The Romance of the Silk Road
Samarkand – the name conjures romantic images of the ancient Silk Road that stretched from China all the way to Europe. It was the subject of a famous poem by English poet James Elroy Flecker. It was at the heart of one of the mightiest kingdoms of Asia in the Middle Ages, a crossroads between East and West. But where in the world is Samarkand?
If you have not heard about Samarkand, it is not a lost mythical city, it does exist and is still called by the same name today. In case you’re wondering, Samarkand is a city in Uzbekistan, a nation that was part of the former Soviet Union and is now an independent Central Asian nation. Uzbekistan is a landlocked nation that is bordered by the Central Asian nations of Kazakhstan, Tajikistan, Kyrgyzstan, Turkmenistan and Afghanistan.
Not many tourists consider Uzbekistan as a destination, unless they are familiar with the Silk Road, the kingdom of Tamerlane (Amir Timur) or fascinated with Soviet architecture. But to those who do, they will be rewarded with amazing edifices built with intricate mosaic patterns and in a grand way.
What is there to see in Samarkand?
This is the piece de resistance of Samarkand. This was the ancient town centre of this capital city. It showcases the beautiful medressas and mosque architecture from the different eras of the khanates that existed in this capital city. Before the 1930s, this area was a working market, with the caravanserais coming in to sell and trade their goods.
Amir Timur Mausoleum
The mausoleum of Amir Timur (Tamerlane) is one of the highlights for those who know and understand the history of this region and the power of the ancient Central Asian kingdom that existed in the 13th century. Amir Timur was the great leader of that kingdom, and Samarkand was the capital of the kingdom. Amir Timur originally created a mausoleum in his hometown of Shakhrisabz where he intended to be buried when he dies, but when he died in battle, his body was temporarily buried in Samarkand, and for some reason, his body was never moved and buried in Shakhrisabz. Thus, this is the final resting place of the great ruler of the mighty Central Asian kingdom.
This is the necropolis built between the 9th and 14th century for the royal family and the elite aristocracy. It is comprised of the lower, middle and upper section, each developed in different periods. Many of the buildings have such great intricate detail tile and brick work that one can just marvel in awe.
The remnants of the ancient observatory built by Ulugbek, the Timurid ruler who is the grandson of Amir Timur, can be found in Samarkand. Ulugbek had a fascination for astronomy, and he built the observatory, thought to be the largest in the Islamic world. The site also has a museum to commemorate Ulugbek’s achievements, with replicas of Ulugbek’s star charts.