Join Plus+ and get exclusive shows and extensions! Subscribe Today!

The Mysterious Curse of Timur’s Tomb

The world is peppered with mysterious ancient places pervaded with dark secrets lost to time. These are the locations with bizarre pasts lost to the mists of time, and with alleged mystical forces that infuse them to this day, their true secrets obscured by the ages and infused with legends and myths. One such place lies out in Central Asia, the tomb of one of the most ruthless and bloodiest tyrants the world has ever known, and which is said to hold an insidious curse.

Although his name seems to be largely forgotten in the mainstream today, back in the 14th century the Turco-Mongol nomadic conqueror, warlord and nobleman Timur, or commonly known as Tamerlane, was one of the most ruthless and bloodthirsty invaders of Central Asia, or indeed anywhere else. Through a campaign of fierce bloodshed, estimated to have cost the lives of around 17 million people, or rather shockingly about 5% of the world population at the time, Timur forged the Timurid Empire in and around modern-day Afghanistan, Iran and Central Asia, through Eastern Turkey, Iraq, Kuwait, Syria, Uzbekistan, Pakistan, Afghanistan, Kazakhstan, India, Russia and Turkmenistan, becoming the first ruler of the Timurid dynasty, and ruling over the biggest Mongol dynasty after Genghis Khan. Timur saw himself as Genghis Khan’s heir, and is thought of as one of the greatest military leaders in history, as well as a master tactician who knows virtually no equal. Greatly feared throughout Asia in his day, stories of Timur’s mighty feats of cruelty and death are legendary, such as the pyramid he built in India fashioned from the skulls of 70,000 of his victims, and this all was in contrast to his being a great patron of architecture and the arts. This can be seen in his elaborate mausoleum, which is not only impressive in its architecture, but is also said to hold a terrifying curse.

Timur’s tomb

Called the Gur-e Amir, Persian for “Tomb of the King,” and located in Samarkand, Uzbekistan, Timur’s tomb is considered to be an architectural marvel for its time. The mausoleum, which contains the remains of Timur, who died while trying to conquer China in 1405 at the age of 68, as well as those of his sons Shah Rukh and Miran Shah and grandsons Ulugh Beg and Muhammad Sultan, the bright azure domed complex is richly decorated with carved bricks and various mosaics, and known as the precursor and model for later Mughal tombs and others, even influencing the design of the Taj Mahal. It would lie in peace for centuries before being disturbed again, but when it was there would be a price to pay. The first record of the supposed curse comes from 1740, when king Nader Shah of the Afsharid Empire tried to steal Timur’s sarcophagus. The story goes that the headstone of sarcophagus was accidentally broken in two in the process, which was seen as a very bad omen from the outset. Shah was advised to return the remains, but it was too late, and his empire fell into ruin. From that point it was said that to disturb the mausoleum in any way would bring about misfortune and death, but this did not stop people from trying to raid it.

Inside the tomb

Shortly before the German invasion of the Soviet Union on June 19, 1941, Joseph Stalin sent a team of archaeologists in to break into the tomb and exhume Timur’s remains for study, under the direction of the Soviet scientist and anthropologist Mikhail Mikhaylovich Gerasimov. They entered the tomb and immediately found engraved warnings that ominously read “We are all mortals. The time will come, and we will all leave. If anyone disturbs the ashes of ancestors, let him suffer punishment,” as well as “When I Rise From the Dead, The World Shall Tremble” and “Whosoever Disturbs My Tomb Will Unleash an Invader More Terrible than I.” These should have been hints to stop, but they ignored the engravings that promised punishment for those who dare defiled the graves, ignored the pleas of the Sufi sages who begged them not to incur the curse, and even the complaints of workers who said they were having mysterious symptoms of sickness. They took Timur’s remains for study, and within mere days Adolf Hitler’s troops invaded Russia on June 22 1941, without any formal declaration of War, in a long and bloody campaign that would ultimately lead to the deaths of an estimated 26 million people. As the invasion was going on, Stalin became convinced that the desecration of the tomb had had some part to play and ordered Timur’s remains to be put back in December of 1942, and soon after the German army surrendered after Stalin won the incredibly vicious and bloody Battle of Stalingrad, ending the Germans’ Russia campaign. Coincidence or not?

It is hard to say how much of this talk of a curse is true, and how much is pure legend. Is this all mere coincidence, the talk of a curse just spooky folklore and the threats of a long dead conqueror trying to freak everyone out long after his death? The site is still open to visitors to this day, but it seems that one should be careful of what one touches. You never know what dark forces may be pervading this ancient place.