Sunday Spotlight – Samarkand
Welcome to the sunniest of Sunday Spotlights, concluding this week’s look at Central Asia. Samarkand is a city full of rich history and beautiful Islamic architecture. Bukhara has a more clear distinction between old and new cities, but Samarkand’s ancient treasures seem to be weaved into the modern city a lot more than the equally amazing city a few hours down the train tracks.
I stayed at the Davr B & B, which was a cheap option. I was pretty sick whilst in Samarkand – and yes I do seem to get sick more than most who travel – but that didn’t stop me getting out and about into this wonderful city.
There is one obvious place to start any self-guided tour of Samarkand and that is the Registan. It’s a simply amazing area where three madrassas face each other. By the way, I just learnt that ‘Registan’ is Persian for ‘Sandy Place’…. Although that was on Wikipedia so you know, grain of salt needed!
You get a ticket from all three at the entrance to Ulugh Beg Madrasah, which as you approach is on the left. I was sold the ticket from an old lady behind a fold-away table! The three madrasahs range in dates from Ulugh Beg which was constructed in the 15th century, to Sher Dor and Tilya-Kori whuch were both constructed in the 17th century. Despite the gap in years, they seem to fit together like pieces of a puzzle.
And there’s a lot more to see in Samarkand than just the Registan. The streets of the old city are pretty special in themselves, but perhaps Samarkand’s biggest attraction is a little way from this part of town, strangely positioned on the side of a two-lane road in front of a modern cemetery. Of course, it came first, and by ‘it’ I am referring to Shah-i-Zinda.
The Shah-i-Zinda is an amazing collection of tombs and mausoleums which as just stunningly beautiful. Photos give you a much better idea than words I should add. The buildings date primarily from the 9th to 14th century, but some were built in the 19th.
There’s this amazing Bibi Khanym Mosque – constructed by Timor the Great, basically the Uzbek national hero and their answer to Genghis Khan – starting in 1399. It’s a stunning building and if you’re doing a walking tour around the city, on the way from Shah-i-Zinda to the Registan.
Then there is Timor’s tomb, the Gur Amir Mausoleum. It was an interesting experience. Inside the Uzbek people are very solemn, some in prayer. This great warlord really still means something to them in the 21st century. It’s a ‘no-camera’ sort of place.
And then there are many statues, streets, parks and more to discover in Samarkand. A city that flourished and thrived in the times of the Silk Road, and is still a wonderful place to visit today. In fact, Uzbekistan is a great country to visit with contrast between the Russian and the Islamic, friendly people and outstanding architecture. It is a wonderful place to visit.
The only thing that holds people back is the visa situation, most western visitors at least need an invitation to secure a visa, and for that you need an agency such as ‘Stantours’ (who helped me out) but really, go through the process and you’ll have no issues – you just need a bit of time and patience.
I hope you’ve enjoyed ‘Central Asia Week’ here on Andy’s World Journeys. Still a lot of the world to explore, looking more towards Europe this coming week. Take care, and May the Journey Never End!