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Samarkand is one of the world’s oldest cities, located in the very centre of Uzbekistan, in the valley of the Zarafshan River. It has seen periods of power and decline throughout its 2,700 year history. It was destroyed by Alexander the Great, the Arabs, Genghis Khan and many other conquerors, but rose each time from the ashes, like a phoenix. Samarkand was a capital of ancient Sogdiana, part of the huge Akhemenian Empire in the 14th century BC. In the 14th century, when Tamerlane made it his capital, Samarkand became one of the most powerful and desired cities in the world. It was also an important scientific centre, with scholars who influenced scientific work in other countries. Among them was Ulugbek, Tamerlane’s grandson, the ruler of Samarkand. His observatory, built in 1439-30 in the northern suburbs of Samarkand, was a model for the two famous Indian observatories of the 18th century in Jaipur and Delhi. The observatory has not survived, but an underground portion of its enormous sextant still attracts the eye.

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