"Ulugh Beg" produced by Lola Karimova and Timur Tillyaev

A documentary exploring the life and legacies of Ulugh Beg, astronomer extraordinaire who ruled parts of Central Asia in the fifteenth century.

Posted by Writter on August 24, 2017
“I’ve always been fascinated by Ulugh Beg’s personality and the historical role he played, it’s been my dream to make a documentary about him,” says producer Lola Karimova-Tillayeva.

Ulugh Beg was no ordinary ruler; devoted to knowledge and the arts, this gifted scholar brought together many great minds, transforming Samarkand into the centre of the fifteenth century astronomy world. One hundred and fifty years before Galileo invented the telescope, Ulugh Beg built the largest astronomical instruments on earth, using his incredible observatory to map the stars, making precise calculations and charts still in use today. To give but two examples of his extraordinary accomplishments, he measured the duration of the year to within 25 seconds of the actual figure, while his calculation of the earth’s axial tilt as 23.52 degrees, made over 500 years ago, is still the most accurate to date.

We also hear from leading experts and scholars from Denmark, France, the Netherlands, Russia, UK, USA and Uzbekistan who explain some of Ulugh Beg’s amazing discoveries, from the geometry behind breath-taking mosaics to the modern-day implications of his seminal ‘Zij’ star catalogue.

Using dramatic enactment, computer graphics, interviews and archive footage, this film takes us from Ulugh Beg’s birth as a prince in the Timurid dynasty through his unusual childhood and education right up to his untimely death, foretold in the stars.

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.

Lola Karimova - Ulugh Beg

ULUGH BEG – THE MAN WHO UNLOCKED THE UNIVERSE combines the very best of modern cinematography with the mysterious beauty of fifteenth-century Central Asia, a fitting tribute to this visionary architect, educator, scientist and leader, one of the greatest Muslim scholars of the Eastern Renaissance.


The Boy

Born a prince in 1394 into the mighty Timurid dynasty which once ruled vast swathes of Central Asia, Ulugh Beg spent much of his childhood studying, and soon became adept at debating not only with his peers but even with his teachers. His love of books and thirst for knowledge stayed with him all his life, and when he ascended to the throne (1411 to 1449), he oversaw the construction of several madrasah colleges, inviting the brightest minds to his capital, Samarkand, which soon became renowned as a vibrant centre of learning

Located on a hill to the North of Samarkand, this colossal structure was three storeys high, fifty metres across and housed the world’s largest astronomical equipment: a gigantic sextant. With an arc radius of 40.2 metres, special bronze rails were fitted inside to allow the observer to adjust the instrument, directing the ‘window’ (sighting vanes) to the specific celestial body being studied. When the Sun was under observation, the whole sextant would become completely dark, effectively turning it into a huge camera-obscura. Thanks to its huge dimensions (one degree on this meridian arc was over 70cm long!) and precise, complex construction, this goniometrical instrument allowed Ulugh Beg and his team of brilliant astronomers to make astoundingly accurate measurements. Methodical and patient, Ulugh Beg painstakingly verified his data over and over until he was satisfied they were correct. And they were! Back in 1437, he measured the duration of the year to within 25 seconds of the actual figure. His calculation of the earth’s axial tilt as 23.52 degrees, made over 500 years ago, is still the most accurate to date.

Although fond of literature, history and the arts, Ulugh Beg’s main passion was science, particularly astronomy and mathematics. His achievements in these fields are quite remarkable.

The Scientist

In 1420 or thereabouts, Ulugh Beg began the construction of what would become the largest and most complex astronomical instrument of his day, his Observatory.

The Ruler

Following the death of his father, Ulugh Beg rode into battle to secure his supremacy against his nephew who had laid claim to the throne. Although victorious on this occasion, Ulugh Beg found himself beset by those who did not support his more enlightened style of governance. Civil war broke out, and this great thinker was ambushed and murdered on the orders of his own son. His legacy, however, lives on, immortalised in his prodigious contribution to astronomy, mathematics and the breath-taking architectural monuments of his capital Samarkand.

Tragically, by the end of the seventeenth century almost nothing was left of this impressive Observatory, and researchers are still trying to solve the mysteries locked in the ruins.

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.

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.

Mrs. Karimova-Tillyaeva heads two major charitable organizations 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.

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.

What Lola Karimova says:

“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.