In the summer of 2022, I was fortunate enough to travel to Uzbekistan with G Adventures. Samarqand had been at the top of my bucket list for many years, so I was incredibly grateful and happy to finally see the city in person. Samarqand was first founded sometime around 700 BCE. In the 500s, it was incorporated into the Achaemenid Empire. Alexander the Great passed through in 328 BCE, writing that it was “even more beautiful than I had imagined.” The city rose to become a major post on the Silk Road. In the late 7th century Muslim armies invaded. The city became a major center of Islamic scholarship and the first place the Muslim world experimented with making paper, after leaning the skill from the Chinese. In 1221, Genghis Khan captured the city. Then in the 1300s, under Timur, Samarqand went on to become one of the most glorious capitals in the world. Here are some of the beautiful historical sites I saw in Uzbekistan during my time there:
Here is the Shah-i-Zindeh, a complex of sixteen buildings which was originally built to commemorate Qusam Ibn Abbas, who reportedly came to preach Islam in Samarqand in 676.
Above are photos of the Gur-i-Amir, the mausoleum where Timur rests. Born in 1336, Timur earned the nickname “The Prince of Destruction” due to his brutal campaigns. After destroying cities, Timur brought back their artisans and architects to his capital of Samarkand. The architect of the Gur-i-Amir came from Isfahan. The message “when I rise from the dead the whole world will tremble” is inscribed on Timur’s tombstone. Despite the warnings of a curse, Soviet archaeologists decided to exhume his body in 1941. German armies invaded the next day. Shortly after he was reunited, the Soviets won the battle of Stalingrad. There are also photos of the Bibi Khanum mosque, named for Timur’s favorite wife. There is a legend that the architect fell in love with her and after she permitted him to kiss her cheek, Timur sent his elephant brigade into the mosque and wreaked the damage that can still be seen today. It has been substantially reconstructed in several years, which has sparked some controversy.
In 1888 Lord Curzon described Samarqand’s Registan as “the noblest public square in the world.” Timur intended on using the square for royal proclamations and executions, but his successors turned it into a place of scholarship. The Registan is bounded by three madrasas, the first being built by Ulugh Beg—grandson of Timur—in the 1400s and the other two being built in the 1600s. The sun rises on the madrasa of Ulugh Beg and sets on the one opposite—it is really astounding to see.