"Mirror of the World," Top 5 Page for this destination Samarkand by TheWanderingCamel

Samarkand Travel Guide: 318 reviews and 1,394 photos

Pearl of the East,

Mirror of the Soul,
Centre of the Universe,
these are just some of the names given to Samarkand by those who saw it in its days of glory.

The beautiful blue domes, creamy stone walls and exquisite tiled facades are matched in beauty by the elaborate interiors of many of the buildings.

But for me, Samarkand will always be the Golden City as I remember the first sight of the Registan's Shir Dor Madrassa, glowing gold as the tiled facade reflected the setting sun.

Second time around

Returning to Samarkand this year, 2009, we arrived this time at night. A long day's drive from Fergana via Tashkent had been made even longer by a car breaking down and it was after 8 before we arrived at our hotel. A different hotel from our last visit, the Registan no longer a two-minute walk away, rather a 5 minute taxi ride but, tired as we were, the Registan called. No sunset rays gilded the buildings this time - instead the square was brilliantly floodlit, the tiled facades of the ensemble a dazzling, glittering fairyland.

This time our stay was longer, no need to rush from one great monument to another. Instead there was time to take the sites at a more leisurely pace, to visit places not usually on the tourist trail, to cross the border in to neighboring Tajikistan for a day. Sasha, our Russian guide, was a most congenial companion, knowledgeable, generous with his time, open with his conversation.

As the result of the great earthquake of 1955, Tashkent is a city built in a Soviet mould, now asserting itself as the modern face of independent Uzbekistan. Fergana and the surrounding towns are mostly about the craft heritage of the country, and fairly recent history - the end of the khanates and the 19th century Russiafication of the country. Here in Samarkand we came face to face with the glory days of the 15th and 16th century - the short-lived reign of the Timurids, the dynasty founded by the man post-Soviet Uzbekistan has adopted as the hero for their new future - Amir Temur.

Samarkand today

Earthquakes, invasion and the ravages of time have seen much of Temur's Samarkand rebuilt and it is, by and large, a modern city, albeit one with Central Asian overtones. The great mosques and medressahs built by Temur and his descendants are dotted around the city, the spaces between them filled with the wide streets, civic buildings, apartment blocks and parks of a typical 19th/20th century Russian city. On the outskirts, streets are lined with the low adobe-built houses seen throughout Central Asia.

Over in the north-east sector a new highway swirls past the busy market and pilgrims pass by the mausoleums of Temur's family as they make their way to the shrine of the martyr they call The Living King whilst over the hill echoes of the past come whispering from the grass-covered mounds of buried Afrosiab, the Sogdian city that Muslim Samarkand replaced.

The splendour of Samarkand's Timurid past places it at the top of every traveller's list, and they probably expect to find something rather more exotic than what is here. The reality is this is a large modern city, with factories, many different institutes of learning, traffic, shops, hotels, that just happens to have a clutch of extraordinary survivors of its extraordinary past still standing. Not quite Europe (the complete absence of graffiti is wonderful to see!) but not really the exotic east, and then - around the corner comes a mendicant Sufi, dispensing blessings to construction workers as he goes by and, for a moment, the modern streetscape blurs and the Samarkand of old is right there before your eyes.

  • Last visit to Samarkand: Oct 2009
  • Intro Updated Mar 14, 2012
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Reviews (50)

Comments (38)

  • ranger49's Profile Photo
    Mar 4, 2010 at 9:45 AM

    For lust of knowing what should not be known We take the Golden Road to Samarkand. Flecker only took me so far but who could forget the magic. Thanks for showing me - I will return to see more of this ancient, mythical place.

  • lynnehamman's Profile Photo
    Feb 5, 2010 at 2:55 PM

    Awesome tips and pages, Leyle. Samarkand has always been a dream destination for me. Your descriptions & pics of decorative aspects of mosques leave me panting. Islamic architecture must surely be the most beautiful in the world. .

  • tiabunna's Profile Photo
    Feb 5, 2010 at 5:13 AM

    I've really enjoyed my extended tour of Samarkand: thank you Leyle for this marvellous page. Great buildings, history, culture, even an appearance by my friend Omar Khayyam.

  • Trekki's Profile Photo
    Dec 30, 2009 at 11:11 PM

    Oh marvellous updates! So MrL went on top of the minaret? I still am sad that I missed Tillya-Kari inside. So much has changed since my visit in 2006 but it is sad that the museum is being taken down. But good to see the paper making!

  • nada1712's Profile Photo
    Dec 7, 2009 at 12:45 PM

    I have spent hours reading your notes!!. Wonderful !Did you use Delores Travel.If so did the guide come from Delores?

  • Dec 6, 2009 at 4:12 AM

    samarkand huh? ill checkout your updates during the week, offline now to finish off a few domestic duties! (i domesticize for a few minutes, then rest for 10 and watch tv!) ahaha. im such a fail! back to the sink now... groan....

  • unaS's Profile Photo
    Jun 7, 2009 at 11:42 AM

    Fascinating, enticing, mouth watering...some day...

  • starship's Profile Photo
    Nov 24, 2008 at 9:47 AM

    Beautiful buildings and legends surrounding them were fascinating! I had to smile when you mentioned purchasing souveniers for your bookgroup friends!

  • global-wanderer's Profile Photo
    Oct 9, 2008 at 3:33 AM

    Hi there...this sounds like an interesting place! Do you know when a good time to go is? most my school breaks are in december and february or april.

  • filip007's Profile Photo
    Sep 12, 2008 at 11:45 PM

    A great page on Samarkand - full of information and inspiration... thanks...

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