For history loving travellers, Samarkand is an absolute bucket-list-visit that you may well have never known existed. The city’s origins date back to 1500BC and it lay as a key location on the Silk Road – conquered by many different rulers, it has always been a vibrant cross-cultural hub. Factual bits aside, perhaps the biggest reason to visit the city is simply its breathtakingly beautiful historical architecture. Here’s our guide to the historical sites of Samarkand!
This one is a good site to put first as it allows us to mention Timur the Great – a historical figure of great pride in the city. Born in Uzbekistan (as it’s now known) Timur’s empire once stretched from modern-day Turkey all the way to India. During his reign, it was Samarkand which he chose as his capital. The Gur-e-Amir Mausoleum is where his body was laid to rest in 1404 AD and is one of Samarkand’s most important historical sites.
The outside of the tomb is defined by its striking blue dome, tall minarets, and the colourful, detailed tilework which lines its walls. Looking up at the ceiling in the inside shows yet more intricate designs, guaranteed to have you reaching for your camera.
Registan Square is home to some of the city’s most impressive architecture and is perhaps the historical site you’re most likely to have seen photos of on Instagram. It is the square’s madrassahs (Muslim educational buildings) which are the square’s most definitive feature, with construction dating back to the 15th century.
Ulug Begh Madrassah is the oldest of the buildings and was somewhere where Ulugh Beg (one of the city’s rulers) once gave lectures himself. The building is complimented by the Sher Dor Madrassah and the Tillya Kari Madrassah. All are built in the same style of beautiful Islamic architecture which defines much of the city.
Ulugh Begh Observatory
The same Ulugh Begh that lectured in Registan Square had a deep passion for science and education. He was fascinated by astronomy and commissioned the construction of a great observatory. However, after his rule the building was destroyed by religious extremists and it was believed the building was lost.
Centuries later, a Russian archaeologist lead an excavation that uncovered the building. Although the whole building no longer stands, there are still impressively large curved tracks that were used for astronomical devices. The site is located at the highest point in Samarkand so you can enjoy a great view, plus it has a great museum in which you can learn some fascinating historical facts.
The Shah-i-Zinda complex is a necropolis and is deeply important to the city both historically and religiously. It is believed that a cousin of the prophet Muhammad is buried here, following on from this many of Samarkand’s great rulers have chosen to be buried here too. It’s another site which ranks amongst Samarkand’s most beautiful sites with the interior filled with colourful, intricate designs.
Samarkand’s many mosques…
We really can’t whittle these down on our list. The city’s mosques play a vital part in making up its wide-spanning beauty and many come with their own mini-history. A must visit is the Bibi Khanum mosque, one of the creations of the mighty Timur the Great. Although large parts of the building are now reconstructions and not the original structure, it still bears a striking magnificence. The Hazrat Khizr mosque lies nearby and is the oldest religious building in Samarkand. The building is named after one of Islam’s great prophets as it is believed it is he who ordered its construction. Although it’s not quite as beautiful as some of the city’s sites, it’s a fascinating site to walk around.
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