Samarkand (Samarqand), Uzbekistan
Uzbekistan’s second city, Samarkand is in the east of the country. One of the oldest cities in the region, it enjoyed a golden age in the fourteenth and fifteenth centuries. It remains an important industrial and trading town.
In the 3rd or 4th millennium BC the area was known as Afrosiab. By the fourth century there was a city called by the Greeks, Marakanda. The main city of Sogdiana and a strategic point on the Silk Road, it was seized by Alexander the Great around 329 BC. Called Sa-mo-quien by the Chinese, it became a melting pot of Western and Eastern cultures. Samarkand was invaded by Arabs in the early eighth century, who turned it into a centre of Islamic learning. It flourished commercially as part of the Umayyad empire and continued to do so under the Abbasids, Samanids, Seljuks and the shahs of Khwarazm.
In 1221 the city was destroyed by Genghis Khan but blossomed again under Timur, who seized power in 1370 and proclaimed Samarkand the capital of his empire. From there he launched a series of campaigns to vanquish the Golden Horde. His grandson Ulughbek ruled for 40 years, adding to the scientific element of Samarkand’s infrastructure by opening a school of astronomy and founding the observatory in 1428. The Uzbek Shaybanids invaded in 1447 and helped build the foundations of Central Asia’s economic and cultural stronghold. Much of the old town has remained intact since the fourteenth and fifteenth century. Samarkand eventually joining the khanate of Bukhara.
The city had declined by the eighteenth century and passed to Russia in 1868. Designated a provincial capital in 1887, it prospered again as improved transport links enabled trade to flourish. Between 1925 and 1930 it was capital of the Uzbek Soviet Socialist Republic, before being succeeded by Tashkent. Samarkand experienced another building boom under the Soviets.
The local economy relies on agriculture, textiles (especially cotton and silk), tobacco and food processing, wine-making and vehicle and machine manufacturing. There is a university and several higher education institutions.
Samarkand is well served by road and rail links and there is an airport. Buses and trolley buses run within the city.
Places of Interest
The city’s focal point is the Registan (‘sandy place’), a collection of fourteenth and fifteenth century buildings. Bibi-Khanym mosque, which collapsed during an earthquake in 1897, is nonetheless a spectacular tribute to Timur’s rule and is surrounded by a bazaar.
The Ulughbek madrasah was built in the early fifteenth century, the Sher Dor madrasah in the early 17th and the Tillya-Kari madrasah in the mid seventeenth century. The ancient city mausoleum Aksaray dates from the fifteenth century. Shahi-Zinda is an avenue of ornate tombs belonging to the families of Timur and Ulughbek, while Timur himself is believed to be buried in the Gur-Emir Mausoleum.