Mosaics on the Shah-i Zindah Walls. Samarkand


The Shah-i Zindah (Persian for “living king”) necropolis is located at the outskirts of Samarkand. Situated on an ancient burial ground, it is revered as a memorial to Kusam-ibn-Abbas, a cousin of the Prophet Muhammad. Shown here is the facade of the peshtak (entrance arch) of the Shirin Bika Aga Mausoleum, built in 1385—86 for the younger sister of Timur (Tamerlane). Despite significant damage, the surface displays profuse ceramic ornamentation with Persian influence, including early examples of composite mosaics. Above the portal is an inscriptional panel in Thuluth cursive letters intertwined with floral motifs. Some of the facade inscriptions have been attributed to Socrates. Visible at the top is the lower part of the ceramic “honeycomb” vaulting at the peak of the entrance arch. The image is by Russian photographer Sergei Mikhailovich Prokudin-Gorskii (1863–1944), who used a special color photography process to create a visual record of the Russian Empire in the early 20th century. Some of Prokudin-Gorskii’s photographs date from about 1905, but the bulk of his work is from between 1909 and 1915, when, with the support of Tsar Nicholas II and the Ministry of Transportation, he undertook extended trips through many different parts of the empire. In 1911 his travels took him to Samarkand (present-day Uzbekistan), where he devoted special attention to monuments of Islamic architecture.

Date Created

Subject Date


Title in Original Language

Образцы мозаичных стен в Шах-Зинде. Самарканд

Type of Item

Physical Description

Glass negative (presented as a digital color composite)


  • Prokudin-Gorskii’s photographic work survives primarily in two forms: 1,901 black-and-white triple-frame glass plate negatives, made with color separation filters, which Prokudin-Gorskii used to make color prints and lantern slides; and 12 albums of sepia-tone prints, made from the glass negatives, which Prokudin-Gorskii compiled as a record of his travels and studies. The Library of Congress purchased the glass plate negatives and the albums from the Prokudin-Gorskii family in 1948. In 2004, the Library of Congress had digital color composites made from all the surviving glass negatives using a software algorithm to automatically align the color components. As with most historical photographs, title and subject identifications are corrected and enhanced through new research. Current information on the collection is at

Last updated: September 30, 2016