Samarkand, also Samarqand is perhaps the most famous city of modern Uzbekistan. The site of Samarkand was settled about 2000 BC. In times of old the city was also known as
Afrosiab, and also Maracanda by the Greeks. The city was the
capital of Sogdiana, an ancient Persian province, and was conquered by
Alexander the Great in 329 BC. It subsequently grew as a trade center on the route between China and the Mediterranean region. In the early 8th century AD, it was conquered by the
Arabs and soon became an important center of Muslim culture. In 1220 Samarkand was almost completely destroyed by the
Mongol ruler Genghis Khan. It flourished again when
Tamerlane (known as
Timur locally) ade it the capital of his empire in 1369. As his capital Timur put Samarkand on the world map and much of the
architecture visible today was built by him or his descendants. The empire declined in the 15th century, and
nomadic Uzbeks (Shaybanids) took Samarkand in 1500. In 1784 the emirate of
Bukhara conquered it. The city was taken by Russia in 1868 and once again began to assume importance. From 1924 to 1930, Samarqand was the capital of the Uzbek Soviet Socialist Republic (SSR).
Located on an irrigated valley of the Zeravshan River in the center of Uzbekistan, area of present Samarkand always ensured favorable conditions for
human settlements. As proof, one can freely walk through the ancient
ruins of Afrosiab, which are a few hundred meters from the center of the city.
The Registan is of course the main attraction of Samarkand and is every bit as impressive as it's reputation.
As a conqueror there are few that are Tamerlane equal, both in territory and lives taken. It is said that he made pyramids out of the skulls of his vanquished. Today one can visit his
tomb in the beautifully reconstructed
Gur-Emir Mausoleum (1404-1405, 15-17 centuries) and reflect on his life while looking at the largest piece of
jade (greenstone) in the world.
Another point of interest is ancient necropolis
Shakh-i-Zinda (9-14, 19 centuries) situated on southeastern mound of Afrosiab. This architectural complex consists of 44
tombs in more than 20 mausoleums.
The restored cathedral Mosque
(1399-1404) is one of most well known architectural attractions of Central Asia. The Mosque was erected on Timur's order after his raid of Delhi. This was to be biggest Mosque ever constructed. Until now the
Bibi-Khonym Mosque is one of the biggest in the Islamic world.
Khazrat-Khizr Mosque is one of the ancient edifices of Samarkand was
destroyed by Genghis Khan's hordes. It was rebuilt in 19 century. A
beautiful Mosque stands on the elevation at the entrance of town
from where their eye wanders over Bibi-Khonym Mosque, the big bazaar
and the mountains in the South.
Amongst other curiosities in Samarkand is the
tomb of the Hebrew Prophet Daniel, which is located in the cemetery section of Afrosiab next to a pleasant stream. For a small fee you may enter the
tomb, which contains a burial chamber around 18 meters long. Muslim men will offer prayers while you listen respectfully.
Another curiosity is
the telescope of Ulugbek (Timur's grandson). Only the foundations remain but it is truly extraordinary.
Ulugbek was an astronomer, scientist and architect. His scientific and astronomical discoveries greatly advanced knowledge in these fields.
The city is important for it's industry as well as history. It produces tea, wine, textiles, fertilizer and vehicles. While it is the oldest city in
Central Asia it has a large modern section. Population is about 400,000.
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