There are cities which centuries-old history embodies the history of whole nation and countries, reflecting the way passed by many generations. Samarkand is one of the most ancient cities in the world. As other first centers of human civilization – Babylon and Memphis, Athens and Rome, Alexandria and Byzantium – Samarkand was intended to go through many events and shakes.
History of Samarkand goes back in remote days. Archaeological finds and chronicle records of eyewitnesses and ancient historians allowed to establish with full reliability that a man lived on the territory of modern city many centuries before the Common Era.
Top Tourist Places of Samarkand
1. Shahr-i-Zindar Monuments
Samarkand’s most moving and beloved site is this stunning avenue of mausoleums, which contains some of the richest tile work in the Muslim world. The name, which means ‘Tomb of the Living King’, refers to its original, innermost and holiest shrine – a complex of cool, quiet rooms around what is probably the grave of Qusam ibn – Abbas, who is said to have brought Islam to this area in the 7th century. The most stunning Timurid-era tile work dates from 14th and 15th centuries.
A shrine to Qusam, a cousin of the Prophet Mohammed, existed here on the edge of Afrosiab for around seven centuries before Timur and later Ulugbek buried their family and favorites near the sanctity of the original shrine.
This ensemble of majestic, tilting madrassas – a near-overload of majolica, azure mosaics and vast, well-proportioned spaces – is the centerpiece of the city, and arguably the most awesome single sight in Central Asia. The three grand edifices here are among the world’s oldest preserved madrassas, anything older having been destroyed by Chinggis Khan.
3. Gur Emir Mausoleum
The beautiful portal and trademark fluted azure dome of the Gur-e-Amir Mausoleum marks the final resting place of Timur, along with two sons and two grandsons (including Ulugbek). Timur had built a simple crypt for himself at Shakhrisabz, and had this one built in 1404 for his grandson and proposed heir, Mohammed Sultan, who had died the previous year. But the story goes that when Timur died unexpectedly of pneumonia in Kazakhstan (in the course of planning an expedition against the Chinese) in the winter of 1405, the passes back to Shakhrisabz were snowed in and he was interred here instead.
4. Ulugh beg observatory
The remains of Ulugbek’s 15th-century observatory is one of the great archaeological finds of the 20th century. Ulugbek was probably more famous as an astronomer than as a ruler. His 30m quadrant, designed to observe star positions, was part of a three-storey observatory he built in the 1420s. All that remains now is the instrument’s huge curved track, unearthed in 1908.
5. Bibi Khanym Mosque
The enormous congregational Bibi-Khanym Mosque, northeast of the Registan, was financed from the spoils of Timur’s invasion of India and must have been the jewel of his empire. Once one of the Islamic world’s biggest mosques (the cupola of the main mosque is 41m high and the pishtak 38m), it pushed contemporary construction techniques to the limit, so much so that the dome started crumbling even before construction had finished.
8. Sher Dor Madrasah
The entrance portal of the Registan’s Sher Dor (Lion) Madrassa, opposite the Ulugbek Madrassa and finished in 1636 is decorated with roaring felines that look like tigers but are meant to be lions. The lions, the deer they are chasing and the Mongolian-faced, Zoroastrian-inspired suns rising from their backs are all unusual, flouting Islamic prohibitions against the depiction of live animals. It took 17 years to build but hasn’t held up as well as the Ulugbek Madrassa, built in just three years.
9. Afrasiab Museum
The Afrosiab Museum was built around one of Samarkand’s more important archaeological finds, a chipped 7th-century fresco of the Sogdian King Varkhuman (r 650–670) receiving ranks of foreign dignitaries (including Chinese envoys carrying silk), while sitting astride elephants, camels and horses. You’ll see reproductions of this iconic fresco throughout the country.