Tashkent is the capital of Uzbekistan, an ancient Silk Road city that retains its role as a vital hub of commerce. The city began life many millennia ago, an unassuming oasis on the Chirchik river, gradually evolving through pre-Islamic times as a minor trade centre known as Chach. Subjugated by Arab invaders in the 8th century, it converted to Islam and flourished. Like other cities in the region, it was virtually obliterated in the Mongol invasion of 1219, reviving later under the Timurid Empire. In 1966, the city was levelled by a powerful earthquake and rebuilt in stark Soviet style, its daunting residential towers contrasting with more ancient structures like medieval mosques and madrasahs.
Tashkent’s Old Town contains the city’s greatest concentration of historic buildings, the best quarter for strolling and getting a sense of the city at its height. Built in the 16th century by scientist and poet Kulbobo Kukeldash, the Kukeldesh Madrasah features a stunning inner courtyard and mosque, its academy once renowned as one of the finest in Central Asia. The Tellya Sheikh Mosque holds deep cultural and spiritual significance too, thanks to its sumptuous Islamic library, home to the world’s oldest Koran, which is stained with the blood of murdered caliph, Uthman. For a glimpse of mercantile barter and bustle, head to the Chorsu Bazaar, a very old city market that harks back to the days of the Silk Road. Its vociferous vendors peddle everything from spices to grains to textiles to produce to livestock.