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Main / / / Samarkand – The Pearl of the East


One of the oldest and most beautiful cities on the ancient Silk Road, the capital of a great empire of Timurids - Samarkand is located in south-eastern Uzbekistan in Zarafshan River valley and is surrounded by mountains, canals and lush greenery.

This oasis with ancient fortresses, beautiful temples, palaces and stately buildings is well known in the East and the West. Archaeological finds and written sources indicate that the area of the present city was populated by people for thousands of years before Christ. Mentions of Abundant Soghd and its settlements are recorded in the sacred book of Zoroastrians, the Avesta in the first millennium BC.

For thousands of years Samarkand was an important strategic city on the Silk Road linking China and Byzantium. Greco-Roman historians such as Arrian, Quintus Curtius Rufus, and Callisthenes referred to Samarkand in the Greek form  as "Marakanda."

Researchers present a number of versions concerning the meaning of the city name. Linguists believe that "Samarkand" goes back to the Sanskrit «Smarkanva», meaning "assembly, gathering." Abu Rayhan Biruni, Mahmud of Kashgar (XIth century) Zahiriddin Bobur (XV-XVIth centuries) believed that the term "Samarkand" was derived from the Turkic "Shimizu Kent" - "The rich settlement." Medieval Chinese sources calling Samarkand as "Si se-mi-ch" interpreted it as "a fat city." "Marakanda" – (that used to be the Greek variant of the name Samarkand) could have been formed from ancient Persian "Maurakand" ("The City on the river with overgrown vegetation coasts").

No other city of the world possesses so many lovely epithets as Samarkand. For its amazing beauty and majesty it was called "Face of the Earth", "Mirror of the World", "The Pearl of the East", "Garden of Souls", etc.

According to scientists the city was founded around the 6th century BC as the capital of the state Sogd. "Eternal City" is akin to ancient Rome, has a 2753 - year history. It has been repeatedly captured by enemies, exposing plunder and devastation, however, "like a phoenix from the ashes", he was restored again by its residents.

In the 5th century BC the Persian king of the Achaemenid dynasty - Cyrus conquered territory of Sogdiana. In the spring of 329 BC Maracanda was conquered and destroyed by the Greek-Macedonian army led by Alexander the Great. From the times immemorial it was already the city surrounded by a thick wall with an impregnable citadel. Crafts and trade were developed in that ancient settlement.

About 306 BC Sogd was included in the Seleucid empire, and later became part of the Greco-Bactrian kingdom. In the first century AD it came under the rule of the Chinese dynasty Guyshuan (Yuezhi), who created the Kushan Empire. Invaders were attracted by favorable geopolitical location of the town which traversed major caravan routes from Syria, Turkey, Iran, India, and China.

In the middle of the 5th century Eftalits dynasty rulers (White Huns) set domination of Central Asian territories.

In the second half of the 6th century Sogdiana joined the Turkic Khanate. Along with other cities, Samarkand, controlled by local rulers "ihshids" retained its independence, paying tribute to the Turkic rulers.

The history of the city in the 8th century is linked with the Arab conquest and adoption of a new religion of Islam which had replaced Zoroastrianism. The invaders destroyed the historic values, written and cultural sources.

During this period on the background of the struggle against the Arab invasion, the local representatives of the Samanid dynasty (IX-X centuries) emerged on the political scene.

This dynasty established in Transoxiana (Maverannakhr) centralized feudal state and a favorable environment for the development of science, culture, industry and trade.

During the reign of Turkic dynasty of Karakhanids in the X-XIth centuries Samarkand was the favourite city for Karahanid rulers who enjoyed spending hot summers in their numerous palaces.

In the XI century Samarkand, as a separate province, was a part of Karakhanid Empire, and in the early XIII century it became the part of Khorezm state.

In 1220 Samarkand was conquered, destroyed and pillaged by barbarous armies of Genghis Khan. Only a quarter of the four hundred thousand of the population had survived. It was a sad time of looting and violence.

In the epoch of Timur (1370-1405) Samarkand reached its unprecedented prosperity as an important political, economic and cultural center of the East. Samarkand became the capital of his empire in 1370. In XIV-XV centuries talented local craftsmen and those brought from all conquered lands - from Khorezm, Isfahan, Shiraz, Aleppo, built magnificent structures - Gur-Emir, Bibi Khanum, a number of mausoleums Shakhi Zinda. City was strengthened by powerful walls and fortresses, beyond which there were scattered landscaped gardens and parks. Grandiose architectural ensembles of Samarkand still amaze and fascinate visitors by its beauty and grandeur.

At the beginning of the XVI century under the reign of Sheibanids Samarkand ceased to be the capital city of Maverannakhr. Abdullahan II moved the capital from Samarkand to Bukhara.

During the reign of the Ashtarkhanids dynasty (XVII) of Samarkand, that had lost its status of the capital, remained a major economic and cultural center of the khanate. The first half of the XVII century in the history of Samarkand is associated with the activities of the Emir Yalangtush-biy-atalyk Bahadur of Uzbek clan Alchin. During his rule the Registan was adorned with Tilla-Kari and Sherdor madrassahs.  It was there when Registan Square acquired a beautiful and majestic appearance.

In the second half of the XVIII - first half of the XIX century Samarkand became part of Bukhara Emirate.

After joining Central Asia to Russia, Samarkand in 1868 became the administrative center of the Zarafshan district, and since 1887 - the Samarkand region. Samarkand played a major role in the formation of the Uzbek Soviet Socialist Republic (now Uzbekistan). From 1925 to 1930 the city was the capital of Soviet Uzbekistan.

Today Samarkand is one of the largest cities of Uzbekistan with developed industry and the social structure largely contributing to the economy and culture of Uzbekistan.

Samarkand is Uzbek tourist Mecca; hundreds of thousands of tourists coming to the city admire the rich history of the region, its unique architecture and hospitality of the townsfolk.

Architectural monuments of Samarkand, as in a mirror, reflect the material and spiritual life of past generations, centuries-old history of Uzbekistan. This eternal city comprises about three thousand objects of cultural heritage, of which 300 are architectural monuments. Samarkand monuments of different eras blended in modern look of the city amaze everyone with grandeur of buildings, architectural harmony of forms and proportions, rich architectural and decorative arts.

Seeing the ancient site  Afrosiab (VII-II centuries BC) - the capital of the ancient Sogd, the remains of the fortress wall  of the XI-XII centuries, unique medieval wall paintings of  VI-VII centuries, mosques, mausoleums and palaces of the great epoch of Temur (XIV-XV centuries) makes you feel  out of time and space.

Afrosiab reached its flourishing was in the middle of the first millennium BC. As the capital of the ancient and medieval Sogdiana, city had been the political and economic center of Central Asia. The Mongols completely destroyed the city in 1220; they dashed it to the ground. Unique murals and tiles with polychrome painting and carved alabaster, presented in a museum of ancient Samarkand history tell us about the lives of ancient peoples of Central Asia. Today the ancient Samarkand - the current settlement of Afrosiab is "open air museum", attracting the attention of researchers and tourists.

The new town was founded in the southern suburbs of Afrosiab and by the end of the XIV century under the reign of Timur it was turned into a beautiful, flourishing and populous city.

In XII-XVI centuries in Afrosiab there began the construction of Shakhi Zinda necropolis (XII-XVI centuries). The memorial complex was called the gem of Samarkand architecture, "full of harmony and light." In the 13 mausoleums of that necropolis  the remains of royalty and nobility rest in peace. The grave of the legendary Kusama ibn Abbas (XII century), a cousin of the Prophet Muhammad, who was called "Shakhi Zinda" (Living King) is considered to be the earliest one in this memorial complex. Sepulchers and tombs of Timur’s relatives are beautifully decorated tombs of relatives of Amir Temur XIV century, including the mausoleums of his wives and sisters, and the princes and nobles - "Amir-Zadeh," "Tuglu-Tekin", "Shadi-Mulk-aka" ("Turkan-aka") and "Shirin-Bika-aka", "Tuman-aka," etc. The art of Samarkand architects who used an abundance of multicolored ornamental painting, gilding and glazed cladding causes real admiration. The creators of the necropolis managed to combine mausoleums of different eras into a single, harmonious ensemble with great artistic tact.

Magnificent Samarkand in the XIV-XV centuries repeatedly experienced alterations and was built with monumental buildings. Amir Temur was the author of the famous phrase showing his enthusiasm for the capital of his empire: "Above Samarkand there always will be blue sky and gold stars", thus confirming the idea of its power. After 1370 a strong fortress Arch Oliy  appeared in the western part of town, in a beautiful place. Majestic Kuksaray (Blue Palace) is located in a luxurious park Bustonsaray (palace flower garden). This palace, having  the famous throne of stone "Kok-Tash" and a luxurious reception hall, held the presentation ceremonies of lord ambassadors, generals and nobility.

Around town Temur created new settlements with the names of majestic capitals of the world, such as Misr (Cairo), Dimishk (Damascus), Baghdad, Sultania, Farish (Paris), etc.

In the vicinity of the capital there were built rural palaces buried in shady gardens: Bagichinar, Bagidilkusho, Bagi-Baland, Bagishamol.  Merchants and diplomats from other countries admired those gardens.

In 1371 the ruler ordered to rebuild the city walls with the length of 7.5 km long with 6 gates. Streets and squares acquired a new look, which caused the admiration of the Spanish ambassador Clavijo "this city and its lands are so rich and abundant, that is just amazing ... “

Religious structures occupied  a special place in the image of the city.  In 1399, Timur gave instructions to start the construction of the mosque “Masjid Jami” with an enormous courtyard with total area of 167 X 109 m, which later became known under the name "Bibi Khanum" (1399-1404) in honour of the  beloved wife of the ruler. Surrounded with poetic legends, the majestic, breathtaking building had been built by the best architects and artists from Azerbaijan, Iran, and India who applied the best Oriental traditions of building: majolica, ornate mosaics, carved marble, wood carving and painting on plaster.

Wandering around the city, it is impossible not to feel the powerful energy of Samarkand, its character. Each area, each monument, palaces, mausoleums, mosques, madrassahs store information about past events, prosperity, misfortunes and mysteries of the country.

Like a jewel casket of magic box appears before you magic Registan - the main trade and craft area, a place of execution of the city, formed at the intersection of six streets. Registan consists of  three magnificent buildings of the XV-XVII centuries - Ulugbek Madrassah (1417-1420), Sher-Dor (1619 - 1636) and Tilla-Kari (1647-1660). All these stunning structures used to be the center of spirituality and enlightenment. On the main square of the town criers announced the inhabitants of royal favours, here were held bloody executions. Nearby was the city market, the caravan - sarai, houses of rich citizens.

Monumental dakhma of Sheibanids installed over the family tomb of the XVI century is located between Sher-Dor and Tilla-Kari.

A shopping center Chorsu - "Dome of headwear sellers" (the late XVIII century) is situated nearby; it accommodates the modern art gallery.

Arriving in Samarkand you cannot help admiring Gur-Emir (1403-1405) - family crypt of Timurid dynasty. The construction astonishes visitors with its perfect forms and precise proportions, gorgeous turquoise dome with a diameter of 15 m and a height of 12.5 meters, divided into the edges decorated with mesh of sky-blue ornaments and epigraphic inscriptions. Luxurious interior wall panels are decorated with yellow-green marble tiles inside glowing green onyx and gold. Mohammed Sultan (died in 1403), favourite grandson of Temur, is buried in this mausoleum. You will also see jade burial of Temur the Great who died in Otrar (1405) during his military campaign to China. Temur’s  grave is located next to his spiritual mentor Mir Said Bereke. His sons  Miranshah (1366-1408) and Shokhrukh (1377-1447), and his grandson Ulugbek (1396-1449) are also buried in the family mausoleum.

In Samarkand, close to the Gur-Emir you'll see many other tombs - the mausoleum Rukhabad - "Abode of Spirit” (XIV century), built for Sheikh Burhaneddin Sagardzhi Klich, who died in 1380.  According to legend, this mausoleum kept the hair of the Prophet Muhammad; the mausoleum of the Ak-Saray with the graves of companions-in-arms of  Timur, built in the 70's of the XV century; Ishrat Khona (1464) - the burial place of women of Timurid dynasty, etc.

In the north-eastern part of the town there are the remains of the famous Ulugbek observatory, built in 1428. It was once a three-storied circular building with a diameter of 46 m and a height of about 30 m. in the Middle Ages the observatory was one of the greatest in the East. Ulugbek together with scientists Jemshid Kashi, Kazi-zade Rumi and Ali Kushchi made astronomical observations that led to the compilation of astronomical tables "Ziji-Gurgani" where Ulugbek described 1018 stars. This achievement nominated Ulugbek among eminent scientists of the world.

Today, on the site of the observatory there is the memorial museum of Ulugbek, featuring excerpts from the tables "Ziji-Gurgani", a collection of astronomical instruments and photographs of excavations.

On the outskirts of the settlement of Afrasiab there is situated Mazar Khodja Daniyar (XIX c.) whose cult was venerated by representatives of Islam, Christianity and Judaism. In Islam this Old Testament prophet is named Doniyor, in Europe he is known as Saint Daniel (Daniel the prophet died in 532 BC). Descendant of King Solomon was buried at Susa; according to legend by order of Amir Temur, his hand was moved to Samarkand. The tomb is a place of pilgrimage, next to it is there is a holy spring.

Ancient Samarkand keeps its secrets, its long memory contains  the brave, strong, and beautiful people - soldiers, merchants, craftsmen and scientists. Outstanding scientist and theologian, Imam al-Bukhari (810-870 )worked in this marvelous city. His famous work "Al-Jamia Al-Sahih" is revered by Muslims all over the world as the second holy book after the Koran. In the sixteenth century over the grave of Imam al-Bukhari was erected a small mausoleum, and near it a mosque was built. In celebration of 1225 anniversary of the birth of Imam Al-Bukhari on the decision of the Government of Uzbekistan huge memorial complex was erected in 1998.

Imam Abu Mansur al-Maturidi (870-944) was the great thinker of the Muslim world, the theologian, the founder of the school "Maturidi".  1130th anniversary of his birth was widely celebrated   in November 2000 in Samarkand.

Samarkand is famous not only for its  historical monuments, but also for its great craftsmen manufacturing  the world-famous Samarkand paper, wonderful fabrics - silk and velvet, embroidery, ceramics, jewelry, carpets, etc.

Having been here once, you will again and again be tempted to come back and enjoy the majestic buildings and the holy places of worship, and possibly as a good memory you will obtain not only wonderful crafts but also delicious halva, dried fruit and nuts and the famous Samarkand bread (which will not harden) with unforgettable flavour, which has became a brand of Samarkand. And most importantly, you will take away with you as wonderful memory the hospitality of the city of Samarkand, the excellent national cuisine, museums, exhibitions, concerts and festivals.