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Exploring the Silk Road  
   Updated 10th November 2018
Samarkand, Uzbekistan 



Gur-e-Amir Mausoleum
(see more details on the right column)

Vertical panorama from inside Gur-e-Amir Mausoleum with the graves of Amir Temur, his teacher and family

Impressive door !! Quite a lot of these around. I think they might even be the original 500 year old doors. Seems too dry to be 30 years old.

Amir Temur who is to be considered the main "father" of the city.

Rukhobod Mausoleum and a yurt.

Registon square with the 3 Islamic universities (Madras). Not only Koran was studied, but also science, law and economy. We were told the universities was open and active until 1994.

Some detail of one of the Madrasas- interesting to see the animal form when it is actually prohibited in Islam.

Posing in front of the square.... Happy Tourists.

Some details of the rooms where the teachers and students used to live.

Inside the Mosque at Registon.

Bloody tourists.....

Registon at night

Monument to Silk Route at the Afrosiab Museum

Afrosiab  archaeological site.

Afrosiab palace murals. Dated roughly 700 AD.

Shah-i-Zinda. Cemetery with Mausoleums of various dignitaries from hundreds of years ago. Quite an impressive place and likely the most original as a lot of the other buildings were pretty much all reconstructed in the 1990's

One of these were profit Mohammed's cousin

Uleb Beg's sextant. Largest astronomical instrument in the world at the time and was tracking over 1000 objects.

Picture above is the only remaining part of the observatory (i.e. the underground part) and this is how they think the whole observatory looked like in the 15th century.

Wine tasting. 1 white, 2 red (dry 11-12% quite decent and especially for US$8 in a restaurant), 4 sweet wines (16% ALC, 22% Natural sugar - pretty crap actually), 2 Brandy and 1 balsam (like Riga Balsam - a mix of herbs and clear alcohol).

Traditional hats in the market

Spices and pickled vegetables at the market.

Locals. What are you looking at girls ???

Got to eat Plov when in Uzbekistan


Blues Cafe.... A surprisingly nice place for an afternoon drink.$1 or less for a glass of wine (local, but plenty good)








When living in Russia it is almost mandatory to go visit Uzbekistan (and other ....stans), so we took the long weekend in November '18 to at least see one of the cities on the Uzbekistan must-see-list: Samarkand. It was easy with a direct flight from Moscow. Arriving at 0500h with no airport pickup nor hotel booking, it wasn't an issue! The place basically does not work as in the modern world, so if you go make sure you actually speak to the hotel and make sure you have a booking, otherwise, just go with it! It was cold which was kind of surprising considering how far south it is, but with an elevation of 750m, it gets cold.: -1 at night and 5-6C in the day. We had blue skies the whole time.

You read about these 14th and 15th century buildings and think "wow - impressive". However, the story is that the buildings were basically a bunch of rockpiles and all that is seen today has been rebuilt starting in the 70S then in the 1990s. Still it is pretty impressive to think that these magnificent buildings were there 500 years ago.

Some information courtesy of Wikipedia:

Samarkand is a city in modern-day Uzbekistan and is one of the oldest continuously inhabited cities in Central Asia. Though there is no direct evidence of when exactly Samarkand was founded; theories state that it was founded between the 8th and 7th centuries BC. Prospering from its location on the Silk Road between China and the Mediterranean, at times Samarkand was one of the greatest cities of Central Asia.
The city was taken by Alexander the Great in 329 BC, when it was known by its Greek name of Marakanda.

The oldest part of the city was an huge archaeological site dating back to the 7thC- Afrosiab. Murals from the Afosiab palace show the cosmopolitan nature of this epoque in Samarkand with the trade from the silk route. Atle and I walked through he site which is only 20% uncovered, through cemeteries to end up at the Shah-i-Zinda: tombs of the living Kings. We actually did not pay to get into this row of tombs, we simply slid in from the backend....Kusam ibn Abbas, Samarkand's patron saint and a cousin to the Prophet Muhammad, came to Uzbekistan to preach Islam, was wounded and crept beneath the city walls- so they say. An 11th C mausoleum is dedicated to him whether he was actually buried there or not. It was a fantastic gallery of multi-coloured mosaic tiled mausoleums strong in lapiz lazuri colour and just so beautifully restored!

Back with history: The city was ruled by a succession of Iranian and Turkic rulers until the Mongols under Genghis Khan conquered Samarkand in 1220, destroying the buildings pre dating their conquest.

Although Genghis Khan "did not disturb the inhabitants [of the city] in any way", he killed all who took refuge in the citadel and the mosque, pillaged the city completely and conscripted 30,000 young men along with 30,000 craftsmen. Samarkand suffered at least one other Mongol sack by Khan Baraq to get treasure he needed to pay an army. It remained part of the Chagatai Khanate (one of four Mongol successor realms) until 1370.

Today, Samarkand is Uzbekistan's second largest city, population of some 520,000.
The city is noted for being an Islamic centre for scholarly study. In the 14th century it became the capital of the empire of Timur (Tamerlane) and is the site of his mausoleum (the Gur-e Amir) where he is interred along with his famous grandson Uleg Bek, an intellect and astronomer.

The Bibi-Khanym Mosque (a modern replica) remains one of the city's most notable landmarks but totally rebuilt as it was completely destroyed.

The Siab market is not as old as the market in Tashkent dating back to the 300BC but it sure was like a coming home from all the markets we have explored in the Middle East, Asia and Baku!


The Travels of Marco Polo, where Polo records his journey along the Silk Road, describes Samarkand as "a very large and splendid city..."
Ibn Battuta visited in 1333 and called the city "one of the greatest and finest of cities, and most perfect of them in beauty." He also noted the orchards were supplied water via norias.
In 1370 the conqueror Timur (Tamerlane), the founder and ruler of the Timurid Empire, made Samarkand his capital. During the next 35 years, he rebuilt most of the city and populated it with the great artisans and craftsmen from across the empire. Timur gained a reputation as a patron of the arts and Samarkand grew to become the centre of the region of Transoxiana. Timur's commitment to the arts is evident in the way he was ruthless with his enemies but merciful towards those with special artistic abilities, sparing the lives of artists, craftsmen and architects so that he could bring them to improve and beautify his capital. He was also directly involved in his construction projects and his visions often exceeded the technical abilities of his workers. During this time the city had a population of about 150,000.


Between 1424 and 1429, the great astronomer and grandson of the Amir Timur, Ulug Beg built the Samarkand Observatory. The observatory was destroyed by religious fanatics in 1449. It lay forgotten and in ruins for about 500 years and in 1908, Russian archaeologist Vladimir Viyatkin rediscovered and excavated the sight.

The sextant was part of a quadrant arc 63m in length and once rose to the top of a surrounding three-storey structure. Part of it was kept underground to protect it from earthquakes. At the time it was the world's largest 90-degree quadrant. Tiny niches are cut in the surface for calibrating the once accompanying astrolabe to enable exact calculations. Using the arc these medieval astronomers charted movements of 1,018 stars which were still known and studied in the 18thC.

The Registon was the commercial part of town by the 14thC. This central square was the ancient centre of the city. In 2001, UNESCO added the city to its World Heritage List. It consists of the Uleg Beg madrassa the oldest built in the 15thC, Next the Sher dor Madrassa, 17thC with elaborate mosaic on the main portico, and the Tilla Kari Madrassa mid 17th C.

Back with history:
In 1500 the Uzbek nomadic warriors took control of Samarkand. The Shaybanids emerged as the Uzbek leaders at about this time.
In the second quarter of the 16th century, the Shaybanids moved their capital to Bukhara and Samarkand went into decline.

In 1886, the city became the capital of the newly formed Samarkand Oblast of Russian Turkestan and grew in importance still further when the Trans-Caspian railway reached the city in 1888.
It became the capital of the Uzbek SSR in 1925, before being replaced by Tashkent in 1930. During World War II, after Nazi Germany invaded the Soviet Union, a number of citizens of Samarkand were sent to Smolensk, to fight the enemy. Many were taken captive or killed by the Nazis.

Despite the many invasions, conquests, destruction, reconstruction and in an attempt to improve the area, authorities flattened entire districts making broad avenues and building walls to enclose the living areas, keeping them out of sight of tourists, Samarkand still remains a walk through time and a friendly pleasant place to wander around.

Best regards,

Lynne and Atle