The producers, Lola Karimova-Tillyaeva and her husband Timur Tillyaev, have gone to great lengths researching the facts of Ulugh Beg’s remarkable life, consulting historians specializing in the Timurid period to ensure the authenticity of costumes and other details. The film showcases artefacts, manuscripts and exhibits held in museums around the world.
The astonishing legacy of a long-forgotten Uzbek ruler, scholar, and scientist is finally being shared with a modern, global audience thanks to a new biographical feature film from executive producers Lola Karimova-Tillyaeva and Timur Tillyaev.
Ulugh Beg: The Man Who Unlocked the Universe tells the incredible story of Mirza Muhammad Taraghay bin Shahrukh, better known by his more commonly used name of “Ulugh Beg,” which means “great ruler.” He was born in 1394 in the Timurid Empire, which was ruled by his grandfather and included present-day Uzbekistan and much of Central Asia. Ultimately, Ulugh Beg rose to become one of the greatest scientific thinkers of the Eastern Renaissance, with a record of achievements that far exceeded the world he lived in. With this new film, the producers hope to pay tribute to Ulugh Beg’s remarkable legacy and to introduce a new generation of global viewers not only to his story, but also to the rich historic and cultural heritage of Uzbekistan.
Ulugh Beg: The Man Who Unlocked the Universe was awarded the Kineo Prize for Best Foreign Documentary at the 74th Venice International Film Festival, and is scheduled for future screenings at a number of other festivals. To whet your appetite for the film, read on for some fascinating facts about Ulugh Beg.
Ulugh Beg’s grandfather was the famous Turco-Mongol conqueror Timur, also known as Tamerlane. Timur was born in 1336 in Transoxiana (an area that includes present-day Uzbekistan), and was leading military campaigns across Western, South, and Central Asia by 1370. Due to the success of these campaigns—in which he defeated many opponents, including the Ottoman Empire, the Mamluks of Egypt and Syria, and the Delhi Sultanate—Timur emerged as the Muslim world’s most powerful ruler of the age. However, the empire that he founded, the Timurid Empire, did not long survive after his death in 1405. Timur is best-known to Western audiences through the Elizabethan drama Tamburlaine, written by Shakespeare’s contemporary Christopher Marlowe.
Ulugh Beg’s young life was strongly impacted by his grandfather’s empire-building tendencies. With his father, Shah Rukh, who was Timur’s youngest son, Ulugh Beg spent many of his early years exploring the Middle East and India following his grandfather’s conquests. After Timur’s death, Shah Rukh assumed the rule of the Timurid Empire; he moved the Empire’s capital city to Herat in 1409, and left Ulugh Beg to govern the former imperial capital of Samarkand. Two years later, at the age of 18, Ulugh Beg assumed sovereign rule of the entire Transoxiana region.
As a young ruler, Ulugh Beg was determined to make his home city of Samarkand into an intellectual hub of the Timurid Empire. In 1417, he began construction of a madrasa (a university or institute) and invited renowned Islamic astronomers and mathematicians to study there. He himself pursued studies in many subjects, including medicine and mathematics. But he made his best-known achievements, for which he is still celebrated today, as an astronomer.
Two centuries before Galileo invented the telescope, Ulugh Beg built an enormous observatory housing the era’s largest and most sophisticated sextant (an instrument used for measuring the positions of stars), and compiled the world’s most comprehensive star catalogue, containing over 1,000 stars and their precise locations. He also determined the length of the year with a remarkable degree of accuracy nearly 100 years before Copernicus did, and correctly calculated the tilt of the Earth’s axis.
Ulugh Beg’s observatory was a masterpiece of its age. The three-story cylindrical building was constructed around three enormous astronomical instruments, including the sextant described above, a curving stone arch 40 meters tall. Unfortunately, however, Ulugh Beg’s work did not meet with approval from everyone in his realm. Upon his death, the many skilled scientists working at the observatory were driven away, and the observatory itself was razed to the ground by religious extremists. The site remained hidden for centuries until Russian archaeologist Vassily Vyatkin discovered the remains—little more than part of the sextant—in 1908. In 1970, the Ulugh Beg Observatory Museum was built to commemorate the legacy of the great astronomer.
Sadly, Ulugh Beg’s achievements as a scholar and scientist were not matched by his accomplishments as a ruler. When his father Shah Rukh died in 1447, Ulugh Beg made several attempts to consolidate his power, but lost numerous battles to other Timurid princes in the region. Frustrated with his father’s ineptitude, Ulugh Beg’s son Abd al Latif brought his father to trial, where he was sentenced to a mandatory pilgrimage to Mecca as punishment. However, Ulugh Beg’s journey was short-lived, as he was ambushed and beheaded outside Samarkand by an assassin hired by his son.
Born in 1978 in the Uzbek capital of Tashkent, Lola Karimova-Tillyaeva earned bachelor’s and master’s degrees in International Law from the University of World Economy and Diplomacy in Tashkent, going on to receive a doctorate degree in Psychology from Tashkent State University.
Together with her husband Timur, also born and raised in Uzbekistan, she is actively involved in preserving her country’s rich cultural heritage, and in her current role as Uzbekistan’s ambassador to UNESCO, Lola Karimova-Tillyaeva focuses primarily on promoting the centuries-old historical heritage of Uzbekistan, with a view to advancing a better understanding between civilizations and respect for their values.
It was with this goal in mind that she and her husband embarked on the production of ULUGH BEG: THE MAN WHO UNLOCKED THE UNIVERSE, a docudrama vividly portraying the story of a prodigious individual whose life encapsulates so many of the admirable qualities inherent in Uzbek history and culture.
Mrs. Karimova-Tillyaeva heads two major charitable organizations in Uzbekistan and is renowned for her key role in promoting education and sports as well as championing the rights of orphaned children and children with disabilities in Uzbekistan.
She has always adhered firmly to her belief that education, culture and sports are key factors in promoting peace and tolerance, and function as a bridge between civilizations, helping to overcome ignorance and stereotypes.
“This is the first time my husband Timur and I have taken on the role of film producers. We are delighted to be so actively involved in this documentary about the remarkable life and work of the renowned fifteenth century philosopher and scientist, Ulugh Beg. I’ve always been fascinated by his personality and the historical role he played, it’s been my dream to make a documentary about him – great thinker, peace-loving leader, a Renaissance man endowed with a unique set of human qualities that were beyond his time. For me, Ulugh Beg is an outstanding figure who transcends borders and ages.