“We travel not for trafficking alone;
By hotter winds our hearts are fanned:
For lust of knowing what should not be known
We take the Golden Road to Samarkand.”
― James Elroy Flecker
Samarkand (or Samarqand) is a city in modern-day Uzbekistan, one of the oldest continuously inhabited cities in Central Asia and also one of the greatest, thanks to its commanding location on the Silk Road. Indeed, its very name is synonymous with the Silk Road.
A day can easily be spent visiting the sights of Samarkand, which during the rule of the ruthless and terrifying leader Amir Timur (Tamerlane) was considered the world’s most beautiful and prestigious city. His tomb is enshrined within the magnificent six-hundred-year-old Gur-e-Amir Mausoleum. Legend warns of dire consequences befalling anyone who interferes with Tamerlane’s tomb; sure enough, Hitler’s forces struck at the Soviet Union just three days after Russian scientists attempted to exhume his remains!
Before the advent of the Timurid Empire, the mysterious Sogdian people ruled Samarkand. Surviving murals demonstrate that they must have been astute traders. The Sogdians developed the bizarre practice of elongating their children’s skulls, the better to stand apart from other peoples.
The Necropolis of Shah-e Zinde (the living Shah), the excavation sites at Afrosiab (with a museum tour), and Registan Square are certainly among the most notable architectural ensembles in Central Asia. The Registan is an open space framed on three sides by intricately tiled madrassahs or Islamic schools.
Your day in this fascinating city will likely include a tour of a silk carpet manufactory, a visit to an Uzbek craftsman’s family to see paper being made from mulberry bark, stops at the Ulug Beg Observatory and the ruins of the Bibi Khanum Mosque, and viewing the interior of the palace-like Gur Emir Mausoleum.