Genghis Khan had divided his kingdom up amongst his sons. Chaghatay took over the area around Samarkand and it was to one of his viziers that Timur, whom we also know as Tamberlane, was born. He started his career as a mercenary but eventually captured Samarkand in 1364. In 1366 he married a grand-daughter of Chaghatay and was shortly after elected regent, a position he maintained all his life. By 1381 he had sufficiently consolidated his position in Samarkand to undertake a series of conquests to the West, taking Herat first and then Sistan in 1384. The same year he took Rayy (just south of Tehran), and the Il-Khanid capital of Sultaniyeh, marking the effective end of that dynasty. He remained in Iran until 1388 and named Mohammad Soltan, son of Jahangir, governor of Tabriz. In 1387 he led an expedition against the Aq-Quiunlu and Qara-Quiunlu tribesmen and Timur then took Isfahan from the Muzaffarid ruler Zayn Al-'Abidayn. He left a garrison of 3,000 Tartars in charge which the inhabitants unwisely massacred. Timur re-appeared, took the city by storm and is reported to have executed 70,000 of its citizens whose heads were built up in two huge pyramids at the entrance to the city. After further conquests he died in 1404, and is buried in the huge mausoleum that he built for himself in Samarkand.
Although his father had bequeathed the throne to another, by 1409, Timur's fourth and only surviving son, Shah Rukh, had consolidated his position and secured recognition as his father's successor. He established his capital at Herat, married Gawhar Shad, whose name in Farsi means "bright jewel", and mounted expeditions against the Qara-Quiunlu tribesmen in alliance with their rivals the Aq-Quiunlu, who had now sided with the Timurids. Together with his sons he campaigned against these tribesmen suppressing a revolt by Muhammad bin-Baysunghur in Isfahan in 1446, and setting the Qara-Quiunlu chieftain Jahanshah in charge of Azerbaijan.
Gawhar Shad's contribution to architecture should not be under-estimated. She commissioned the Friday Mosque in the holy city of Mashad and this in turn acted as an inspiration to Shah Abbas I's architects when they built his royal mosque in Isfahan.
Legend has it that the tomb of Shahshahan (pictured above) was built by Muhammad bin-Baysunghur in memory of Sheikh 'Ala Al-Din Muhammad who in turn was descended from the third Imam of the Shi'ite, the grandson of the prophet, Al-Hussein. This Sheikh had been executed at the orders of Ghawar Shad for supporting Muhammad's revolt, and this atrocity and the consequent curse was said to have ended the life of Shah Rukh who died some two months later, following which Muhammad returned to Isfahan.
After Shah Rukh's death in 1447, a further period of instability followed but by 1449 Muhammad bin-Baysunghur had regained control of western Iran and Isfahan. Shah Rukh's son, Ulugh Begh, a patron of astronomers, had ruled in Samarkand, until his death at the hands of his own son in 1451. He in turn was succeded by a great-grandson of Timur, and his own nephew, Abu Sai'id, who continued the ancient Timurid feud against the Qara-Quiunlu. In 1467 Jahanshah Qara-Quiunlu marched against the Aq-Quiunlu Ouzun Hassan, and was defeated. When Abu Sa'id sought to re-establish his authority he was taken prisoner and executed and this marked the end of Timurid rule in Western Iran, although Timur's successors continued to hold eastern Iran.
Architecturally in Isfahan this was a period of substantial development. Of particular interest is the tomb of Shahshahan the renovations made to the south-western eivan of the Masjed-e-Jomeh, and the portal leading to the Winter Gallery of the same mosque.