Today you will explore Samarkand including Afrosiab, Gur Emir and the Bibi Khanom mosque. Wander through Siyob bazaar and visit Shah i Zinda necropolis. Later, enjoy dinner at a local Uzbek home. Overnight in Samarkand.
Meal plan: Breakfast & dinner
Samarkand is one of the oldest inhabited cities in Central Asia, with evidence of human activity stretching back over 40,000 years to the late Paleolithic era. The city itself is 2,700 years old. Falling variously under Greek, Persian, Arab, Turkic and Mongol rule throughout its history, it prospered greatly as a key junction on the Silk Road and reached its golden age under the rule of Timur. The city's backdrop of madrassas, mosques and mausoleums highlights its rich medieval history. Today it is Uzbekistan's second largest city and was granted UNESCO World Heritage status in 2001.
Registan Square lies at the heart of the city of Samarkand. Three of the square’s four sides are framed by grand madrassa buildings that were built between the 14th and 16th centuries, each with a unique design that displays traditional oriental architecture. All were active until the 1920s, when the Soviets shut them down. Registan translates to “sandy place”, as the central square was covered by sand and functioned largely as a trading market before the three madrassas were built.
Gur Emir is the mausoleum of Timur (a.k.a. Tamarlane) and his male ancestors. The tomb was built in 1403 for Timur’s favorite grandson, Mohammad Sultan, but also became his own, after he died suddenly of pneumonia on his way to conquer China at the age of 69. The grand entrance to the mausoleum features ornately carved bricks and mosaics, whilst the interior displays a high-domed chamber decorated with hand-painted niches and archways. Stalin dug up Timur’s bones in 1941 to prove it was indeed him, despite Timur’s warnings to those who would disturb him. The next day Nazi Germany invaded the Soviet Union!
Built in 1399 by Timur to commemorate his conquest of India and named after his favourite wife, the Bibi Khanum mosque was the largest mosque in the world until the Blue Mosque in Constantinople eclipsed it in the early 15th century. Earthquakes and weathering caused it to fall to ruins, but it has undergone extensive reconstruction efforts, which are still ongoing. The restored main chamber and minarets feature beautifully ornate details and decorative mosaics, whilst just outside visitors can see the symbolic statue of a Koran stand.
The Siyob Bazaar is located next to the Bibi Khanom mosque and has been a market for over 800 years. It is still a popular place to buy fruit, nuts, spices, and sweet treats.
Amir Timur, better known as "Tamerlane" in the West, was born in Shakhrisabz in the 14th century. He was the founder of the Timurid dynasty and. under his leadership, Samarkand became the capital of a vast empire. He longed to rebuild the empire of Genghis Khan and his armies are thought to have killed about 5% of the world's population. He referred to himself as the "Sword of Islam", though some scholars suggest his piety may have been political posturing.
The Shah i Zinda mausoleum contains some of the most spectacular tilework in the world. Here you can find the tombs of several female relatives of Timur. It is also believed that Qusam ibn-Abbas, a cousin of the Prophet Mohammed who brought Islam to the area, was also buried here. For this reason the site draws many pilgrims. The site has been heavily, and controversially, restored. The Shodi Mulk Oko Mausoleum, a niece of Timur, is a sublime exception.
The ancient settlement of Afrosiab lies in northern Samarkand on the spurs of the Cupan-Ata hills. According to legend, the Turanian king Adrosiab founded the town here and it later became the capital of Sogdiana.