Uzbekistan’s ancient oasis settlements developed into thriving medieval commercial and cultural centres, prospering from trade between Constantinople and China and India. Next to the Sogdian trading city of Afrasiab Tamerlane built his 14th-century imperial capital, Samarkand. He and his Timurid and Uzbek successors transformed the city with soaring minarets and lustrous domes of glistening turquoise and cobalt blue. Tamerlane’s wonderful tomb, the monumental Registan Complex, and the massive Bibi Khanum Mosque, are unrivalled in their majesty. Samarkand’s observatory and madrasas became lodestars for astronomers, poets and architects throughout the world. Across the mountains lies Tamerlane’s palace city of Shahrisabz with the remains of his megalomaniac palace.
Among Bukhara’s treasures are its fine Karakhanid minaret, its grand Friday mosque and its many madrasas, of which the Mir-i-Arab is particularly fine. Among other highlights are the fine old Sufi khanqah (meeting hall / hospice) built over a Zoroastrian fire temple. Bukhara has an imposing Ark (fortress palace) and a domed bazaar. The city’s masterpiece, however, is the 9th-century mausoleum of the Persian Samanid ruler Ismail Samani. This precious small edifice has façades enlivened by intricate brick patterns. It was modelled on a Zoroastrian fire temple. Uzbekistan’s third great trading city is the living museum city of Khiva. Here, citizens populate a maze of houses, mosques, palaces, and madrasas, all enclosed within fine defensive walls.
Further north, across the great life-giving Amu Darya (Oxus) River, are to be found the numerous remains of 2-millennia-old mud brick and rammed earth cities of ancient Khorezm. These cities, such as Topraq Qala, each have an ark that dominates a merchant district. Still further north is the isolated city of Nukus in which the Savitsky Collection has an extraordinary early 20th-century Russian avant-garde art collection. Paintings were brought here by Stalin’s exiles. In nearby Chimbai village is one of the few remaining families that makes nomadic yurts in the traditional manner.
Modern Tashkent is Central Asia’s largest city which, like all other Uzbek cities and towns, has a teaming bazaar where intricate carpets, beautiful ceramics and all manner of brightly coloured clothes are traded.
Visit the great oasis cities of Samarkand, Bukhara & Khiva, and discover an incredible history wrought in turquoise tilework, glorious minarets & brooding fortresses. Read more