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Tilla-Kari Medressa

The facade of the Tillah Kari, built in 1630, presents some differences however, for a double range of arches flanks the central Iwan.

In the middle of the Registan stands a thick crowd, which I penetrate, into with some difficulty: it is drawn up in a circle, and gapes with astonishment at the feats of an acrobat.

Behind the Shir Dar I find a round open space, occupied by a small market, under a cupola filled with a swarming mass of humanity. Every imaginable article is being sold: embroidered skull caps, soap, tobacco, laces, stuffs, silk handkerchiefs, stockings, ribbons, greasy pancakes in frying-pans, scraps of mutton on a great tray protected by a muslim dome-shaped cover, and snowy sherbets glittering with icy crystals.

"Turkestan Solo" by Dervla Murphy

In between Sher Dor and Ulughbek Medressas is the Tilla-Kari (Gold-Covered) Medressa, completed in 1660, with a pleasant, gardenlike courtyard. To enclose the square in pleasing harmony, Yalangtush had his architects stretch the facades of the third madrassah to 75 metres, built between 1646 and 1660.

It was not only a residential college for students, but also played the role of grand masjid (mosque). Smaller corner turrets are preferred to minarets, but the mosaic feast is just as lavish - sprightly solar symbols and interlacing floral motifs in similar colours to the Shir Dor. Where the other madrassah feature facade wings of shallow niches without openings, the Tillya Kari declares its religious purpose with two storeys of hujra, ventilated by panjara, carved plaster windows. The single floor of cells on the other axes emphasizes the great turquoise dome and portal on the west side. They announce the city's congregational mosque, for Tamerlane's Bibi Khanum was already in ruins and the Kukeldash had disappeared. Its magnificent interior is swathed in kundal style gold leal-hence the title Tillya Kari, 'gilded'-from Koranic inscriptions and stalactites above the marble mihrab, to carpet-like wall panels and trompe l'oeil ceiling of delicate leaves and flowers circling to infinity.

The domed prayer galleries to either side display exhibitions of terracotta and restoration work such as the dome-never previously completed-and mosque decoration, now falling prey to Samarkand's rising water table. Like the Shir Dor and Ulug Век, many hujra have become gift shops, whose owners may direct you to rooftop access.

Soviet restorers placed beside Tillya Kari's southeastern turret the 16th century dakhma of the Uzbek Shaybanid dynasty, a burial platform topped with carved marble tombstones.

Nearby is the domed, 18th century skullcap bazaar Chorsu ('four ways', literally 'four waters'), constructed with materials from the rapidly disintegrating Bibi Khanum at the request of the emir of Bukhara. The six halls currently house a dull art gallery.

Until 2009 the square east of the Registan housed the State Museum of the Cultural History of Uzbekistan. It was restored and then demolished to make way for the desolate Yulbarslar Khiyaboni and its namesake tiger statues but it is hoped that treasures including Tamerlane's wooden coffin and the immense 19th century Koran that replaced the Osman Koran on Bibi Khanum's lectern will be moved to new location in the Russian new town.