No name is so evocative of the Silk Road as that of Samarkand. Samarkand is surely the most romantic and legendary destination on the Silk Road, famous as a medieval centre of learning, religion and trade. It is the setting of numerous eastern legends of magic, love and treachery. In 329 BC Samarkand was a great cosmopolitan walled city and capital of Sogdiana. It was conquered by Alexander the great who said at the time...

'Everything I have heard about Marakanda is true, except that it is more beautiful than I ever imagined'.

In the 6th century the city was a Central Asian cultural melting pot and had a larger population than it does today. The city was destroyed by Genghis Khan in the 13th century.

150 years later Samarkand was home to the fearsome warrior Timur (Tamurlane). He was born 50 miles down the road and he made Samarkand the capital of his large empire. Samarkand once again became the economic, cultural and intellectual hub of Central Asia. However, the city went into decline from the 16th century after the British East India Company began to export goods from the east via sea routes. The city was virtually uninhabited by the 18th century. Rejuvination came with the Russians and a new railway in 1868.

Although the poets and playwrights of yore romanticised the 'Golden Journey to Samarkand' we found the surrounding countryside somewhat resembled the East Anglian Fens.

We arrived by bus from Bukhara which dropped us off on the bypass where we found a taxi to take us into the city. Our driver was a very strange gentleman. He was very old and large, looked with one eye and repeated everything about seven times. He couldn't see very well and kept driving into large potholes in the street very badly. He didn't know where he was going either. I'm not sure he even knew where he had come from. He had no idea of the location of the street where our guesthouse was supposed to be (we had been recommended a place again by our previous hosts - this process of recommendation was working out well for us so far). He stopped to ask some other taxi drivers outside the Guri Amir Mausoleum. It turned out it was in his own street! ...and we were already there! All very odd, but still...
We found our guesthouse. It was of a very high standard and was a reasonable price. Right by the Guri Amir Mausoleum.

The Guri Amir Mausoleum is the resting place of Timur and some of his sons and grandsons. Their bodies are in the crypt beneath the building. We weren't allowed into the crypt. Somebody official-looking stopped us. Round the back there was an air-vent/window into the crypt and peering in I could see some people were inside gathered around the tomb. I wonder what they were doing?

There is an interesting story about the tombstone. Was a spell put on Timur's tombstone to protect it? In 1740 the ruler of Persia Nadir Shah stole Timur's beautifully ornate tombstone and took it back to Esfahan. The tombstone broke in two and after that Nadir Shah had a run of very bad misfortune including the near death of his son. This was interpreted as a bad omen and the stone was returned. After this Nadirs son made a recovery.

Statue of Timur in the centre of Samarkand.

Hannah and ruth walking into the Mausoleum.

The huge high dome inside the mausoleum.

The tombstone.

Unlike Khiva and Bukhara Samarkand turned out to be a city with lots of typical 20th century soviet-style concrete buildings. The historic wonders are like islands floating within an unremarkable sea of post-modernity. In this regard, Samarkand does not really live up to its legendary status as the capital of the Silk Road. The so-called old town couldn't be found. Have they redeveloped it because they thought it was scruffy? I wouldn't be surprised.

Samarkand is well aware of its touristic status. The main attraction is the Registan. A complex of 3 medressas. There is a pretty heafty entry fee to even go anywhere in the area of the Registan. We had seen so many medressas and blue-tiled buildings in Iran, Khiva and Bukhara that we really weren't that interested in paying the fee. However, because Samarkand is supposed to be the jewel in the Silk Road we payed up and had a bit of a wander about.

Ruth and Hannah in front of the Registan. This was the commercial centre of medieval Samarkand and the courtyard would have been filled with a bustling bazaar. The 3 grand buildings are very old and very beautiful. On the right is the Ulugbek Medressa built by Ulugbek Khan in 1420. Mathmatics and theology, astronomy and philosophy were taught here. In the centre is the Tilla-Kari Medressa. Its name means gold-covered. It was a symbol of Samarkand's wealth at the time. On the right is the Sher Dor Medressa decorated with lions that look more like tigers.

Wonderful Koranic mosaic. I think that it is the name of Allah in Arabic in a mosaic pattern. I made that up and it could be completely wrong but I've got a hunch.

The beautiful Tilla-Kari Medressa.

The Sher Dor Medressa. It is on the eastern side of the courtyard. See the lions at the top.

Lions that look like tigers with the sun and some kind of face looking out from inside their back. I don't know why.

Inside the courtyard of the Ulugbeg Medressa.

Some people were playing piano and singing classical music inside the mosque of the Tilla Kari Medressa.

Left corner of the Tilla-Kari.

Right side of the Tilla-Kari Medressa.

The huge mosaic wall of the Iwan/entrance to the Sher Dor Medressa.

A carved door.

The centre of the ceiling.

In the courtyard of the Sher Dor Medressa.

Gold decorated dome inside the Tilla-Kari Medressa.

Part of the Sher Dor Medressa.

Part of the Sher Dor Medressa.

The Sher Dor Medressa.


  1. thank you for the blog. excellent reporting. i am originally from samarkand. where are you from?

  2. Hello Abdu. Thanks! The bread festival was wonderful. I am from England. Now living in Northern Ireland. Where do you live?

  3. dear Samricemonkey,

    I lived in England for many years. It is very good of you to put all these. I am re-reading it today, and I appreciate it again.

    I am now in the states. Let me know of your email address please or write to abdu84@mail.ru