Samarkand is one of the greatest Silk Road cities. Throughout the centuries it has been taken by the great emperors (Alexander the Great, Genghis Khan and Tamerlane). It has It has been recently added to the UNESCO World Heritage list, based on its being a crossroads of cultures and one of the oldest continuously inhabited cities in Central Asia.
After having been destroyed by Genghis Khan, the Mongol ruler, the city flourished during Tamerlane’s empire, especially when it becomes capital of the empire in 1369. A lot of the architecture visible today was built by him or his descendants.
These are the top 10 things to see and do in Samarkand (Uzbekistan).
1. Gur-e Amir (Tamerlane’s mausoleum)
In the 14th century, Tamerlane (one of the most powerful nomadic conquerors) turned Samarkand into the capital of his empire. It would be in Samarkand that he would be buried in this exuberant mausoleum.
2. The Registan
In Persian Registan means ‘desert’ or ‘sandy site’. Given the location of the city, surrounded by desert steppes, it is easy to understand the name of the main square of the city, where in former times the population gathered to relax, to sell their merchandise, to hear their governors or to assist to executions.
3. Ulugh Beg Madrasa (left)
This is one of the three madrasas that make up the Registan, and the first to be built, in the 15th century, still during Tamerlane’s empire, but shortly after his death. Its exterior comprises one of the most iwans of the city while inside, there is a mosque, classrooms and student cells.
4. Sher-Dor Madrasa (right)
Built two centuries after the first madrasa, the Sher-Dor madrasa has the unique characteristic of having mosaics depicting tigers (its name actually means ‘Madrasa with Lions’). The use of images of animals in the mosaics was unusual in Muslim religious sites.
5. Tilya Kori Madrasa (centre)
A few years after building the Sher-Dor Madrasa, the same ruler order the construction of the Tilya-Kori madrasa, with another mosque and more cells for students. The interior of this mosque known for being beautifully gilded.
6. Shah-I-Zinda (mausoleum avenue)
Spectacular mausoleums and tombs comprise the Shah-I-Zinda complex, where many of Tamerlane’s close relatives are buried (the mausoleums dedicated to his sister and niece are amongst the prettiest).
7. Fountains in the Jewish quarter
In order to find the old town of Samarkand, where the population actually lives, it is necessary to peek behind the curtain which is the ugly concrete wall, built with the sole aim to hide the old and allegedly ‘less photogenic’ parts of town. The Jewish quarter is especially lively in the hot days when kids sprint to the fountains to freshen up.
8. Elegant but traditional-styled hotels
There are several good hotels in Samarkand. We absolutely enjoyed our stay at the Orient Star Hotel, where tradition and modern facilities are well harmonized. Also, the swimming pool and green garden in a village situated in a desert is a must.
9. The Samsas
Samsas are found throughout the country and also through entire Central Asia. It is a baked pastry filled with minced meat and onions previously cooked. It is usually accompanied by a red sauce with a base of tomatoes and herbs, which sometimes can be quite spicy.
10. The antiquarians
In Samarkand there are many bazaars with souvenirs specially made for tourists (specially textile products made of wool or silk, such as hats and scarfs). But there are also a few antiquarians with authentic products, which can be a beeter option for your shopping.