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Situated in a large oasis in the Zerafshan river valley, the ancient city of Samarkand is one of the world’s oldest inhabited settlements – a once thriving centre of trade, culture, power, and learning. Perched on the old Silk Road between China and the West, the city, an historic international crossroads and the seat of successive empires, boasts a plethora of architectural and archaeological treasures. Gold and turquoise domes, stately minarets, mosques, and monumental gateways unfold across the Samarkand sky-line, their surfaces shimmering with sublime and geometrically intricate mosaic-work.
Founded by the Sogdian civilisation in the 7th century BC, Samarkand, then known as Afrasiab, passed through several early phases, absorbing ancient Greek and Sassanian influences. After it was conquered by the Arabs in the 8th century AD, it flourished as a centre of Islamic culture. In 1220, it was destroyed by Ghengis Khan and his Mongol hordes, subsequently abandoned and rebuilt in a new location. Today, the excavated remains of old Afrosiab can be seen in the northwest suburbs of the city, including the ruins of a citadel and fortification, a royal palace, and the crumbling foundations of an ancient mosque. In 1369, Samarkand rose from the ashes when Timur-i-Leng made it the capital of his burgeoning Central Asian empire.Read more
Most of Samarkand’s fine architecture was commissioned by Timur and his descendants, who led the city through a golden age in the 14th and 15th centuries. The architectural accomplishments of that era - ‘masterpieces of Islamic cultural creativity’ according to UNESCO - resonated throughout the Islamic world, inspiring similar developments in Persia, India, and Turkey. The labyrinthine network of narrow lanes and alleys, fine mosques, madrasahs, and residential houses reach an architectural climax at Registan Square – the spiritual and geographic heart of the Timur-era city. The site is flanked by three grand madrasahs, stunning minarets and medieval portals adorned with mosaic, marble, and ornate finishes. Admiring the scale and labour of the Registan complex, it’s easy to see why Samarkand is Uzbekistan’s most famous city.