Samarkand, the capital of ancient Sogdiana, is one of the oldest cities in the world, of the same age as Rome, Athens and Babylon. It is twenty-seven centuries old. During those centuries the city has survived many great and dramatic events. Samarkand saw Sakas and Massagaetas, Persians and Greeks, Turks and Arab commanders and hordes of Genghis Khan. Under Amir Timur’s governing Samarkand became the capital of his huge empire. The Great Silk Road went through the city. Famous scientists and poets of the Medieval Orient lived and created their masterpieces in Samarkand.
Its geographical location in the picturesque valley of the Zerafshan River gave Samarkand (formerly also known as Maracanda) an advantage over other cities of Central Asia.
The exact antiquity of Samarkand is hard to establish. Originally Samarkand occupied the Mount of Afrosiab that rises to the north of modern Samarkand. The city grew and expanded its borders. It was one of the flourishing satrapies of the Achaemenid Empire from about 6th century BC. Alexander the Great led his marching armies in 325 BC to assert his claim over the lost provinces of the Achaemenids. It took him quite a while to quell the Sogdian rebellion. Passing through the remnant of Hellenic Dynasties, Samarkand was captured by the Sassanids under whom the arts and crafts flourished.
After the invasion of Arabs in the 8th century AD a new era of Samarkand began. Existence of Samarkand as one of the cultural centres of Islamic world gave a push to further development of culture and art in the whole of the area of Movarounnahr. When the Mongols captured Samarkand the ancient water supply system was destroyed, and the life in the city collapsed. It took a whole century to recover from the after-effects of the Mongol invasion. The plundered and destroyed Samarkand was rebuilt on the site of one of its former suburbs.
During the reign of Amir Timur (Tamerlane) Samarkand enjoyed its best times as the capital of three continents. Timur’s successful campaigns to Persia brought master craftsmen and builders to the area, who contributed to the glorious era when Samarkand was beheld bedecked with the most beautiful monuments of finest architecture in the form of mosques, madrasahs, gardens and mausoleums. According to Timur’s idea, Samarkand was intended to overshadow all capitals of the world by its grandeur and beauty.
The grandson of Timur, Ulugbek, ruled there until 1449 and made Samarkand the intellectual centre. However, the rise of nomadic Uzbeks spelt the end of Timurid power and Samarkand’s prosperity. When the Uzbek Shaybanids moved their capital to Bukhara, Samarkand was left doomed to decline until the Bukhara Emir repopulated it in the 1770s.
In May 1868 Russian Tsarist army overtook the city and Samarkand was annexed to the Russian Empire. In 1924-1930 Samarkand was the capital of the Uzbek Soviet Socialist Republic.
Places Around Samarkand
Memorial to Imam Bukhari
This memorial complex, near Samarkand in Uzbekistan houses the grave of Imam Bukhari, most well known for authoring the hadith (sayings of the Prophet) collection named Sahih Bukhari, regarded as the most authentic of all hadith compilations and the most authoritative book after the Quran.
Situated only 40 kilometers from Samarkand at the foot of Zarafshan Mountains at a height of 1000 metres, the traditional Central Asian handicrafts and market town of Urgut makes for a very interesting excursion for the visitor, particularly on Saturday and Sunday, which are the main market-days. Urgut has the largest market in the Samarkand region selling traditional handicrafts, both old and new, particularly suzanne, carpets, jewels, metalwork and ceramics. The market also has smithies, tin workshops and stalls selling locally produced tea sets, clothes and traditional leather boots. The secrets of the production of traditional Urgut ceramics, with their characteristic streaky glazes of mustard-gold, brown, green and pale-citric colours, have been transmitted through seventeen generations by the Oblakulov family. Other interesting Urgut sights include the
Chor Chinor garden with its fifty ancient plane trees, irrigated with waters from a sacred spring.
Carpet Factory in Samarkand – Samarkand Silk Carpets
We invite you to visit the famous Samarkand carpet factory “Hujum” where 200 girls weave silk carpets by hand. You will have the opportunity to see the full process of carpet making from the very beginning to the end as well as to buy a unique piece of carpet “first hand”. The main purposes of carpet production are to recreate ancient designs and to develop new patterns of good quality carpets and also to renew the technology of their production.
Aiesha Textile Workshop in Samarkand
In the workshop “Aiesha” travelers have the opportunity to witness all the stages of natural silk production. You can also see a folklore show and do some wonderful shopping in Samarkand.
The old water mill of Oblokul-bobo Rakhmatov
A visit to a small water powered flour mill in a suburb of Samarkand. A small flour-grinding water mill has found its refuge on a bank of the little Siob River, isolated from day-to-day vanity and technological progress in the peaceful village of Gala Osyo, situated in the environs of Samarkand. The water mill belongs to the family of Oblokul-bobo Rakhmatov. Until recent times the village was famous for its water mills.
Old Samarkand Paper Mill
The art of making paper, brought to Samarkand from China in the 7th century, had long been forgotten when it was revived with the assistance of UNESCO. Today the famous Samarkand paper is again made in the traditional way at a specially built traditional paper mill with a working wafer-wheel on the banks of the river Siob in the ‘Konigil Meros’ village on the outskirts of Samarkand (ten kilometers away from the centre of Samarkand.
Options to explore the mountains and typical villages of Uzbekistan (1, 2 days), near Samarkand.
These modules are suitable for those wishing to walk through the mountains and typical villages: Omokutan, Ohalik, Mironkul, Hazrati Doud, Tersak. Accommodation in private houses, acquaintance with surroundings and local people. Optionally: ride a donkey and horse around the village.
SIGHTSEEING AND EXCURSION
Samarkand City tour 01- Half -day
Gur Emir, a mausoleum (1404-1420) in which rests Amir Timur and many other members of his dynasty, constitutes a perfect and fine sample of Timurid architecture; simplicity and harmony of shapes and sumptuously decorated interior (papier-mâché painted in blue and gold). Registan Square, known from the 13th century as a bazaar square was the centre of trade and cultural life in medieval Samarkand. It is surrounded by three madrasahs built in different periods: Ulugbek Madrasah, Shir-Dor Madrasah and Tillya-Kari Madrasah. Ulugbek Madrasah was built between 1417-1420 by order of Ulugbek, a grandson of Timur. This monumental madrasah with portal decorated with five and ten-pointed stars and spirals of majolica was the greatest university of Central Asia in the 15th century. Shir-Dor Madrasah is the mirror attraction of Ulugbek Madrasah. Portal is decorated with mosaic tigers and gazelles. It was built in the 17th century, 200 years after Ulugbek Madrasah was erected. Tillya-Kari Madrasah (built 1660) is the third madrasah on Registan Square. It has a mosque with golden paintings inside. It was built by the order of ruler Bakhodir Yalangtush, 10 years after the Shir-Dor Madrasah. Bibi Khanum Mosque, once the biggest mosque in Central Asia, it was erected by order of Tamerlane after his victorious Indian campaign in 1399. The architects, artists, craftsmen from all the countries conquered by Tamerlane took part in the construction of the mosque. Bibi Khanum Mausoleum is the last resting-place of the eldest wife of Tamerlane – Saroy Mulk Khanum. It is situated opposite Bibi Khanum Mosque.
Samarkand City tour 02 – Half-day
Shakhi Zinda Necropolis, a site of pilgrimage visited since the 11th century and marked by holiness. It consists of about 20 mausoleums of different centuries built between 11th – 19th centuries. The complex appeared around the grave of Kusam ibn Abbas – the cousin of Prophet Muhammad who it is said to have come to Samarkand in the 8th century. There one can see the finest samples of majolica, mosaic and terracotta tile work. Ulugbek’s Observatory. On the outskirts of Samarkand on the hill of Kuhak there were discovered the remains of Ulugbek’s Observatory (the 15th century), with astronomical instrument, the sextant. In this observatory Ulugbek and other scholars had compiled the famous astronomical catalogue “Tables of Kuragany” with description of 1018 stars and planets. Afrosiab Site & Museum. It is the area of 212 hectares mostly hilly surrounded by a moat. Here was situated ancient Afrosiab (old name of Samarkand). It had existed from the 6th century BC till the 13th AD. Now archaeologists continuously conduct here excavations. The museum displays the model of ancient city and fortress walls, pottery, weaponry, coinage, altars and most of all the mural painting of the 7th century.
Samarkand City tour 03- Half -day
State Museum of the History and Culture of Uzbekistan. The collection established in 1874 is extensive and well displayed. The ground floor houses modern paintings and early Soviet posters. Archaeological exhibits on the first floor include vessels and ossuaries (clay boxes for bones) from Afrosiab, plus fully painted copies of its fragmented murals and replicas of finds from ancient Bactria, such as the Kushan Ayrtam frieze, a limestone sculpture of an Indo-European culture. Other treasures are Tamerlane’s wooden coffin and the 19th-century Koran. Museum of Regional Studies is in the former house of Bukharan Jewish millionaire Abraham Kalantarov. Museum houses exhibits from Palaeolithic age to Sovietization period. Other halls display flora and fauna. The highlight is a richly coloured reception hall decorated in Islamic style. Khodja Abdi Darun and Birun Mausoleums. Shrine complex is associated with the name of the 9th-century Arab jurist Abd al-Mazeddin. Seljuk Sultan Sanjar erected this mausoleum in the 12th century, rebuilt by Ulugbek in the 15th century. Khodja Akhrar Complex consists of Nodir Devanbegi madrasah (1630-1635) and Khodja Akhrar Mosque(17th-20th cc) built around the grave of Sheikh Khodja Akhrar(1404-1490), leader of Nakshbandi dervish order and dominant political figure after death of Ulugbek. Ishrat Khana Mausoleum. Legend suggests one of the wives of Tamerlane built it as her tomb, but the construction was so beautiful that it became a palace. The name of mausoleum means the House of Joy. Tomb of Daniel. The remains of the Hebrew saint were brought from Persia by Tamerlane and buried in Samarkand allegedly for protection of the city from different misfortunes. Above the grave there is a massive tombstone and it was believed that even in death Daniel grew half an inch every year (he will rise again when he reaches a certain size) and thus his grave was enlarged annually.
Samarkand City tour 04- Half -day
Imam Ismail Al-Bukhari Memorial Complex. Highly respected scientist of the Islamic world, mukhaddis (collector of sayings of prophet Mokhammed and stories about him) Imam Ismail Al-Bukhari was born in Bukhara in 810 and died in 870 in the village of Khartang and was buried at the same place (Chelak district of the present Samarkand province located 30 km from Samarkand). Since then the burial place has been one of the most sacred sites of worship for Moslems. The Memorial Complex was created in 1998 to commemorate the 1225th anniversary (according to the Moslem calendar) of Imam Al-Bukhari.
Carpet Factory is situated in the old quarter of Samarkand and run by Turkmens. Factory was built in the beginning of the 20th century and was named Khudjum (attack), symbolizing new way of women’s life of Bolshevik regime. Now several hundred girls make handknotted natural silk and wool carpets of famous “Bukhara” and other Eastern designs, using only natural dyes.
Places Outside of Samarkand to Visit