Ancient Samarkand

smkndAround the 14th and 15th centuries when the fabled Silk Road provided an important trading link between the East and the West, one of the most important cities on the route was Samarkand, and ancient city which is now the second largest city in Uzbekistan.

With a history dating back to at least the 7th century BC, Samarkand is considered to be one of the world’s longest continually-occupied cities, and occupied it has been, by any number of invaders and conquerors over the millennia.

Those who have left their mark on the city include Alexander the Great and Genghis Khan, but it was when Tamerlane was in power that Samarkand was at its peak. Tamerlane, or Timur as he was also known, was a Turkic ruler with Mongolian origins who ruled an empire in the 15th century and made Samarkand his capital. He was a devout Muslim and a patron of Islamic art and architecture who commissioned many buildings in the city which remain even today, and which are responsible for Samarkand being one of the most beautiful Islamic cities in the world.

One of the most magnificent of these buildings is the Bibi Khanum Mosque which was named after Tamerlane’s wife and was, at the time of its construction in 1399, had the largest dome in the Muslim world. The mosque had around 450 marble columns that were erected with the help of 95 elephants that had been imported from Hindustan. Sadly, much of the original mosque was damaged by an earthquake in 1897, but reconstruction has taken place.

The Gur-Emir Mausoleum is where Tamerlane’s body was laid to rest. The layout of the mosque itself follows the Islamic passion for geometry and other elements of the structure have been carefully designed and precisely measured. The majestic entrance is decorated with Arabic calligraphy and inscriptions, the latter being a common feature in Islamic architecture.

Registan Square was the heart of ancient Samarkand and is still in use today. It consists of three separate, but impressive, buildings, mausoleum, a domed market and a public square. During the tourist season, the performance of Light and Music is played each evening on the Registan Square and tells about the history of the city. From the minarets you can enjoy outstanding views over Samarkand.

For those visiting Central Asia, Samarkand is one of the `must see’ places. It is easily reachable by road, rail or air from the capital Tashkent. Unfortunately, most direct international flights emanate from various airports in Russia. So it is usually easier to reach the city via Tashkent.

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