Above Main Entrance to Bibi-Khanym. Samarkand


The enormous Bibi Khanym complex in Samarkand was built in 1399–1405 with the spoils of Timur’s (Tamerlane’s) campaign in India. Bibi Khanym was named in homage to Timur’s senior wife, Sarai Mulk Khanym. The rectangular courtyard of the complex centers on the Main, or Friday, Mosque. This view of the central entrance, set within the iwan (entrance arch) of the mosque, shows the effects of extensive damage, particularly after an 1897 earthquake, but much of the ceramic ornamentation remains, including cursive Perso-Arabic inscription bands and panels, as well as star and floral motifs. The arched panel (right) displays geometric figures integrated with words in block Kufic script from the Kalima, or Islamic declaration of faith. Beyond the arch is the front wall of the mosque. 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 photographed monuments of Islamic architecture.

Date Created

Subject Date


Title in Original Language

Над главным входом Биби-Ханым. 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 http://www.loc.gov/pictures/collection/prok/.

Last updated: September 30, 2016