb [of the Ilkhanid sultan Oljeytu, photo]. Miran Shah now gave command to have the whole of this edifice demolished, and by his orders the body of the founder that lay buried there was forthwith thrown out lying on the ground to perish dishonoured.... [Ü ]
[A caravanserai and the postal relay system on the western edge of Khorasan]
Some say the Prince dared not let us rest even for a moment, for should Timur come to know of it this would assuredly cost him, Ennacora, his head. Do or say what we would therefore we had to go, though we were most loath being so weak [with fever] that we were more dead than alive when it came to mounting on horseback. To accommodate us in our sad state the good Ennacora provided that our saddles were each furnished at the saddle-bow in front with a small plank on which cushions were strapped, and on these we could lean and ease our weariness. Thus accommodated we now mounted and set off riding all that day and all the following night, when we arrived at dawn to rest at a deserted village of those parts. The next day Monday we had come to a certain great building that has been erected on the high-way here for the service of travellers. In all this region no villages or settlements are to be found during the space of two days' march along the road, and this is by reason of the excessive heat and drought of that countryside. The only water met with in this region is what has been laid to this Caravanserai, as it is called, by an underground conduit a whole day's march in length from the hills.
The next day Tuesday the 22nd of July we came to a town which is called Jajarm, and the heat that day was very great. Jajarm stands in a plain at the foot of some bare mountains, and from these they have tunnelled conduits to bring water to the town. Standing in the midst of the city there is a castle crowning a low hillock artificially built up on clay foundations, and the town itself has no wall round it. During the past winter much snow had fallen, and this, when the summer heat had set in, had melted and flooded the water conduits. A freshet had recently come down, and half the town had been destroyed by the waters, which too had overwhelmed the castle. Further the floods had drowned out all the cornlands. Our road thither that previous day had been over a level plain, and on this there are neither stones nor boulders. All this country-side is very hot and the ground is everywhere scored with gulleys, though very few streams are met with. As soon as we had arrived at Jajarm they served us with an abundance of food, but immediately providing fresh horses we were forced to mount again and ride on. With us came that Tartar lord Ennacora whom Timur had sent to meet us and who treated us with every respect, causing us at all points to be supplied with provisions and everything that we needed. It was too through his orders that daily along the way we were provided stage by stage with fresh mounts from the government studs as we passed by, and thus they hastened our going.
All along this route [as has been already noticed] Timur causes horses to be kept stationed ready for use at post-stages, in one place there may be a hundred in another two hundred horses, and this is the case right up to Samarqand. These are kept for the service of the special messengers or envoys sent to distant places by Timur, or for the use of such envoys as may be coming to him, and such as come and such as go may ride these horses day and night without halt. These government studs are stationed both in those desert or uninhabited regions along the route, and in places where there is a settled population, further for this service there have been built caravanserais [photo] at divers intervals, where there are stables for the horses with hostelries: the same being supplied with needful provender provisioned from the towns and villages adjacent. These government horses are cared for by men appointed to see to them, who are as we say postillions, being known here under the name of Yamchis. When any envoy sent by Timur, or any messenger carrying despatches to him arrives at one of these post-houses forthwith they unsaddle the horses that have come in, and saddle fresh beasts of those they keep. Then forward with the envoy will ride a postillion or may be two of those Yamchis, aforesaid, who are in charge of their horses, and these on arrival at the next post-house return thence with the beasts that they have brought thus far. After this fashion the messenger will pass along continuously: but should ever the horse that envoy is riding tire on the road, and by chance should he meet with any other horse whatever in these parts,--for instance should he come on one riding a horseback for his pleasure or business,--the messenger will take that horse, making the rider give it up, the Yamchi in attendance being then held responsible for the animal thus taken on loan, in place of the government horse discarded.
Indeed the universal custom is that any man riding his way, be he ever so great a lord, or any merchant or private citizen, should such an one meet an ambassador going to Timur, or some messenger riding with dispatches from his Highness by post, forthwith, on demand, he must set foot to ground and give him up his horse, namely to him who thus comes from Timur or to him who rides to his Highness. No one in this case can refuse, or it will cost him his head, such is the invariable order. After this way indeed may be taken any of the horses of the cavalry stationed here or there on duty, and we too frequently were thus served, taking up the horses of the troopers whom we met on the road, either for ourselves or for the accommodation of our attendants, forcing these men to walk afoot after us to bring their horses back. And it is not only from the like to these that we should have borrowed their horses, but even maybe from the prince Timur's own son, or from one of his wives for even her ridinghorse might be demanded should the need occur. We were told that on one occasion Timur's eldest son and his attendants had to dismount and give up their horses to certain envoys who were on their road to the Court. Further it was not only on this one high-road [to Samarqand] that his Highness has organized this system of post-horses, for in all other parts of his kingdom and domains similar establishments are kept, in order that he may with all speed have news, by night and day, his messengers passing continuously without let or hindrance. Timur indeed sets much store that those he sends and those who come to him should ride post day and night. So doing they may easily cover fifty leagues in the twenty-four hours, though by thus riding they will kill two horses. But this may be, rather than to take three days over that journey: for he deems speed to be much to his service.
Now Timur had observed that throughout the region round and about Samarqand, also in the rest of Mongolia, the leagues in use were over long. He therefore divided each of these great leagues into two, and he caused small turrets [photo] to be set up to mark the league end. It was then established that the Chagatay messengers who carried despatches must cover twelve of these shorter leagues in the day's ride or at least ten. These short leagues go here by the name of Moles, it is said by reason of those turrets being so called set up league by league. The new system was at first only established for use in the country of Mongolia, and when we passed through later on our journey we noticed these turrets marking the league end as we rode along. It is to be understood further that one should count as of two Castilian leagues the length of each of these Mongolian leagues. Verily it is scarcely to be believed, had we not ourselves seen it, and thus we can vouch for the truth, what a distance these riders can compass in a day and a night, for they ride their horses to the death, and exceeding the commands of Timur will cover fifteen, nay even twenty, of those great [Mongolian] leagues in the twenty-four hours. They spare in nowise their horses and break their wind: then should the horse succumb under the strain, they will proceed to take off the hide of the dead horse and sell the same in the place where they may be passing. By the road-side many were the dead horses we saw during our journey, which had been thus ridden to death and the carcass abandoned: the number indeed a marvel to note.
We left the town [of Jajarm Wednesday morning the morrow of] the day we had arrived there and travelled all that day and all the following night without a halt, for though we would fain have taken some rest our guides did not allow us to halt. The heat all this time, even during the hours of night, was most overpowering, and indeed phenomenal for a strong hot wind blew ceaselessly that seemed to burn us up. Then Gomez de Salazar [of the Royal Guard] our companion ambassador became this night exceedingly ill, so that we thought incontinently he would have died, and during the whole of our journey this day [Wednesday we were athirst and] could come to no water to drink. When night fell we had still to go on, only halting the space to give the horses a feed of barley. The next day [Thursday] we continued to travel passing by no inhabited places and only at late nightfall reached the city that is called Isfarayin. This is a very large place with many fine buildings both private houses and mosques, but all is now for the most part without inhabitants. We could only remain here for a time to dine: then they gave us fresh horses and we rode on during that night. The next day Friday we came about the hour of midday to an uninhabited village, where from another place a league distant off the road they brought us hither food and what was necessary for our entertainment. Then when it came to the hour of vespers we set off again travelling all that night and our way lay through a great plain. The next day Saturday the 26th of July we had reached the great city that is called Nishapur. [Ü ]
About a league before coming into Nishapur the road crossed a district where there were many orchards well irrigated by numerous streams of water, and in this plain we saw a great camp of some four hundred tents. These we found were not of the common sort, but long and low and made of black felt.. In occupation of the same were folk known as the Alavari [who are nomad Kurds] they own no other habitations than their tents, for they never take up their abode in any city or village, but live in the open country~side, both summer and winter, pasturing their flocks. These consist of droves of rams, ewes and cows, and the people of this particular tribe possess some twenty thousand camels. They wander over the length and breadth of all this province living under the juridsiction of Timur, and they give him yearly as his due in tribute three thousand camels, also some fifteen thousand sheep. These they deliver willingly or the privilege of pasturing their flocks on his lands. As soon as we had come up with these nomads their headmen came out to us from the encampment and brought us in. They seated us in the largest of their tents, setting before us bowls of milk and cream with some bread according to the custom of the country. Then we took leave of them and rode into Nishapur. Now this day perforce we had had to leave Gomez de Salazar behind in a village we had passed, he having become too ill to sit his horse and ride any further. [He later died.]
The city of Nishapur lies in a plain, and it is surrounded by many orchards with houses there appertaining. As soon as we had arrived in the city they brought us to a fine lodging, and the chief men of the town attended bringing provisions, namely meat with fruits, such as melons which are here of large size and excellent flavour, further there was no lack of wine... [Ü ]
[The holy city of Meshed]
..We now proceeded on our way and next arrived at a city which is called Meshed [a name that signifies the Place of Martyrdom, of the Imam Reza who is known as] the Sultan of Khurasan, he having his tomb in this city. He was in fact the [great great grandson of the great] grandson of the Prophet Mahomet, being descended from the daughter of the Prophet and is regarded by the native Persians as a Saint. He lies buried in the Great Mosque here in a sepulchre that is encased in silver and gilt. Meshed is the chief place of pilgrimage in all these parts, and yearly there come hither people in immense numbers on pious visitation. Any pilgrim who has been here, on returning home to his own country, his neighbours will come up to him and kiss the hem of his garment, for they hold that he has visited a very holy place. On our arrival here they brought us in to visit this sanctuary and the tomb, whereby when travelling later through other parts of Persia it came to be noised abroad that we had been at Meshed and visited this holy place the people would come and kiss the hem of our robes, deeming that we were of those who had acquired merit for having made the pilgrimage to the shrine of the great Saint of Khurasan. It is by the name Sultan Khurasan that this descendant of the Prophet Mahomet is here most commonly known, and the whole province has received its name from him. Khurasan is indeed a country to itself [for it forms no part of Persia Proper], but its language none the less is Persian.
On Thursday the last day of July we came on from Meshed to a great city which is called Buelo [the same is Tus] and of the Khurasan province likewise. This is a most pleasant township, and it has a greater population than any other place that we had come to since leaving Sultaniyah. In this city we halted for the last hours of that day Thursday, for the authorities were engaged in getting together provisions of food for man and beast for our benefit during the next stage, since this would be to cross the desert, where there are neither inhabitants nor habitations for the space of fifty leagues. When therefore we had dined that same evening they brought us fresh horses, which we were to mount and ride crossing this desolate region, and at night-fall we set off leaving [Tus] and rode on till dawn of Friday. All that day too we rode, and also the following night and day, before we came again to any place where we found settled folk. [Ü ]
On the Saturday however, which was the [2nd] of August at last towards evening we came to a valley. Here much ground was under cultivation for wheat, and a river [the Tejend Ab] ran through the place, on whose banks we found numerous tents pitched where the Chagatays of Timur's Horde were out in camp. These folk were stationed here with their flocks of sheep, and herds of camels with droves of horses...
On the present occasion when we had reached the tents of the Chagatays [by the Tejend river, Mirabozar] our guide promptly made the people bring us out cooked meat with rice, and next milk and sour cream, all of which they set before us adding many melons, which in this country are in abundance and of excellent quality. These Chagatays with whom we were thus guests are a nomad folk living in tents and booths, for indeed they possess no other more permanent habitations, both summer and winter living in the open. In summer they pass to the plains beside the river, where they sow their crops of corn and cotton, and tend the melon beds: and their melons I opine are the very best and biggest that may be found in the whole world. They also raise crops of millet, a grain which forms their chief food, and which they eat boiled in sour milk. In the winter season these Chagatays migrate to lands where the climate is fairly warm. After the like fashion indeed all the host of Timur moves from camp to camp living in the open, summer and winter. But since they fear no enemy they do not need to keep together for safety and the lord Timur will proceed with his own personal horde apart, accompanied by his servants and chief nobles and courtiers, with his wives and female relatives, while the rest of the horde passes elsewhere. Thus do they all spend their lives: for these [Tartars] possess great herds, namely of camels horses and sheep, also of cattle but of cows only few.
When Timur calls his people to war all assemble and march with him, surrounded by their flocks and herds, thus carrying along their possessions with them, in company with their wives and children. These last follow the host, and in the lands which they invade their flocks, namely and particularly the sheep camels and horses, serve to ration the horde. Thus marching at the head of his people Timur has accomplished great deeds and gained many victories, for the [Tartars] are a very valiant folk, fine horsemen, very skilful at shooting with the bow, and exceeding hardy. In camp should they have victuals in plenty they eat their fill:
if they have lack milk and meat without baked bread suffices them, and for a long season they can thus march with or without halting to prepare bread stuffs, living on [the meat and milk of] their flocks and herds. They suffer cold and heat and hunger and thirst more patiently than any other nation in the whole world: when food is abundant they gorge on it gluttonously, but when there is scarcity sour milk tempered with boiling water suffices them, and of this for sustenance there is never a lack. Sour milk, their special food, they prepare after the following fashion. They take and heat a great caldron full of water and before it boils they have made ready a bowl in which they have curds of sour milk, that is like cheese, which they have worked up to a paste with cold water. This is thrown into the boiling caldron, and the whole mass turns to be as sour as vinegar. Next they have kneaded very thin cakes of flour, which they bake and cut up in small pieces, afterwards throwing these into the boiling caldron. Then cooking awhile the fire is next withdrawn, and the whole mess served out into bowls. This, which is a kind of soup, without other bread or meat they eat and are satisfied, and for the most part this is their daily food and nothing more. For their cooking fires they use no wood, but only the dried dung of their herds, and it makes the fire for all purposes of roasting and boiling; and this broth of theirs which has just been described goes by the name of Ash [which in the Persian language is Soup]. [Ü ]
On the [Sunday] morning following we set out [from the encampment on the Tejend river] under escort of that lord [Mirabozar] whom Timur had sent to meet us, and as we shall explain we travelled without ever halting that day and the following night and the next day throughout never passing by any settlement or village. That first [Sunday] night we slept at a great caravanserai [which was the post-house] in the desert, where they gave the horses we had brought their barley, and here we learnt that the stage from [this caravanserai] to the next resting place was twelve long leagues. Some two hours after night-fall therefore we set out again, fresh good horses being provided at the post house for our use. All through that night we rode, and the heat not abating the air was most oppressive, also nowhere on the road did we come to any water. When morning came, which was Monday, we still continued our journey, and up to the hour of none [namely three o'clock of the afternoon] went on without finding water, good or bad, for man or horse to drink. We had so ridden hard all that last night and this day that the horses were now quite tired out, and barely able to go at a walk. Also by reason of the great heat of the sun that day on the road here over the sands they came near at last to perishing of thirst. We men too were very like to have succumbed for that same want of water, had not a youth in the service of our Master in Theology had a better horse than the rest, who now made haste to ride on ahead before us. Then fortunately at last he discovered a stream where taking off his smock he dipped it in the water and returned quickly bringing the smock to us, who as many as could quenched somewhat of our thirst thereby. Most of us indeed were like to have fainted from that great heat and the lack that we suffered of water to drink; and each man rode his own way. Our escort no longer was keeping up with us, and all struggled on as best might.
At length as the sun was about to set we came to a broad valley where many tents were pitched of the Chagatay folk, and distant beyond we saw the great river which is known as the Murghab. That ride now accomplished of the night and the two days, had been of the length of at least twenty leagues of those of Castile, and here at last we came to rest and passed the night. The next morning which was Tuesday we took horse again, but only rode for about two leagues when we reached a great building like a hostel, with us, which is called here a caravanserai. This we found to be occupied by the Chagatays who are in charge of the government post-horses, and we dined and rested there that afternoon. At the hour of vespers we mounted again, fresh horses having been provided for us from the stables of this post-house, and two hours after night fall came to the great plains where we found stationed the main encampment of the Chagatays of the Horde. Here at their tents we slept that night. The following day which was Thursday we again started, resting in the afternoon at a village, but that night we passed in camp in the open beside the Murghab river. Friday the following day in the afternoon we took our rest at the tents of certain of the Chagatays here stationed, and later in the evening rode on, supplied with fresh horses of the government post, and that night slept in camp in the open.
...Sunday, on the morrow they provided us with excellent horses for the road: and that fore noon we set out again, but all that day the wind blew so violently that we were often almost unhorsed. The blast was so hot as to seem to be fire. The road lay over a sandy desert and this hot wind blew the sand over us so that we were at times blinded by it and at last began to lose our way. Time and again we found that we had gone astray from the road, and finally the lord [Mirabozar] who was escorting us had perforce to send back a man to the Chagatay encampment for one of those folk to come and guide us. Then by God's mercy we at last reached a large village called Aliabad where we rested for the afternoon waiting for the going down of the wind, and then at night-fall came on to another village named Oosh: where our horses were given their barley. [Ü ]
That same night we again mounted and rode on, passing many small villages surrounded by their orchards, and by the Monday morning which was the 18th of August had come to the city of Balkh. This city is very large and it is surrounded by a broad rampart of earth which along the top measures thirty paces across. The retaining wall flanking this rampart is now breached in many places, but inside this last the city proper is enclosed by two walls, one within the other, and these protect the settlement. The area between the outer earthen rampart and the first inner wall is not occupied by any houses and no one lives here, the ground being divided up into fields where cotton is grown. In the space between the second and the innermost wall there are houses, but still this part is not very closely crowded. The innermost circle of the city however is densely populated: and unlike the other towns which we had come to in these parts, and which lay open, the two inner walls of Balkh are extremely strong and as yet well preserved. They treated us with much honour in Balkh providing us amply with provisions and excellent wine. Further we were given a horse and a robe of kincob [gold brocade]. [Ü ]
[The Oxus River (Amu Darya)]
We left Balkh on the Tuesday going to our night's lodging in a village on the road. Wednesday we dined taking our afternoon rest in another township and that night slept out in the open. On Thursday the 21st of August we had come to the bank of that great river named the Ab-i-Amu [as the Persians call the Oxus] and this is one of the streams which flows down, it is said, from Paradise. It is here a league in breadth and the current is extremely strong. The river traverses a great plain and its waters are muddy. In the winter season it runs very low for at that time the current up in the mountains is hard frozen and the snows as they fall remain unmelted. But when the month of April is come the stream begins to rise, and for the next four months the flood continues to increase, after which season the water level goes back the like of what it was before. This flooding is due to the melting of the snows up in the mountains during the summer heats. During this last summer season indeed as they told us, the river had risen so high, going beyond its usual flood level, that a village that stood two thirds of a league distant from its usual bank and strand had been almost swept away by its waters, these having entered among the houses, whereby causing them to fall, much damage being wrought. The Ab-i-Amu takes its rise in the mountain region [to the north] of Lesser India [or Afghanistan] flowing down through the plains of Samarqand finally passing out into the lands of Tartary, from whence the discharge of its waters is into the Caspian Sea; and thus [the Oxus] along its course is the boundary dividing the lordship of Samarqand from the lordship of Khurasan.
The lord Timur when he had completed his conquest of the land of Samarqand which lies as we have seen on the further side of the river Oxus, made up his mind to cross over that river and conquer the land of Khurasan to the south. He therefore caused a great bridge of wooden beams supported on boats to be made, whereby to cross, but as soon as he and his host had passed over he had caused the same immediately to be dismantled. Recently as we were told when he was returning home from his late campaigns, and journeying to Samarqand, for the passage of himself and his armies he had given instructions for the reestablishment of this bridge; which we who now had to pass the river were able to make use of for our passage. We were informed however that orders had already been sent by Timur a second time to dismantle the bridge even as he had done on the first occasion. And indeed we found that the bridge no longer stretched quite across to the further bank: however, beginning on the near side for a lengthy portion it stretched out over the waters, whereby our horses and sumpterbeasts could conveniently traverse, but suddenly at the end it failed [and we had to take to the ferry-boats]. It was in this great plain which here borders the Oxus that aforetime Alexander the Great fought his battle with Porus the Indian king whom he entirely defeated.
On Thursday the same day on which we had arrived at the left bank of the Oxus we crossed over to the land beyond, and that evening came on to a great city there which is called Tirmiz... [Ü ]
[The road through the "Iron Gates" to Kesh]
On Friday the 22nd of August having dined we departed from Tirmiz and came to our camp, where we slept in the open, but near by certain large houses that stood there. The next day Saturday our way lay over the great plain, passing by many populous villages, and at length we came to one where we were to stop as arranged for the night, being here very honourably entertained and supplied in every need. On Sunday the next day we rode on and dined at a large house that had been built for the accommodation of Timur on his passage through these parts: and here they served us with meat and wine and fruit, more especially melons which in this province are abundant and most excellent being of a very large size. It is the custom here when they present you with fruit to bring it all heaped up in a basket and then to cast it down all together before you on the ground in a heap. That Sunday evening we again set out and that night slept in camp on the bank of a river, then Monday following we reached the foot of a range of very high mountains, where at a beautiful house constructed on the plan of a cross at a late hour we dined. This house was built of burnt bricks, being ornamented with tiles that depicted subjects in various coloured patterns. The mountain range beyond this place is very lofty and the pass that traverses it is a narrow cleft where the passage seems to have been cut through by the hand of man, with the mountain wall on either side rising vertical to an immense height. The roadway itself is quite level, passing deep down in the cleft. Here in the midst of surrounding heights stands a village, and the place is known as the Iron Gates. In the whole length of this mountain range there is no other pass to cross it, save this one, which is thus the Guard House of the Imperial city of Samarqand.
It is only by this one pass that all who travel up to Samarqand from India the Less [or Afghanistan] can come: nor can those who go down from the Imperial City voyaging to India travel by any other route. The lord Timur is sole master of these Iron Gates, and the revenue is considerable to the state from the customs imposed on all merchants who come from India going to the city of Samarqand and to the regions beyond. Further as is well known Timur is also lord of those other celebrated Iron Gates that stand near Derbend [to the west of the Caspian Sea] [photo] which close off Tartary [to the north] and are not far from the city of Kaffa [in the Crimea]. These Iron Gates at Derbend likewise are a cleft cut in the mountain range [of the Caucasus] which stands between the kingdom of Tartary and the province of Derbend, which last is on the [western] shore of the Caspian and is now included in the kingdom of Persia. Thus those who would come from Tartary to Persia must pass through these Iron Gates of Derbend, just as those who would voyage to Samarqand must pass through those Iron Gates to which we now were come. Between these Gates of Samarqand and those Gates of Derbend indeed is a distance of at least 1,500 leagues of land and of this great territory, as you must know Timur is lord. He is master of both these Iron Gates, and the Iron Gates of Derbend yield him a very considerable yearly tribute from customs, as do those of Samarqand. The city of Derbend is a very large place and it is the capital town of a great district. These Iron Gates of the west, of course are those that are nearer to Spain, and known as the Derbend Iron Gates, while those which lie to the eastward being the furthest from Spain are known as the Iron Gates of Tirmiz, and these last shut out Lesser India [which is Afghanistan].
At this house [on the plan of a cross already mentioned] where we were now resting they made us the gift of a riding horse, and in this district the horses are of very famous breed, being of great spirit. The mountains of this range through which the Iron Gates give passage are quite bare of any growth of forest. We were told that in times past there were actually great barrier gates, cased in iron, which closed the passage way between the mountain cliffs, whereby none could pass without a permit [but no gates were there when we came through], and that day we travelled on and slept in camp on the mountain side. The next day [Wednesday] riding on we had dinner and took our rest in the tents of certain Chagatays who were encamped beside a river. That same evening we went on and shortly after nightfall perceiving nearby another range of hills that we should have to cross we dismounted and slept for some hours in the open. Mounting again soon after midnight we rode till mid-day following, coming to a village where they provided our dinner, and we rested there for that afternoon. It was here in this village that one of the servants of Fray Alfonso Paez the Master in Theology suddenly died, but indeed he had been very ill for a long season past. [Ü ]
[Kesh (Shahr-i Siabs), the home of Timur's family and location of his summer palace.]
The next day which was Thursday the 28th of August at the hour of mid-day mass we found ourselves come near a great city which is known as Kesh. It stands in the plain, and on all sides the land is well irrigated by streams and water channels, while round and about the city there are orchards with many homesteads. Beyond stretches the level country where there are many villages and well-peopled hamlets lying among meadows and waterlands; indeed it is all a sight most beautiful in this the summer season of the year. On these lands five crops yearly of corn are grown, vines also, and there is much cotton cultivated for the irrigation is abundant. Melon yards here abound with fruit-bearing trees in the adjacent orchards.
The city of Kesh is surrounded by an earthen rampart, having a very deep ditch crossed at the gates by draw-bridges. The lord Timur is himself a native of Kesh and his father [Teragay] also was from here. There are throughout the city many fine houses and mosques, above all a magnificent mosque which Timur has ordered to be built but which as yet is not finished. In this mosque is seen the chapel in which his father's burial place has been made [photo, right], and beside this is a second chapel now being built in which it is intended that Timur himself shall be interred when the time comes. They told us that when a month or so before the date of our arrival here Timur had entered Kesh [on his way up to Samarqand] he had been much dissatisfied with the appearance of this chapel, objecting that the door-way was too low and ordering that it should be raised: and it was on this alteration the builders were now at work. In this same mosque too is seen the tomb of Prince Jahangir [photo, left] the eldest son of Timur [he having died in the year 1372]. The whole of this mosque with its chapels is very finely wrought in tiles that are of blue and gold, and you enter it through a great court yard planted with trees round a water tank. Here daily by the special order of Timur the meat of twenty sheep is cooked and distributed in alms, this being done in memory of his father and of his son who lie here in those chapels. As soon as we had ridden into this city of Kesh they brought us to this mosque, and here they served us for dinner with meat dishes and fruit abundantly, next carrying us on to a magnificent palace where lodgings had been provided for us.
On the following morning which was Friday they came and took us to see another great palace that was being built; and this palace they told us had been thus in hand building for the last twenty years, for though continually thus working day after day the builders were still at their work upon it. This palace of which we are now speaking had an entrance passage constructed to be of considerable length with a high portal before it [photo], and in this entrance gallery to right and to left there were archways of brickwork encased and patterned with blue tiles. These archways led each one into a small chamber that was open having no door, the flooring being laid in blue tiles. These little rooms are for those to wait in who are in attendance on Timur when he should come here. At the end of this gallery stands another gate-way, beyond which is a great courtyard paved with white flagstones and surrounded on the four sides by richly wrought arches, and in its centre is a very large water tank. This courtyard indeed may measure some three hundred paces in its width, and beyond it you enter through a very high and spacious gateway the main buildings of the palace. This gateway is throughout beautifully adorned with very fine work in gold and blue tiles, and over the entrance are seen the figures of the Lion and the Sun, these same figures being repeated over the summit of each of the arches round the courtyard, and this emblem of the Lion and the Sun was they told us the armorial bearing of the former lord of Samarqand [whom Timur dispossessed]. We were assured that it had been Timur himself who was the builder of this great palace, but I imagine in truth that some part of it must have been built by that lord of Samarqand who lived before the time of Timur's sovereignty; for the Lion and the Sun which we saw here set up are the emblems of this former sovereign.
The special armorial bearing of Timur is the Three Circlets set... to shape a triangle, which same it is said signifies that he Timur is lord of all Three Quarters of the World. This device Timur has ordered to be set on the coins that he has struck, and on all buildings that he has erected, and it is for that reason, as I opine, that those buildings [bearing the emblem of the Lion and the Sun] were built by a lord who reigned before the time of Timur. These three circlets which, as said, are like the letter 0 thrice repeated to form a triangle, further are the imprint of Timur's seal, and again by his special order are added so as to be seen patent on all the coins struck by those princes who are become tributary to his government.
From this main portal of the courtyard just described you enter a great reception hall which is a room four square, where the walls are panelled with gold and blue tiles, and the ceiling is entirely of gold work. From this room we were taken up into the galleries, and in these likewise everywhere the walls were of gilt tiles. We saw indeed here so many apartments and separate chambers, all of which were adorned in tile work of blue and gold with many other colours, that it would take long to describe them here, and all was so marvellously wrought that even the craftsmen of Paris, who are so noted for their skill, would hold that which is done here to be of very fine workmanship. Next they showed us the various apartments where Timur was wont to be and to occupy when he came here with his wives; all of which were very sumptuously adorned as to floors and walls and ceilings. Many were the various grades of workmen still at work on building and adorning these palaces. We were shown in one that we visited a great banqueting hall which Timur was having built wherein to feast with the princesses, and this was gorgeously adorned, being very spacious, while beyond the same they were laying out a great orchard in which were planted many and divers fruit trees, with others to give shade. These stood round water tanks, beside which there were laid out fine lawns of turf. This orchard was of such extent that a very great company might conveniently assemble here, and in the summer heats enjoy the cool air beside that water in the shade of these trees. But such indeed was the richness and beauty of the adornment displayed in all these palaces that it would be impossible for us to describe the same adequately without much more leisure than we can here give to the matter. The mosque aforesaid and these palaces are a work that Timur has begun and is yet perfecting, all being in the first place wrought to do honour his father's memory who lies buried here, and next, as we have said, because he Timur is a native of this city of Kesh.
Though indeed Timur was born here, yet he was not by descent a citizen of Kesh, being in truth a nomad of the Chagatay clansmen. These are Tartars who originally had their abode in Tartary, but who migrated hither when their countryside was overrun in past times and conquered [by the Mongols under Chingiz Khan]. All this we shall explain to you more in detail presently, and the Chagatays who have been frequently mentioned in our narrative are so named as belonging to this clan. The father of Timur was a man of good family, allied by blood to the clan of Chagatay, but he was a noble of small estate, having only some three or four riders to his back, namely his personal followers. He lived at a village not far from the city of Kesh, for gentle-folk of his sort have ever preferred the country to the town. His son Timur was in the beginning no more than he had been, and only able just to keep himself, having of his following some four or five horsemen. [Local oral history of Timur's youthful exploits follows here.].... [Ü ]
[Clavijo's embassy finally reaches the court of Timur at Samakand. He recounts in detail the various receptions in the tent pavilions outside the city. An ambassador from China was present at one of them:]
Those lords now conducting us began by placing us in a seat below that of one who it appeared was the ambassador of Chays Khan, the emperor of Cathay. Now this ambassador had lately come to Timur to demand of him the tribute, said to be due to his master, and which Timur year by year had formerly paid. His Highness at this moment noticed that we, the Spanish ambassadors, were being given a seat below that of this envoy from the Chinese Emperor, whereupon he sent word ordering that we should be put above, and that other envoy below. Then no sooner had we been thus seated than one of those lords came forward, as from Timur, and addressing that envoy from Cathay publicly proclaimed that his Highness had sent him to inform this Chinaman that the ambassadors of the King of Spain, the good friend of Timur and his son, must indeed take place above him who was the envoy of a robber and a bad man the enemy of Timur, and that he his envoy must sit below us: and if only God were willing, he Timur would before long see to and dispose matters so that never again would any Chinaman dare come with such an embassy as this man had brought. Thus it came about that later at all times during the feasts and festivities to which his Highness invited us, he always gave command that we should have the upper place. Further on the present occasion, no sooner had his Highness thus disposed as to how we were to be seated, than he ordered our dragoman to interpret and explain to us the injunction given in our behalf. This Emperor of China, as we have said, is called Chays Khan, a title which signifies Emperor of Nine Empires, but the Tartars call him Tanguz, a name given in mockery, for this with them is as who would say the Pig Emperor. He is however the Emperor ruling an immense realm, and of old Timur had been forced to pay him tribute: though now as we learnt he is no longer willing, and will pay nothing to that Emperor.
To return however to what was going forward; no sooner had we thus all been duly seated, namely together with us Spaniards also diverse envoys come from many other countries, with the grandees otherwise present, than the attendants began to bring up viands for the feast. These consisted of a quantity of mutton, roast, boiled and in stews, also horse-meat roasted.... [Ü ]
[Here is one of the lengthy passages in the account describing the tent pavilions, an impressive testimony to what must have been an insatiable demand for luxury goods to supply Timur's court.]
On Monday the 6th of October Timur gave orders for a grand feast to be made at his camp in the Horde, and this same is known as the Royal Camp. To this feast his Highness had invited all his wives and the members of his family, namely his sons and grandsons at that time resident with him together with their wives. Further the lords who were of the court all were bidden, as also all those chiefs who were in the various encampments stationed round and about the city, these having been brought in by special command. As regards us ambassadors we were that day taken over to the Horde, and in the great camp we found they had erected an innumerable number of extra tents all very beautiful to see, and for the most part these were erected on the bank beside the river [Zarafshan]. These tents were marvellously fine, all one beside the other very closely pitched, and thither they conducted us through a roadway where all sorts of goods were exposed on sale suitable to the needs of those who might be about later to set forth on the march of the army. As soon as we had come near to where Timur was in residence in the royal tents, they left us for a season to rest in the shade under a spacious awning. This we found to be made of a white linen stuff overset and let in with coloured embroidery, and the awning had wooden poles at the back which supported it by means of cords holding it taut. The like awnings were to be seen in many other parts of the camp and they are fashioned long and high in order to be open to the sun and to catch the breeze.
Nearby this awning where we were seated stood a very large high pavilion, in fact a very huge tent, and it was four square in shape. In height it was the measure of three long lances such as used by a horse-soldier, and the side was a hundred paces from angle to angle, it being as said four cornered. The ceiling of the pavilion was made circular to form a dome, and the poles supporting it were twelve in number each as thick round as is the chest of a man breast high. These poles were painted in colours blue and gold and otherwise, and of these twelve great tent poles four were placed at the corners with two others in between on the side. Each pole was made up of three lengths which were firmly jointed together to form the whole. When they had to be set the work people made use of a windlass as big as a cart-wheel thus to hoist them up: further they have shackles of cord bands that are attached in various parts and which serve to ease the strain. From each of these poles at its summit in the dome shaped ceiling there hangs one end of a great curtain in silk cloth that is thereto attached, and these curtains are looped up running from pole to pole, so as to make four archways. Round outside the four walls of the main tent of the pavilion there are low galleries like porticoes, and these likewise form a square, and above they join on to the tent wall of the pavilion. The outer tent walls of these four porticoes just described are supported on twenty-four small wooden masts which are by no means as thick as the twelve poles of the inner pavilion, the whole number of these poles and masts together being thirty-six, which serve to raise up and support the great structure, which is stayed by upwards of five hundred ropes, and these are coloured red. [Photo shows Tamerlane receiving in his tent the defeated Ottoman Sultan Bayezid.]
The inner walls of the pavilion are lined with crimson tapestry very beautifully woven in patterns of diverse designs, further it is hung with silk stuffs of many colours in places worked over with embroidery of gold thread. The ceiling of the pavilion is its mark of greatest beauty for at the four corners are figured four eagles sitting with their wings closed. The exterior walls of the pavilion are made of a silk cloth woven in bands of white and black and yellow that to us appeared made of silk sarsenet. Outside at each corner there is set a very tall staff capped with an apple of burnished copper above which is a crescent. The summit of the pavilion further is square shaped with four tall staves at the corners, each with its apple and crescent. These staves are set at a great height, being also of considerable size, and they form the framework of what is like a turret made of silk cloth, set with what simulates battlements. There is a gangway from below to come up into the turret, for should the force of the wind disarrange any part of the upper works of the pavilion, or cause damage to the poles, men go up thither and walking afoot on the canvas screens repair the fault. From a distance indeed this great tent would appear to be a castle, it is so immensely broad and high. It is a wonder to behold, and magnificent beyond description. Inside within the pavilion there is set a dais, in one part, it is flat and covered over with a carpet on which have been placed three or four mattresses one above the other. This is the seat where his Highness takes his place giving audience. To the left, as you face this, is a second dais also flat and covered with a carpet; it is at some distance apart from the main dais, and beyond it again is a third dais which is lower than the others.
Round and about the pavilion on the ground outside is erected a wall of cloth, as might be otherwise the wall of a town or castle, and the cloth is of many coloured silks in diverse patterns. Along the wall top are battlements, and it is stayed without and within by ropes stretching up from the ground, and on the inner side stand poles which support the same. This encircling canvas wall goes round a space of ground measuring across, may be, some 300 paces, and the wall itself is as high as a man on horse-back may reach up to. There is an arched gateway to it, with double doors without and within, all made of canvas as above described. This entrance gate is very high, and it is capable of being barred and locked. Above the gateway rises a square tower of canvas with battlements, and as forsooth the encircling wall makes grand display of patterns and ornamentation in the stuff of which it is made, so too the gateway-arch and tower just described have even more ornamented work on them than is the case of the walls. This forms the great Enclosure surrounding and shutting in the pavilion. It is known by the name of the Sarapardeh and within its circuit stand many other tents and awnings pitched diversely and at intervals.
Among the rest we noted here a very lofty circular tent of another kind, for this is not stayed with ropes, the wall being supported by poles of the size and thickness of our lances, which are wrought into the canvas wall, as might be to form a netting cross-wise. Above those of the side walls, rise other long poles which hold up the upper part of the tent forming the domed ceiling. The tent walls above and below are held together the one above the other by a series of staying bands, a hand breadth across. These pass down to the ground and are secured by stakes, or tent pegs, and they hold the walls of the tent stetched taut: but indeed it is a marvel to note how such thin stays can hold up so high a canvas wall. Above this wall is made of crimson tapestry, but below the material of the wall is strengthened by a cotton stuffing like that of a coverlet, this being added that the heat of the sun's rays may not pass through. The walls of these tents we are now describing are not ornamented with any pattern work or figures as elsewhere may be seen, their only ornament being bands of white which go all round the back up to about half way of the height, thus engirdling the walls outside. But further these bands are ornamented with spangles of silver gilt, each of the size of an open hand, and in these have been set jewel stones of diverse sorts. Again round the back part of the tent is to be noted half way up a linen band, set over in small loose pleats, as may be the facings of a woman's gown, and these are all embroidered with a pattern in gold thread; and as the wind blows these loose pleats set on the linen band wave to and fro in a manner pleasant to see. This particular tent that we have been describing had a high entrance, shut by doors, and these were made of red tapestry stretched over a framework of small canes.
Nearby again stood another tent but of the kind stayed with ropes. It was very richly made, the stuff being a red tapestry like shag-velvet. Then in a row there were four tents that were connected together by a passage way going from one to the other, by which one could pass as might be through a corridor, and this corridor was covered in above by a ceiling. Within this same great Enclosure we noticed quite a number of other tents, and nearby was another a second Enclosure like the first, and as large in extent, shut in by an encircling wall of silk stuff, woven to look as though it were the pattern on a tile. In this wall there were opened at intervals window frames with shutters, but these window openings could not be passed through from without by any one, for each was guarded by a netting of thin silk tape. In the middle of this second Enclosure stood a tent like that other one, very high and on the model that has been just described, and made of a similar red cloth, ornamented with spangles of silver as was that former tent. All these tents are indeed very tall, rising to the height of three full lance-lengths or even more. High up, in the ceiling of the cupola of the tent we are now describing, is seen the figure of an eagle in silver gilt, it is of a great size and its wings are open. Then a fathom and a half below, on the tent wall they have figured three falcons in silver gilt, one on the one side and the other two beyond: these are very skilfully wrought, they have their wings open as though they were in flight from the eagle, their heads being turned back to look at him, with their wings extended for flying. The eagle is represented as though about to pounce on one of the falcons. All these birds are extraordinarily well figured, and they are set here as though some special purpose were intended.
In front of the doorway of this tent is erected an awning of many coloured silk cloth: this shades the door, and prevents the sun from shining on any one at the place of entrance: further this awning can be moved about to face this way or that, and so keep the sun's rays from falling within the tent. Of these two great Enclosures with many tents within them as we have described the first Enclosure is that belonging to the chief wife of Timur, who is known as the Great Khanum or Lady, while that second Enclosure belongs to his second wife who is called the Kuchik-Khanum, meaning the Little Lady. Alongside these first two Enclosures there is a third with canvas walls of a different make, with many tents and awnings pitched within the Enclosure circuit, and here too there is a chief tent likewise made very high after the fashion of those already described. Further we noticed many other such Enclosures beyond and about, which same as already said go by the name of Sarapardeh, and we counted of these to the number of eleven in all. Each was of its own colour and design, and in each might be seen one great tent, of the kind set up without tentropes to stay it, as has been explained above, each Enclosure having walls of red tapestry similar to thosewe have already described, with many smaller tents and awnings set about the main central tent. These eleven Enclosures were indeed standing so near one to the other that between their outer walls, from the one to the next, the space was only sufficient for the width of a roadway: and they were indeed, as we came thus to view them, one beyond the other, all of a most noble appearance. All these Enclosures aforesaid were occupied either by the wives of Timur, or by the wives of his grandsons, and these princes and princesss have their abode therein, as does also his Highness likewise, both summer and winter.
On the day of which we are now speaking Timur came out into the royal Enclosure at mid-day and proceeded to his Great Pavilion, whither he sent and had us brought. Here they served us with a feast, and we dined on mutton and horse-flesh, with the usual abundance, and the meal being over we returned back to our lodgings... [Ü ]
[The "King" of Badakhshan and the source of rubies]
To this great festival that we have been describing Timur had ordered all the great lords and nobles of his Empire to appear and be present, and thus it came about that we saw now in Samarqand the King of Badakhshan, nearby whose capital city are the mines where the balas ruby is found. This monarch was well attended by his lords and courtiers; and we took occasion to present ourselves before him, when after paying our respects we enquired of him as to how the balas ruby was found. He replied graciously and told us that close to the capital city of Badakhshan was a mountain where the mines were situated. Here day by day men go and seek and break into the rocks on that mountain-side to find these precious stones. When the vein is discovered where they lie, this vein is carefully followed, and when the jewel is reached it must be cut out little by little with chisels until all the matrix has been removed. Then grinding the gem on millstones it would further be polished. We were told also that by order of Timur a strong guard had been established at the mines to see to it that his Highness's rights were respected. The capital of Badakhshan lay ten days' march from Samarqand in the direction of India the Less. There was again another great lord at this festival, and he was governor in the name of Timur at the city of Aquivi, which is in the country where the lapis lazuli comes from: and in the rock that gives this stone they also find sapphires. This city of Aquivi is also a like distance from Samarqand, namely ten days' journey in the direction of India the Less, but it lies rather to the southward of Badakhshan. [Ü ]
[The Timurid Mausoleum, the Gur Emir]
...On the Thursday week, which was the 30th of October Timur betook himself from his camp in the Horde back to the city of Samarqand, taking up his residence in a certain place adjacent to the Mosque [photo, left--the timurid Mausoleum Gur Emir] which he had lately ordered to be built. This Mosque was the place of burial of one of his grandsons, namely Prince Muhammad Sultan who had died in Asia Minor shortly after the battle where Timur conquered the Turkish [Sultan Bayazid]. Indeed it was this Prince who had taken the Sultan prisoner [at the battle of Angora], but afterwards he had succumbed to his wounds there received. Timur had loved this grandson greatly and in his remembrance had caused this Mosque to be built as his place of burial [after the Prince's body had been brought back home]. To the palace adjacent thereto and but recently constructed Timur came that day, it being his intention to celebrate the consecration of his grandson's tomb by a feast, to which we as usual had been graciously invited. Then as we presented ourselves we were shown over that chapel, which was the place of interment of the Prince, and we found it square in plan and very loftily built. Both outside and in it was magnificently adorned in gold [photo, right] and blue tiles beautifully patterned, and there was much other fine work in gypsum.
Now when this Prince had died in the Turkish country, as above explained his body had been transported home to Samarqand for burial, and the city authorities had received command to erect this Mosque for his tomb. But recently Timur had come in from the Horde to view the building and he had found that the chapel was not to his liking, holding that it was built too low. Immediately he ordered the walls to be demolished, and laid it on the architects that it should be rebuilt within ten days' time, under threat of a terrible forfeit to the workmen. Without delay the rebuilding was set in hand, day and night the work went on, and Timur himself already twice had come into the city to see what progress had been made, on which occasions he had caused himself to be carried in a litter, for at his age he could no longer sit his horse. The chapel had now been completely rebuilt within the appointed ten days' time, and it was a wonder how so great a building could have been put up and completed within so brief a space. As stated above it was in honour and for the memory of his grandson that Timur had now ordered this feast to be made: many were the guests assembled and according to their custom the quantity of roast meat there consumed was immense.... [Ü ]
[Urban renewal in Samarkand]
The matter of the rebuilding of that Mosque for the burial place of his grandson all being completed to his Highness's satisfaction, Timur now turned to another work which he intended for the adornment of the city of Samarqand his capital: and it was to be after this wise. Every year to the city of Samarqand much merchandise of all kinds came from Cathay, India, Tartary, and from many other quarters besides, for in the countries round the Samarqand territory commerce is very flourishing; but there was as yet no place within the city where this merchandise might be suitably stored, displayed and offered for sale. Timur therefore now gave orders that a street should be built to pass right through Samarqand, which should have shops opened on either side of it in which every kind of merchandise should be sold, and this new street was to go from one side of the city through to the other side, traversing the heart of the township. The accomplishment of his order he laid on two of the great lords of his court, letting them know at the same time that if they failed in diligence, for the work was to go on continuously by day as by night, their heads would pay the penalty. These nobles therefore began at speed, causing all the houses to be thrown down along the line that his Highness had indicated for the passage of the new street. No heed was paid to the complaint of persons to whom the property here might belong, and those whose houses thus were demolished suddenly had to quit with no warning, carrying away with them their goods and chattels as best they might.
No sooner had all the houses been thrown down than the master builders came and laid out the broad new street, erecting shops on the one side and opposite, placing before each a high stone bench that was topped with white slabs. Each shop had two chambers, front and back, and the street way was arched over with a domed roof in which were windows to let the light through. As soon as these shops were made ready, forthwith they were occupied by merchants selling goods of all sorts: and at intervals down the street were erected water fountains. The cost of all this work was charged to the town council and workmen did not lack, as many coming forward as were wanted by the overseers. The masons who worked through the day at nightfall went home, their places being taken by as many as had gone, who worked throughout the night hours. Some would be pulling down the houses while others laid out the roadway, others again building anew, and the tumult was such day and night that it seemed all the devils of hell were at work here. Thus in the course of twenty days the whole new street was carried through: a wonder indeed to behold; but those whose houses had been thus demolished had good cause to complain.
Yet scarcely did they dare bring their case before his Highness: then however at last coming together they betook themselves for help to certain Sayyids, and these are the privileged favourites and courtiers of Timur who can talk as they please with him being, as is reputed the descendants of their Prophet Mahomet. These undertook the case, and one day therefore when certain of them were playing at chess with his Highness, they ventured to tell him that since he of his good will had ordered all the houses belonging to those poor people to be laid low, it were but right they should receive compensation for the lands this roadway passed through. It is reported that on hearing this Timur waxed wrathful declaring that all the land of the city of Samarqand was his private property, for that he had bought the same with his own moneys, further that he had the title deeds in his possession, and indeed he would produce them for inspection on the morrow; adding that if aught had been wrongly taken he would compensate for the same forthwith. He spoke this with such command of his rights that those Sayyids were completely abashed. They were now but too thankful that the order had not been given for them all to lose their heads. Having thus fortunately escaped scathless their answer to Timur was that whatsoever his Highness did must indeed be good, and that all he ordered should be carried into effect. [Ü ]
[The Bibi Khanum Mosque]
The Mosque which Timur had caused to be built in memory of the mother of his wife the Great Khanum [photo right, taken 1969]seemed to us the noblest of all those we visited in the city of Samarqand, but no sooner had it been completed than he began to find fault with its entrance gateway, which he now said was much too low and must forthwith be pulled down. Then the workmen began to dig pits to lay the new foundations, when in order that the piers might be rapidly rebuilt his Highness gave out that he himself would take charge to direct the labour for the one pier of the new gateway while he laid it on two of the lords of his court, his special favourites, to see to the foundations on the other part. Thus all should see whether it was he or those other two lords who first might bring this business to its proper conclusion. Now at this season Timur was already weak in health, he could no longer stand for long on his feet, or mount his horse, having always to be carried in a litter. It was therefore in his litter that every morning he had himself brought to the place, and he would stay there the best part of the day urging on the work. He would arrange for much meat to be cooked and brought, and then he would order them to throw portions of the same down to the workmen in the foundations, as though one should cast bones to dogs in a pit, and a wonder to all he even with his own hands did this. Thus he urged on their labour: and at times would have coins thrown to the masons when especially they worked to his satisfaction. Thus the building went on day and night until at last a time came when it had perforce to stop--as was also the case in the matter of making the street [for the new bazaar]--on account of the winter snows which began now constantly to fall... [Ü ]
[Description of Samarkand]
Now therefore that I have narrated in detail all that befell us during our stay in Samarqand, I must describe that city for you, telling of all that is there to be seen in and round and about, and of all that Timur has accomplished there to embellish his capital. Samarqand stands in a plain, and is surrounded by a rampart or wall of earth, with a very deep ditch. The city itself is rather larger than Seville, but lying outside Samarqand are great numbers of houses which form extensive suburbs. These lie spread on all hands for indeed the township is surrounded by orchards and vineyards, extending in some cases to a league and a half or even two leagues beyond Samarqand which stands in their centre. In between these orchards pass streets with open squares; these all are densely populated, and here all kinds of goods are on sale with bread stuffs and meat. Thus it is that the population without the city is more numerous than the population within the walls. Among these orchards outside Samarqand are found the most noble and beautiful houses, and here Timur has his many palaces and pleasure grounds. Round and about the great men of the government also here have their estates and country houses, each standing within its orchard: and so numerous are these gardens and vineyards surrounding Samarqand that a traveller who approaches the city sees only a great mountainous height of trees and the houses embowered among them remain invisible. Through the streets of Samarqand, as through its gardens outside and inside, pass many water-conduits, and in these gardens are the melon-beds and cotton-growing lands.
The melons of this countryside are abundant and very good, and at the season of Christmas there are so many melons and grapes to be had that it is indeed marvellous. Every day camels bring in their loads of melons from the country and it is a wonder how many are sold and eaten in the market. At all the outlying villages the melons being so abundant, at one season the people cure them, drying the same as is done with figs, which thus can be kept for use from one year's end to the next. The melons are cured after this fashion. They slice the fruit up into great pieces, removing the rind, when they are put to shrivel in the sun. As soon as these pieces are quite dry, they bind them one with the other storing them in hampers and thus they keep good for a whole twelvemonth. Beyond the suburbs of Samarqand stretch the great plains where are situated many hamlets these being all well populated, for here the immigrantfolk are settled whom Timur has caused to be brought hither from all the foreign lands that he has conquered. The soil of the whole province of Samarqand is most fertile producing great crops of wheat. There are abundant fruit-trees also with rich vineyards: the livestock is magnificent, beasts and poultry all of a fine breed. The sheep are famous for having those fat tails that weigh each some twenty pounds, in fact as much as a man can readily hold in the hand: and of these sheep the flocks are so abundant that even when Timur is in camp here with his armies, [and there is a scarcity] a couple of sheep can be had in the market for the price of a ducat [which is about six shillings]. The prices indeed are so low that for a Men, which is a coin worth [about three pence] or half a real, you may have a bushel and a half of barley. Baked bread is everywhere plentiful and rice can be had cheap in any quantity.
The richness and abundance of this great capital and its district is such as is indeed a wonder to behold: and it is for this reason that it bears the name of Samarqand: for this name would be more exactly written Semiz-kent, two words which signify "Rich-Town," for Semiz [in Turkish] is fat or rich and Kent means city or township: in time these two words having been corrupted into the name Samarqand. Further this land of Samarqand is not alone rich in food stuffs but also in manufactures, such as factories of silk both the kinds called Zaytumi and Kincobs, also crapes, taffetas and the stuffs we call Tercenals in Spain, which are all produced here in great numbers. Further they make up special fur linings for silk garments, and manufacture stuffs in gold and blue with other colours of diverse tints dyed, and besides all these kinds of stuffs there are the spiceries. Thus trade has always been fostered by Timur with the view of making his capital the noblest of cities: and during all his conquests wheresoever he came he carried off the best men of the population to people Samarqand, bringing thither together the master-craftsmen of all nations. Thus from Damascus he carried away with him all the weavers of that city, those who worked at the silk looms. Further the bow-makers who produce those cross-bows which are so famous: likewise armourers: also the craftsmen in glass and porcelain, who are known to be the best in all the world. From Turkey he had brought their gun-smiths who make the arquebus, and all men of other crafts wheresoever he found them, such as the silver-smiths and the masons. These all were in very great numbers, indeed so many had been brought together of craftsmen of all sorts that of every denomination and kind you might find many master-workmen established in the capital. Again he had gathered to settle here in Samarqand artillery men, both engineers and bombardiers, besides those who make the ropes by which these engines work. Lastly hemp and flax had been sown and grown for the purpose in the Samarqand lands, where never before this crop had been cultivated.
So great therefore was the population now of all nationalities gathered together in Samarqand that of men with their families the number they said must amount to 150,000 souls. Of the nations brought here together there were to be seen Turks, Arabs and Moors of diverse sects, with Christians who were Greeks and Armenians, Catholics, Jacobites and Nestorians, besides those [Indian] folk who baptize with fire in the forehead, who are indeed Christians but of a faith that is peculiar to their nation. The population of Samarqand was so vast that lodging for them all could not be found in the city limits, nor in the streets and open spaces of the suburbs and villages outside, and hence they were to be found quartered temporarily for lodgment even in the caves and in tents under the trees of the gardens, which was a matter very wonderful to see. The markets of Samarqand further are amply stored with merchandise imported from distant and foreign countries. From Russia and Tartary come leathers and linens, from Cathay silk stuffs that are the finest in the whole world, and of these the best are those that are plain without embroideries. Thence too is brought musk which is found in no other land but Cathay, with balas rubies and diamonds which are more frequently to be met with in those parts than elsewhere, also pearls, lastly rhubarb with many other spiceries. The goods that are imported to Samarqand from Cathay indeed are of the richest and most precious of all those brought thither from foreign parts, for the craftsmen of Cathay are reputed to be the most skilful by far beyond those of any other nation; and the saying is that they alone have two eyes, that the Franks indeed may have one, while the Moslems are but a blind folk. Thus the Franks and the Chinese in what they make have in the matter of eyes the advantage over the people of all other nationalities.
From India there are brought to Samarqand the lesser spiceries, which indeed are the most costly of the kind, such as nutmegs and cloves and mace with cinnamon both in the flower and as bark, with ginger and manna: all these with many other kinds that are never to be found in the markets of Alexandria. Throughout the city of Samarqand there are open squares where butchers' meat ready cooked, roasted or in stews, is sold, with fowls and game suitably prepared for eating, also bread and excellent fruit both are on sale. All these viands and victuals are there set out in a decent cleanly manner, namely in all those squares and open spaces of the town, and their traffic goes on all day and even all through the night time. Butchers' shops are numerous also those booths where fowls, pheasants and partridges are on sale: and these shops are kept open by night as by day. On the one part of Samarqand stands the Castle which is not built on a height, but is protected by deep ravines on all its sides: and through these water flows which makes the position of the Castle impregnable. It is here that his Highness keeps his treasure, and none from the city without may enter save the governor of the Castle and his men. Within its walls however Timur holds in durance and captivity upwards of a thousand workmen; these labour at making plate-armour and helms, with bows and arrows, and to this business they are kept at work throughout the whole of their time in the service of his Highness.
Some [seven] years gone by, when Timur last left Samarqand and set forth on that campaign whereby he conquered Turkey and plundered Damascus, he gave orders that all the troops who should accompany him might carry along on the march their wives and children, unless indeed by preference any man might wish to leave his household behind at home, in which case he should do so. This order Timur had given because it was then of his intention to remain abroad from his capital for seven whole years, while he should conquer all his enemies: and he had sworn an oath that he would not re-enter this castle of his in Samarqand until that period of seven years had run out. [Ü ]
[Relations with China.]
At that time when we were his guests in Samarqand there had arrived certain ambassadors sent by the Emperor of China who came to Timur bearing this message, namely: that all men knew that he, Timur, was in occupation of lands formerly held in fief to China, and hence that tribute for the same yearly had been due from him to the Chinese Emperor: but seeing that for seven years past no tribute had ever been paid, he Timur must now forthwith pay down the sum. The answer of his Highness to these ambassadors was that this was most true, and that he was about to pay what was due: but that he would not burden them, the ambassadors, to take it back to China on their return, for he himself Timur would bring it. This of course was all said in scorn and to despite them, for his Highness had no intention to pay that tribute. Of course during all those seven years past, none had ever been sent, nor had he who was at this time the Emperor of China ever sent any demand for it during those years; this absence of demand being caused by certain events now to be explained that of late had been happening in China.
At the beginning of that period the reigning Emperor of China had died, and he had left three sons among whom his Empire and lands had been divided according to his will. The eldest son not unnaturally had wished to take to himself the whole empire putting out his two brothers, and he had forthwith compassed the death of the younger of the two, but the other brother had fought with him and succeeded finally in completely overcoming him. Then this eldest one, seeing that as matters now stood he could not come to terms with his brother, despaired and putting fire to his camp had perished, he and most of his men in the flames. Thus the one brother who survived was now Emperor, and when the tumult had quieted down and order was restored this new Emperor it was who had sent his ambassadors to Timur demanding that tribute which, he asserted, had been paid in the days of his father. We heard presently that his Highness had issued orders that those Chinese ambassadors should forthwith all of them be hung, but whether this order was actually carried out or whether the Emperor of China finally compassed to safeguard his honour is not known to us. Now from the city of Samarqand it is six months' march to the capital of China, which is called Cambaluc, and this is the largest town in that empire: and of this six months' journey two are passed going across a desert country entirely uninhabited, except by nomad herdsmen who wander over the plains feeding their flocks. During the month of June of this year, immediately before the date of our coming to Samarqand, there had arrived a caravan of eight hundred camels bringing merchandise from China. Then it was that Timur having come home from his western campaigns had received that Chinese Embassy bearing the message sent him by the Emperor of China: and he forthwith had ordered the whole of this caravan, men and goods, to be taken into custody and that none should return to China.
Next from certain of the men who had travelled from Cambaluc with those ambassadors, as from those who had come in charge of the caravan of camels, he proceeded to obtain exact information concerning the many strange peculiarities regarding the country over which that. Emperor was lord, with details of the great wealth and number of the Chinese people. There was in particular one [Tartar merchant] who had been allowed to reside in Cambaluc during six whole months. He described that great city as lying not far from the sea coast, and for its size he said it was certainly twenty times larger than Tabriz. If so it must indeed be the greatest city in all the world, for Tabriz measures a great league and more across and therefore this city of Cambaluc must extend to twenty leagues from one side to the other. The man further reported that the Emperor of China was lord of so many warriors that when his host went forth to wage war beyond the limits of his Empire, without counting those who marched with him he could leave 400,000 horsemen behind to guard his realm together with numerous regiments of footguards. As that man further reported it was the order current in China that no nobleman should be allowed to appear publicly on horseback unless he kept in his service at his call at least a thousand horsemen; and yet of the like of such nobles the number to be met with was very large. Many were the other wonderful facts that were further related of the capital and country of China. Lastly it was told us that this new Emperor of China had by birth been an idolater, but lately had been converted to the Christian faith. [Ü ]
[Starting for home; Bukhara]
Now having finished telling of all these matters we shall relate the events of the return journey and all that befell us on the road home. On starting from Samarqand our caravan was joined in the first place by the Ambassador of the Sultan of Egypt, and by several other persons, one of whom was the brother of a certain great nobleman of Turkey...Our journey was not at first by the way we had come, for on leaving Samarqand we immediately turned westward going in the direction of Tartary. It was Friday, the 21st of November, when we set out leaving Samarqand and our journey lay through the plain along a good road and through a populous country. We marched thus for six days passing through their villages, and we were everywhere supplied with provisions and well lodged.
On Thursday the 27th of November we had reached that great city of Bukhara [photo] that stands in the middle of an immense plain, being enclosed by walls of sun-dried bricks, with a deep ditch full of water on the outside. At one part of the city there was a castle likewise constructed with sun-baked bricks, for in this country there are no stones for building the masonry of walls, and beside this castle flowed a river. Outside the city of Bukhara lies a great suburb having many fine buildings. This place is well supplied with provisions both of meat and bread stuffs and wine, with every other commodity: and the merchants here are very rich. In Bukhara all that we needed was given us, and they presented us each a riding horse. For the rest it is not now my purpose to detail all the events of this our homeward march, and I need only name the cities we passed through, for in our outward journey I have described all our experiences sufficiently fully not to need repeating them in this place. In the city of Bukhara we rested for seven days and during this time much snow fell: then on Friday the 5th of December we set out again, and during three days' march made our way through a well populated plain where there were villages on every hand, reaching at length the bank of the great river the Ab-i-Amu [as they name the Oxus], which as you have heard we had crossed higher up above this point on our journey to Samarqand. Coming to a village on the riverside we now laid in provisions of meat for ourselves and barley for our horses to serve us for crossing the desert beyond the Oxus which we learnt would extend for six days' march. We stayed at this village making our preparations during two days, and then on Wednesday the 10th of December embarking in the ferry-boats crossed the broad stream of that mighty river. [Ü ]
Its banks on the further side consist in great sandy plains, and the wind here continually drives the sands backwards and forwards from one spot to another. Thus the dunes are ever in motion, being here blown down by the wind and heaped up there at another place. The sand is very fine and as it is moved about it makes the like of waves as might be seen on a cloth of Camelot; further when the sun shines clear no one can look down on it but must hold his eyes off the glitter. The way across these sands can only be traversed by those who know the signs that have been set up as guide posts, and these desert guides are commonly known [as already noted] by the name of Yamchis, and a Yamchi was our leader on this occasion, but even he many times almost lost his way in the desert. There is no water to be met with in this land except at the interval of the day's march, when you will come to a well-shaft dug down in the sand, and protected by a dome that rises above a surrounding wall of fire-baked bricks; and but for this protecting wall the sand would soon blind the well. The water in these wells is the store from the rains or the snow that has fallen. As we went, upon the last day of our march across this desert tract, we could find no well, so had to ride on continuously that day and all the night following. It was only the next day by the hour of mass at noon that we came to a well, and here we ate our food and watered our beasts who were in great need of refreshment. On Sunday the 14th of December we at last reached a village where we rested that day and Monday and Tuesday following, setting out again Wednesday to traverse a second span of desert the passage of which lasted five days full going. This was crossing a plain, and here the wells were more abundant than in the tract we had formerly passed. Half way over this second desert waste we had to pass a low hill of sand, and the heat here was quite over-powering [in spite of its being the month of December]. Further all the last three days of our passage across were very wearisome and long, for we had to keep on by night as well as by day, only halting when it was necessary to take food and to give our horses their barley... [Ü ]
[Qazvin; winter travel in northern Iran]
...Thursday the 29th of January  we came to the city of Shahraqan passing the night there, and this was the town we had stayed at on our outward journey. From this point however we diverged [northwards] from the route we had taken [from Sultaniyah to Shahraqan] on our outward march, and during four days, Friday Saturday Sunday and Monday, travelled on continuously, but our way was much hampered by the snow that had fallen. Finally on Tuesday the 3rd of February we reached a great town that was called Qazvin. Here the major part of the houses are indeed now in ruin, though their number formerly had been very great, for this city of Qazvin was the largest of any that we had met with in those parts, Tabriz and Samarqand alone excepted. Here we found that much snow had fallen, the streets were quite blocked by it, and the people all were occupied in making roads through the drifts for the passage of traffic. So much snow had come down that great was the peril lest it should stave in the roofs of the houses, and the householders were busy with poles and shovels throwing it off down into the yards below. In Qazvin we slept Tuesday the night of our arrival and remained there till after the following Friday, being held back by the great snowfall on the road beyond. They gave us hospitable entertainment for this time, amply supplying our needs and requirements.
It is indeed thus the custom everywhere to harbour ambassadors going to or coming from Timur, likewise any of the princes of his family who may be travelling. During a sojourn of three days and nights, should they need to stay that time all are entertained, and of these last, namely any person of the immediate relationship of his Highness, it is usual to supply him and his following with food and lodging for nine days, but the expense is then borne by the commune in which their stay is made. On the following Saturday at length we found we could set forth again, but thirty men had to go with us on foot with shovels to open a road for us by their labour. These men all came out from Qazvin for this work, but as soon as we had reached the first hamlet settlement outside they went back home, and the men of the hamlet were obliged to take on the work, turning out to beat down a way for us to pass. The snow had now fallen so abundantly that the hill slopes and the plain both were covered very deeply, all seemed level ground and no road could be seen. Snow-blindness affected the eyes of men and beasts, none could see looking over the snow, and indeed until the surface had frozen hard it was almost impossible to make our way across the plain. So deep was the snow in places that coming to a town or village we could not recognize where it lay, all being covered over. In this condition we made our journey coming on to the city of Sultaniyah which is the chief town of that populous district and amply supplied with food stuffs...
Our long delay of eight days in Sultaniyah was caused while awaiting the orders that now reached us, and we learnt that we must go thence and pay our respects to the Governor General of Western Persia, who [as already mentioned in a previous chapter] is a grandson of Timur whose name is Omar Mirza.
The Prince was at this moment established in camp on the plains of Qarabagh, where with his army he was spending the winter season. The quickest way to reach this place would have been to turn aside and go north from Sultaniyah, but the road thence passes over high ranges of mountains and these were now deep in fresh fallen snow. We were delaying therefore those many days hoping for the snow to melt, and let us pass, but the frost continuing they advised us it were better to proceed straight on to Tabriz and thence set out for Qarabagh where the mountain road would be shorter and the snow less deep. This therefore we now arranged to do and on Saturday the 21st of February left Sultaniyah and slept that night at the town of Zanjan, which we had passed through on our outward Journey. Sunday following we slept at a great road-side caravanserai; and on Tuesday reached the village of Miyanah; Wednesday we came on and slept at the village of Tungalar [or Tucelar] and the following day reached the village of Ujan. Finally on Saturday the last day of the month of February we entered the city of Tabriz, where lodgings were assigned to us in certain houses of the Arnienians, who were Christian folk, and here they supplied the customary rations of food. On the Tuesday following, which was the 3rd of March, horses for our party were as we learnt in readiness for us to set out to go to Prince Omar who, as said, was with his host encamped in the Qarabagh plains at winter-quarters.
These are certain immense plains providing excellent pasture during that season, for the climate there is very mild, snow seldom falling or should it do so melting rapidly. It is for this amenity that Prince Omar is wont to go there for the winter months of each year: and thither now it was incumbent on us to seek him out and pay our respects.... [Ü ]
[Through the mountains to Georgia]
On Tuesday the 8th of September therefore we left Ani, in charge of a Chagatay who was commissioned by the governor to carry us in safety through the Georgian territories, and with this purpose we left the direct road to Arzinjan which goes off on the left hand, along a part of which we had formerly passed on our outward journey. That night we slept at a village belonging to the governor of Ani, and the next day at dawn began to go up a steep mountain pass over a crest, and on the further side of this came to a castle set on a high peak the name of which was Tartum. This is a place very celebrated, for Timur had laid siege to it, capturing it and imposing his tribute, though it lies well within the confines of Georgia. Passing by this castle we came forward and slept at a village about a league beyond it: and then for the next two days our road lay across the rugged mountain passes of the country of Georgia. On Friday which was the [11th] of September we reached a castle of the name of Vicer, held by a Moslem governor who was a Mulla, and a Mulla with them is a doctor of laws and forsooth a learned person. This Mulla received us very courteously and we dined with him: he told us how all the country round about was in confusion by reason of the raids of Qara Yusuf, indeed the population for the most part had come in under the castle walls, with their herds, to obtain shelter from rapine. When we left Vicer our guide gave us to understand that we must needs now go aside from our road to pay our respects to a certain lord who held the city of Ispir; since he, our guide, carried letters for him from his master the governor of Ani. We therefore proceeded thitherward, crossing many mountain passes, for indeed all the way from Tartum our way had been across successive ranges of mountains.
The name of this lord of Ispir was Piahacabea, and his lands were very fertile and rich, in spite of this province being an extremely hilly country. Thus on that Saturday, the next day after we had come into Ispir, we went up and paid the governor our respects offering him a gift of two robes of kincob [gold cloth], and we afterwards dined with him. In the afternoon he provided us with a guide who should see us across his frontier into the country of the Emperor of Trebizond: and setting forth again we slept that night at a village below the next mountain pass. On Sunday the following morning we began to go up a very steep road to the crest, the first four leagues of the way going through a region bare without forest, and the pass was so rocky and beset that both men and beasts scarcely could go forward, save with utmost labour. Thus on that day's journey we crossed the frontiers of the lands of Georgia and entered the territory known as Arraquiel. Of the people of Georgia we shall notice they are a fine race of men, very handsome in face and gallant in bearing. They are Christians of the Greek rite in matters of religion, but their language is not Greek being an idiom peculiar to themselves....
All this country-side of Arraquiel is very mountainous, with mere path-ways that cross the passes, and these so rocky and steep that burdened horses cannot travel them. In some places they have had to build bridges of beams from rock to rock to traverse the hill crests. No sumpter-beasts are here in use, but men who are porters have to carry all burdens on their shoulders. There is but little corn grown in this region, and the people are of a barbarous race. As we passed through we were in some danger from them, for though they are Armenians and profess to be Christians all are robbers and brigands; indeed they forced us, before we were let free to pass, to give a present of our goods as toll for right of passage. [Ü ]
[From Trebizond to Constantinople, and via Genoa home to Spain]
We were four days journeying through their country and then came to the sea-shore, at a place on the coast [of the Black Sea] that lies six days' journey east of Trebizond, and here journeying along a wretched road soon reached the little port of Susurmena [or Surmeneh]. The land is of the district of Trebizond, it lies along the sea coast and is very mountainous, the hill sides everywhere being covered by forests. The trees as they stand support many creepers, most of which are grapevines, and of the wild grapes a wine is made, but no vineyards are tended by these people. The population live in hamlets each of which bears the name of Curio, the same consisting of well masoned cottages, a few together standing in one place and elsewhere others. The paths we had to follow going through this country were so abominable, that it cost us the lives of near all the beasts of burden we had with us for our baggage.
On Thursday the 17th of September we came at last to Trebizond, and on our arrival there were informed of a ship having just that morning set sail thence for Pera, with a cargo of hazel-nuts. The wind fortunately for us proved contrary and we soon had news that she had put back and had come into the port of Platana, the little harbour lying some six miles to the west of Trebizond. We therefore immediately provisioned ourselves for the sea voyage, and taking a boat, were rowed over thither and found the ship on board which we now came. She was commanded by a Genoese captain) whose name was Messer Nicoloso Cojan, who agreed to give us passage, and we made our voyage with him thence to Pera in twenty-five days. It was on Thursday the 22nd of October that we were come to Constantinople once more, as the night set in. On entering the port of Pera we found that three carracks, of the Genoese, had just arrived from Kaffa [in the Crimea], and were to sail with destination home, to Genoa, and in one of these we now took passage after provisioning ourselves for the voyage...
...Sunday the [7th] of March...we landed at San Lucar: and went up to the city of Seville It was after this that on a Monday the [22nd] of March, in the year of Our Lord one thousand four hundred and six that we Ambassadors finally reached Alcala de Henares where we found our lord King Henry III of Castile... [Ü ]
© 2004 Daniel C. Waugh