Samarkand is one of the most ancient cities in the world. The magnificent architectural monuments of Samarkand amaze by their beauty and harmony of forms and proportions and elegance of arches and domes. In the middle of the first century BC, Samarkand was known as Maracanda. Later, it was called Afrosiab after the first city’s site. In antiquity, Central Asia and Samarkand in particular had been the place of active interaction of the East and the West. The legendary Great Silk Road ran through Samarkand in which all of Asia’s travelers passed through.
The title “the heart of the Great Silk Road” is rightly attached to Samarkand. It is included in a special list of UNESCO – The World legacy. The significance of its material and spiritual values are so great. Unique monuments of ancient architecture, the legacy of scientific and artistic schools, centers of traditional national crafts of Samarkand are praised and glorified today throughout the world. Samarkand has a unique combination of styles and art schools that gave birth to distinctive looks of this ancient city as described by historians, poets and diplomats of the past.
Registan Square. In the 14th –15th centuries, the Registan was not only a trade and crafts square, but was also cultural center of the city. In 1417-1420 Ulugbeg erected his madrassah on this square. In the 17th century, the ruler of Samarkand, Yalangtush Bakhadur, made up his mind to re-construct the square. He ordered to erect the Sher-Dor madrassah (1619-1636) and subsequently the Tilla-Kari Madrassah (1646-1660). Thus, the completed ensemble still astonishes with its harmony and uniqueness of any madrassah ever created.
Gur-Emir Mausoleum (the tomb of emir) was one of the lust structures built in Samarkand by the order of Amir Timur. The mausoleum was built for the beloved grandson of Timur. Later Timur himself was buried here in 1405. The building is splendid both inside and out with a majestic blue dome twined with plaits that especially astonishes the imagination.
Bibi-Khanim Mosque. The principal city mosque of Bibi-Khanim is a distinguished architectural structure and the largest mosque in Central Asia. The construction of the mosque took place in 1399 after the Indian campaign of Timur, which lasted for five years. It was splendid and richly decorated structure. The height of the entrance portal reaches 40.85 meters and the portal arch aperture had a height of 18.2 m.
The Shakhi-Zinda mausoleums ensemble is one of the most significant architectural ensembles of Samarkand and reflects nearly all tendencies of the architectural schools of Maveranahr. The ensemble was developed in the period between 12th and 20th centuries. The construction of the complex is connected with the cult of the “Living King”, Kusam ibn Abbas, Prophet Mohammed’s cousin.
Ulugbeg’s Observatory. This observatory occupies a particular place among the historical sites of Samarkand. It was built by Ulugbeg in 1428-1429 on the hill of Kuhak. The observatory was built to observe the sun and stars. Archaeological excavations discovered an underground portion of this structure with the remaining part of a gigantic sextant. Ulugbeg produced calculations of the duration of a year by observing the stars. His calculations versus modern data are less than one minute off.
Prophet Daniel mausoleum. The prophet Daniel is revered by three world religions. He is one of the four great prophets of Judaism; a prophet whose book was included in the Old Testament of the Christian Bible as well as a prophet of Islam. Tradition indicates two places of burial of Saint Daniel, Babylon and Souses (present Schuster). However, as the legend goes, Timur had brought part of Daniel’s remains, his arm in particular, to Samarkand. This mausoleum was erected above a burial place. A water spring with incredibly delicious water is located nearby. The place itself wins over everyone’s heart by its peace and beauty, especially in the warm season when there is a plenty lush green vegetation, and swans and ducks that float along the Siab River. A curious fact, numerous pilgrims visited the sacred site for the purposes of Islam, Judaism and Christianity site, but also used this site for Zoroastrism traditions. The followers of Zoroastrism prayed to the sacred remains and tie rags on the trees growing nearby.
Imam-al-Bukhari Memorial Complex. Imam Muhammad al-Bukhari was born on July 21, 810 in Bukhara. He died on August 31, 870 in the Hartang village which is close to Samarkand. He was known throughout history as an avid compiler of the collections of “trustworthy hadises” (utterances and deeds) spoken by the prophet Muhammad. These sayings were composed on the basis of thorough analysis and selection. His book “Al –Jami as-sahih” (Authentic code) is acknowledged throughout Islamic world as the most reliable and important source of information in this field. The Hartang village turned into a pilgrimage site for Muslims all over the world. This mausoleum is the second holiest site for believers from every corner of the Muslim world after Mecca. In 1998, in connection with the celebration of the 1225th anniversary of the Imam al-Bukhary, the complex of monuments situated in the Hartang village were reconstructed and the surrounding territory, well-organized.
Afrosiab ancient site-city. The ancient site of Afrosiab in the city represents the remains of ancient and medieval Samarkand. Afrosiab is one of the biggest archaeological monuments. Its area is 219 hectares. The thickness of the cultural stratifications reaches some 20 meters. Archaeologists marked eleven layers that were in consecutive order and covered one another. These layers reflect the historical changes in the image of the material culture for 1800 years of Samarkand’s history of Afrosiab. In the modern city, the ancient city’s remains of the mighty citadel, ancient defensive walls and canals for water supply are easily distinguished. The archaeological findings from Afrosiab are kept and exhibited in the Museum of History of Samarkand Foundation, located in the eastern part of the ancient city.
Siab Bazaar. Samarkand is unique not only as a city-museum under the open sky but also like any other oriental city, it is famous for its bazaars. From ancient times, an oriental bazaar simultaneously performed the functions of a modern day supermarket and shop. It was here, at the bazaar, that people communicated and exchanged the latest information. One could find here all possible entertainment, exchange currency and do many other things. The most famous and ancient among all the bazaars is the Siab bazaar, which is located in the old city between the Bibi-Khanim and Shakhi-Zinda complexes and within ten minutes walking distance from the Registan. The market area is more than seven hectares and it harbors separate pavilions that stand side by side with trading rows that run between them. Traditionally it is necessary to bargain at the oriental bazaar. Not so much the money, but the process of bargaining itself is culturally important. Bargaining may last for a long time until one of the sides gives up. Frequently it is a very interesting sight. One can purchase anything here: fruits, vegetables, meat of any kind, and all sorts of dried fruits and crafts, which are placed in their own separate rows. Together with eastern sweets one can buy traditional Samarkand bread that has made Samarkand famous throughout the world.
The Hazrat-Hyzr mosque. The Hazrat-Hyzr mosque is a shrine located on the southwestern edge of Afrosiab hills. The name of the mosque is associated with the name of prophet Hyzr – the patron of wayfarers and legendary possessor of life-giving water.
Hojja Ziyomurod mosque. This is one of the most ancient Muslim shrines of Samarkand. The present building of the mosque was constructed on the foundations of the construction dating to the late 9th-early 10th centuries. The restoration of the mosque foundation revealed the bricks dating to the times of Akhmad Sanjar – sultan of Seljuk empire (1086-1157). Legend has it that Tamerlane brought the remains of Hazrat Jirjis (saint George) to Samarkand and buried them next to the mosque. In Soviet times the probable burial vault of the saint was pulled down. According to the legend the prayer read in the mosque could guarantee the fulfillment of wishes. Hence the name of the mosque, which means ‘prompt fulfillment of a wish’.
Rukhobod mausoleum – a Muslim shrine constructed in Samarkand in the 14th century, is the burial site of Islamic preacher, theologian and mystic SheikhBurhaniddin Klych Sagarji. The architecture of Rukhobod mausoleum is not typical for the epoch of Amir Temur. The building lacks a characteristic element – the entrance portal, which makes all four facades of the mausoleum equipollent. Rukhobod mausoleum is a domed structure with centric layout, 14×12 metres in area and 12 metres in height. A cubic chamber serves as a base for the middle octagonal vaulted drum with apertures for light. The structure is topped with a hemispherical dome. The mausoleum has three entrances: the northern, the western and the southern entrances. The decoration is rather austere. The exterior décor is mostly brickwork. Some carved glazed terracotta tiles are used in framing of the arched entrances. The lower part of the interior walls is decorated with two-metre ceramic panel over which there runs glazed tile band. The rest of the wall surface, as well as the ceiling, is covered with alabaster plasterwork.
Aksarai mausoleum is the 15th- century memorial structure – the burial vault of Temurid dynasty. It is located in 30 metres southeast from Gur-Emir mausoleum. By the 20th century it was all in ruin. The conservation works of 1924-1925 saved the mausoleum from complete demolition. In 2007 Aksarai mausoleum was restored with private investments and at present it is opened for tourists. The mausoleum is a domed rectangular building with main cruciform chamber and three additional rooms. The main chamber is covered with a dome on high cylindrical drum based on intersecting arches and panel-like pendentives. A narrow dromos in the form of a stairway leads to octagonal crypt faced with marble. The crypt contains some unidentified graves. No exterior décor has survived, which is in contrast with its rich interior decoration. The panel of glazed mosaics decorates the lower parts of interior walls. The upper part of the walls, pendentives and the inner dome are covered with gold leaf kundal style ornamental paintings.
Hojja Nisbatdor mosque. This 19th-century mosque is located to the south from Registan square. It was named after theologian Hojja Nisbatdor who lived in the late 14th century. The mosque is made of bricks. It is surrounded by terrace-aivan and has a minaret. In Soviet times this building housed the post office. In 1998 it was turned into a mosque again.
Abdi Darun ensemble. This is a set of memorial, religious and educational constructions on the territory of the city old cemetery. The ensemble appeared around the toms of a well-known ninth-century Arab jurist Abd-al Mazeddin. The ancient nucleus of the ensemble is a 12th-century mausoleum around which in the later period there appeared a khanaka, a mosque and a madrassah. Fundamental reconstructions carried out in the 15th, 19th and 20th centuries introduced considerable changes in the appearance of the ensemble. Abdi Darun ensemble is one of the most esteemed Islamic shrines in Central Asia.
Ishrat Khona mausoleum mausoleum was constructed during the rule of Temur’s great-grandson Abu Said (1451-1469). Apparently the building was the burial vault for Temurid women, as during the excavation works in 1940 there were found here several female sepulchers. At present the building stands in ruin. The dome and the high drum were destroyed not long ago, namely during the earthquake of 1903.
Namazgoh mosque is a suburban mosque constructed in the 17th century. The construction was sponsored by Nodir Duvanbeghi, a well-known representative of Uzbek family, who built several constructions in Samarkand in the 1630s. During the religious holidays there is held a public prayer in this mosque.
Kuk Sarai ruins (Temur’s former palace) is one of Amir Temur ‘s palaces,which hasn’t survived to the present day. It was built by Temur immediately after he ascended the throne in 1370. Kuk Sarai palace was a four-storey grandiose building. In the later period next to Kuk-Sarai palace there appeared one more royal residence – Buston sarai (“Palatial flower garden”). In autumn of 1404, for the last time Temur stayed in Kuk Sarai before his military campaign to China. The great-grandson of Temur – Zakhiriddin Bobur stayed in Buston Sarai in 1497. Up to 1868 the throne room accommodated the coronation stone Kok Tash ( ‘blue stone’ in Turkic). Within 15th -19th centuries the enthronement ceremony of Central Asian rulers from various dynasties (from the Temurides to Mangyts) took place in the throne room of the palace. Apparently the major chambers of the palace were destroyed during internecine strife and crisis of the mid-18th century. In the 19th century Bukhara emirs from Mangyt dynasty partially restored the palace. The appearance of the palace and its entrance were depicted in the works by famous artist V. Vereschagin (so-called ‘Turkestan series’). After the loss of independence in 1880s, the local authorities made a decision to demolish the remnants of the palace. At present the only extant artifact of the once splendid palace is the coronation stone Kok Tash, which is placed in the courtyard of Gur Emir mausoleum.
Alexiy cathedral is a functioning Russian Orthodox Church consecrated in honor of St. Alexiy, Metropolitan of All Russia. The cathedral was built in 1912 for Russian military garrison at the corner of Rostovtsev and Nikolaevskaya streets. The construction of the cathedral was carried out in accordance with much corrected project elaborated by military engineer F. Smirnov.
Carpet-making workshop. Samarkand is famous for its carpets. The carpets are woven by hand on unique looms which enable the carpet-makers to ensure high quality products. Natural yarn, the secrets of carpet-making techniques that are passed from generation to generation and devotion to the craft allow the local masters to impress both the consumers and the experts of carpet-making industry. During the visit to one of the carpet-making workshops you can immerse yourself in an amazing world of carpet-making, and probably take part in creation of a handmade masterpiece.
Paper-making workshop. Do you know how paper is made today? Do you know how paper was made several centuries ago? Visit Samarkand paper-making workshop and learn much more about this interesting trade. Here you will learn the simple technologies which have been used for centuries: water power, manual labour and patience. It’s impossible to remain indifferent during the masterclass to this workshop. Moreover, unique paper made of long fibre will become an excellent souvenir for artistic people who take up calligraphy, decoration or interior designing.
Khovrenko Museum of history of winery. There are many ways to unwind after a long trip. One of them is a visit to wine-making museum at Khovrenko winery. Here you can delight in the whole world of flavours, bouquets and vintages of local wine, brandy and vodka. The visitors have an opportunity to taste wines and even buy the ones they liked most.
‘El Merosi’ theatre of historical costume. The performance of “El Merosi” theatre of historical costume is like a chronicle of the life of our ancestors, when by means of language of colour, form and patterns the folk art dearest secrets and beauty concepts are communicated. In order to restore the long forgotten and lost costume designs of the past the organizers of the theatre had to study hundreds of historical manuscripts. Today the theatre demonstrates in a dramatized form more than 100 costumes of the people of Central Asia from the Stone Age to the present days. The theatre gives regular performances and is rather popular among the official delegations and numerous tourists who visit Samarkand. The guest performances given during the tour to Belgium, Spain, France and Germany also revealed a great interest of foreign audience to the historical past of Uzbekistan.
Urgut is one of the ancient settlements on the territory of Uzbekistan. It is known for the grove of sycamores (chinar), some of which are more than 1000 years old. In the times of Bukhara emirate Urgut was the centre of semi-independent Urgut principality. The city featured a well-fortified citadel and was situated in a glen through which there ran a road leading to a valley – the location of Shakhrisabz. From the 18th century to 1868 Urgut was ruled by local Uzbek dynasty whose relatives ruled Kokand. Urgut as a toponym was first mentioned in the 17th century and was the name of one of the Uzbek klans. Visitors are attracted by the spectacular bazaar, as well as notable shrines. Chor-Chinor (“Four plane trees,” in translation) site is well-known for its grove of centuries-old plane trees as well as a mosque built in early 20th century. Nearby there is an archeological site where the remains of the 9th-century Nestorian temple were found.