Over the last millenium or so, this eastern Uzbek city has exchanged hands countless times. After Mongol ruler Genghis Khan flattened it in 1220, the old town was rebuilt by the Timur-i-Leng Empire in 1369. It then prospered during the silk trade boom and much of the current architecture that stands today was built by this very leader. More recently, Samarkand was taken over by Russia in 1868 and for six years (between 1924 and 1930), it was actually the official capital of the Uzbek Soviet Socialist Republic.
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Afrasiab is an ancient archeological site dating back to the Sogdian period in 500 BC. If you’re looking for old ruins, you won’t find any that outdate the ones here. The site also has an interesting on-site museum containing local artifacts and original Sogdian paintings. Afrasiab is located just down from the popular Ulugh Beg Observatory on the hill.
It’s easy to be taken aback by the sensory overload that an Uzbek market can deliver. Central Bazaar in Samarkand is no exception, with its multitude of species, wafting aromas, crowds of shoppers and vocal vendors. A walk around is a great way to sample the local way of life, while also snapping up a bargain.
The Registan Ensemble acts as a magnet for all visitors to Samarkand. This stunning collection of holy Islamic buildings actually comprises the town square. Three separate constructions (or medeses), named Ulugbek, Shirdor and Tilla Kari, can be explored from both inside and out, and feature spectacular patterns, huge blue domes and detailed carvings throughout.
An unmissable attraction for all those who have journeyed to Samarkand is the site of the Shahr-i-Zindar Monuments. These spectacular tombs, built for the former ruler Timur and his family, are a great example of the traditional Islamic architecture so prevalent in Samarkand. Get a close look and you’ll notice the hundreds of thousands of colored tiles that make up the pattern themes.
At the highest point of Samarkand, you’ll find this fascinating observatory. Built in the 15th century by the world famous astronomer Ulugh Beg, it was once regarded as one of the most advanced of its kind in the Islamic world. Although the site now lies in ruins, you can still explore the area (both above and below ground), and get a good feel of how it once operated.
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