A travel guide to Uzbekistan
A travel guide to Uzbekistan
Discover what to see in this fascinating, enigmatic country.
The capital preserves only a small proportion of its architectural past. A massive earthquake in 1966 flattened much of the old city. Today it is characterised by broad tree-lined streets, numerous fountains and pleasant parks. Among the older buildings are the 16th-century Kukeldash madrasa and the Kaffali-Shash mausoleum. If you like to explore museums then Tashkent has excellent collections revealing Uzbek and pre-Uzbek culture. These include the State Art Museum, which houses a collection of paintings, ceramics and the Bukharan royal robes. The Museum of Decorative and Applied Arts exhibits embroidered wall hangings and reproduction antique jewellery.
To the south of Tashkent is Samarkand. A focal point on the Silk Road, it became one of the world’s greatest cities under the rule of Amir Timur (better known as Tamerlane) in the 14th century.
This ancient metropolis still displays beautifully ornate mosques and tombs, all centred on the vast Registan Square with its three immense madrasas. Decorated in vivid blue tiles and intricate mosaics, they give some idea of the grandeur that marked Samarkand in its heyday. The city was also a great place of science and learning – visit the observatory of Ulug Beg, Tamerlane’s grandson, which was the most advanced astronomical observatory of its day. Tamerlane himself is buried in the Gur Emir mausoleum while the Shah-i-Zinda is a collection of the graves of some of Samarkand’s dignitaries, the oldest dating from the 14th century.
West of Samarkand is Bukhara, once a centre of learning renowned throughout the Islamic world with more than 350 mosques and 100 religious colleges. Today you can still see an amazing array of monuments covering 1,000 years of history.
The centre of historical Bukhara is the Shakristan, which contains the Ark, or palace complex of the Emirs. Not far from the Ark, the 47-metre-high Kalyan minaret, or tower of death, was built in 1127 and, with the Ishmael Samani mausoleum, is almost the only structure to have survived the Mongols. It was from here that convicted criminals were thrown to their deaths. Other sites of interest in Bukhara include the Kalyan mosque, which is open to non-Muslims, the Ulug Beg madrasa and, opposite, the Abdul Aziz madrasa.
North-east of Bukhara is Khiva, near the modern city of Urgench. Khiva is better preserved than either Samarkand or Bukhara although, as a result, it has become more of a museum than an inhabited, functioning city. Khiva still lies within its original forbidding city walls and has changed little since the 18th century. It is possible to imagine what it was like in its prime when it operated as a market for captured Russian and Persian slaves. Other notable sights include its ancient inner city fortress, Itchan Kala, which holds the colourful Kalta Minor minaret.
The Fergana Valley
This verdant valley, famously known as the ‘Pearl of Uzbekistan’ due to its beauty, lies in the eastern part of Uzbekistan between the Tien Shan mountains and the Pamir Alay ranges. It is shared by neighbouring Kyrgyzstan and Tajikistan and is the most fertile and populous area of Uzbekistan.
Fergana is the largest town in the valley with Russian colonial architecture and streets shaded with palm and poplar trees. It makes a good base from which to explore the older and more interesting towns of Kokand and Margilan.