Samarkand is known as one of the most ancient cities with history dating back to more than 2,500 years ago (almost as old as Rome!). It used to be the capital of Uzbekistan in the 19th century before it lost its status to Tashkent, the current capital of Uzbekistan. Samarkand was blessed with a strategic geographical location which made it a pivotal part of the Great Silk Road. With such a rich history and culture, it’s no wonder that Samarkand is also known as the heart of the great Silk Road.
There’s an interesting and sad legend behind the name, Samarkand, which involves this pair of lovers. A princess, named “Kant” fell in love with a poor boy, named “Samar” but her father refused to give them his blessings due to the boy’s lowly status. To prevent their marriage, Kant’s father killed Samar which caused Kant to be so upset that she took her own life by jumping off the roof of the castle. The people were so overwhelmed with their love story that they decided to name this city after them, Samarkand. Awwww….grab your tissues!
Fun fact: For those of you confused with differentiating between a mosque, medressa and mausoleum, be confused no more! A mosque is a religious place of worship for the Muslims, a medressa is a place for religious studies and a mausoleum houses the body of the deceased.
The Registant is also considered to be the most beautiful sight in Central Asia and it’s definitely a must-see if you’re travelling to Uzbekistan. We were enamoured by how grand it was and its intricate mosaic details. It consists of 3 main buildings, the Ulugbek Medressa, Sher Dor (Lion) Medressa and the Tilla-Kari (gold covered) Medressa. The Registant is actually a public square where the people used to gather to hear royal proclamations and also a place for public execution :/ It was quite hard to imagine people being executed right here in this beautiful and tranquil place.
Entrance fee: 17,000Som (USD5) per person
Tip: You can choose to climb up the Minaret (tower) by paying an addition 10,000 som to the staff or police. We didn’t go up the tower though, so we can’t advise with regards to the view from the tower.
This mosque was once one of the largest mosques in the world with a height of 41m. It was built by the favourite wife, Bibi-Khanym, of Timur as a surprise for him after his return from India. The condition of the mosque is quite bad today as a result of it being built in a haste and the pushing of the construction techniques to its limits at that time.
Entrance fee: 12,000Som (USD3.50)
Tip: For a sublime view of the Bibi-Khanym Mosque, climb to the top of the hill of the Shah-i-Zinda cemetery
This part of the Bibi-Khanym Mosque is definitely badly in need of restoration! Look at the workers in the photo on the left below, they were fixing together tiles one at a time to form a block of tiles before putting it up! That’s super tedious and it’s probably going to take a long time to restore the entire place.
Another grand masterpiece of Samarkand. We were lucky to be staying in a guesthouse just next to this mausoleum and we could simply take a short walk out at night to capture the night shot below. We didn’t enter it though and only took photos from outside.
Shah-i-Zinda also means “Tomb of the Living King” and it consists some of the most stunning tombs ever. The richer you are, the more grand your tomb will be. Some of the tombs even had 3d carving of the deceased face! We found great solace in strolling around the cemetery where it was so peaceful and devoid of tourists.
Entrance fee: 8,000Som (USD2.30)
Where we stayed
cost: USD30 for a double room with breakfast
Not bad, value for money. Good location, new and clean rooms, hot showers and relatively strong & fast wifi connection available even in the rooms. We were appreciative of the owner shifting the wifi router nearer to our rooms just so that we can use our laptops in the comfort of our own rooms instead of having to camp outside in the living room.
Where we ate
Near the Registant there were a few cafes selling reasonably cheap local food. You could get a plate of plov for 7,000som (US$2). There’s also a big well-stocked supermarket just opposite the Registant.
How we got here
We took a private taxi from the Asraf Village of Nurata. Raxmat, owner of Yashigul Guesthouse, drove us to Samarkand.
Cost: 160,000som (USD46)