The only Central Asian state to border all other Central Asian states, land-locked Uzbekistan borders Kazakhstan, Kyrgyzstan, Tajikistan, Afghanistan, and Turkmenistan. Throughout history, its location between ancient kingdoms and competing empires has made it a vital place of cultural and economic interchange. By the time the region was conquered by the Arabs in the 8th century, it had been an established trading post on the old Silk Road for centuries. The dawn of Islamic cultural fluorescence only enriched and empowered the region, and today, a string of ancient cities maintain a dazzling profusion of fine historical architecture. Uzbekistan’s ornate palaces, impenetrable forts and citadels, elegant mosques, minarets, and madrasahs all express the philosophical and aesthetic values of a civilisation at its height.
Ethnically, Uzbekistan traces its roots to Turkic-speaking Uzbek nomads, who conquered the region in the early 16th century and went on to dominate Central Asia entirely. Today, their descendants mix with an eclectic range of minorities including Russians, Tajiks, Kazaks, Tatars, and Karakalpaks. Traditional Uzbek culture – including classical Uzbek music, famed for its interludes of powerful Sufi poetry – remains strong in the remote countryside, a land still isolated and somewhat entrenched after decades of Soviet rule in the twentieth century.