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The face of the Ground, “The Precious Pearl of the Islamic World”, “Eden of the East”.. all these names have been given to this ancient city. The biggest city in Zarafshan valley Samarkand, located at the crossroads of the Great Silk Road, was almost the most important city, even during the Sheibanids period when Bukhara was the capital. The Great Silk road from China split into two at Samarkand, one branch going to Persia, the other south to India. The city had a favorable position for trade with the North, where the steppe nomads supplied furs, cattle hides and slaves in exchange for more sophisticated products of the craftsmen. In 2007 the 2750 year jubilee of the city was widely celebrated. In Ancient Greece the city was known as Marakanda. The Middle Ages period knows it as Samarkand. The mound of Afrasiab, which lies in rubbles, was the site of Samarkand up to the Mongol destruction (XIII cent.) After this catastrophe the city center was never rebuilt and the new town grew up in the south suburb and by the end of the XIV century.
Glory of the city of Samarkand reached its zenith, as a “heaven - like” city, probably, from the time, when Amir Timur has transformed it into the capital of his huge empire and made it a major cultural and trade center. Building was an integral part of Timur’s governmental program. So most architectural monuments of Samarkand were built in the epoch of Amir Timur and Timurids.

Architectural monuments of Samarkand.

The cathedral mosque Bibi Khanum It is one of the largest buildings of its kind in the Islamic world, with inner court of 85 by 55 meters, an entrance gateway 37 meters high.The diameter of the iwan arch is 17 meters,its height is 28 meters. The towers flanking the portal are octagonal thinning towards the top.The outer decoration consisits mainly of brick patterns, eigher girikhs or Kufic inscriptions. Bibi Khanum means The Old Queen, after the elder wife of Amir Timur, the Daughter of Mongolian Khan, Serai-Mulk Khanum.
Registan Square
Ten minutes walk away from the mosque is the main square of the city, the Registan, where once converged six radial thoroughfares leading to the gates of the city built by Amir Timur in 1371. Originally, the square was covered by a domed bazaar, built either in Timur’s time or after. Under Ulugbek the square was the site of military parades public promulgation of orders, public executions etc. The square consists of three madrasa (religious college). The oldest of them is the madrasa of Ulugbek located on the western side of the square. It was built early in the fifteenth century by Ulugbek. Between 1619 and 1635 another madrasa, the Shir - Dor (Bearing Tigers), was built opposite that of Ulugbek. On the northern side instead of caravanserai built by Ulugbek another madrasa Tilla Kari (Adorned with Gold) was constructed between 1646 and 1659.
The Gur Emir Mausoleum
The Mausoleum Gur Emir (The Grave of The King) originally consisted of a madrasa where youngsters of the noble family were educated and a khanaka, or a guest house, for government guests. Timur’s beloved grandson and successor designate died in 1403. Then Timur ordered a mausoleum to be built on his grave. In 1404 the mausoleum was completed. Timur himself died in 1405 and was buried here. Under Ulugbek the mausoleum became a family tomb, where next to Timur and Mukhammad Sultan three sons of Timur - Omar Sheikh, Miranshah and Shahruh are buried; Ulugbek himself was also buried here. The only non - relative is the famous sheikh Mir Said Baraka, who is buried on the head of the Conqueror. The monument is divided into three equal parts: a bulbous double dome of 35 meters high with 64 ribs, flanked by minarets 26 meters high.
Necropolis Shah - I- Zinda (The living King) .
The whole complex of Shah - I Zinda consists of sixteen buildings clustered along an ally 225 feet long. Most of the mausoleums belong to the family members of Amir Timur, including women.The nucleus of this complex is the tomb of Kussam Ibn Abbas. He, allegedly, was a cousin of the Prophet, and is supposed to have arrived in Samarkand in the year 676; according to one source he was killed, according to another he died a natural death. His tomb, or what is believed to be his tomb, became the object of a cult and the place of pilgrimage. This tomb is known as Shah - I Zinda ( The living King). There is a legend that he was not killed, but in saving himself from the infidels entered a cliff that opened miraculously before him and closed again after him. (Barthold, "Turkestan", p.91). The portals and interiors of most these mausoleums are decorated with flat ornamental tiles, mainly of glazed incised terracotta. The ornaments are geometrical, their main color is turquoise.
The mosque of Hazret - I - Hizr
Next to the Shah - I Zinda necropolis stands The mosque of Hazret - I - Hizr, built in the mid - nineteenth century. This is a modest building, but remarkable for its asymmetrical composition and the harmonious effect achieved by the combination of the smallish portico. As the story of the mosque says, it appeared approx. 1280 years ago, when by the legend Hizrat Hizr pointed at that place, where prophet Husniyo was buried. From that place a graveyard began, it grew, and in 1969 it was closed. Now this is a memorial under UNESCO protection. There are seven levels of burial here and each one keeps bodies of saints and prophets. As the legend says, Allah created the spirit of Hazrat Hizr 300 years before creation of the Earth and all the rest. When at last he put Hizr in a material body, he gifted him an infinite life and made him the master of all waters. In a Greek mythology they falsely arrogated godlike attributes to him, and there he corresponds to Neptune - the god of water. He is regarded as one of those saints making people who meet with them happy, healthy and rich; all wishes begin to realize. They say, a person can meet Hizrat Hizr three times during one's life.
The Shrine of Khodja Doniyor or Saint Daniil.
One of the most well known cites of worship in Samarkand is the Mausoleum of Saint Daniel, located near the northern walls of Afrasiab hills, an ancient settlement. Doniyor, Daniil and Daniel are the names of the Saint in Muslim, Christian and Judaic literature. The shrine became the place of pilgrimage of people from all over the world. According to one legend, Khodja Daniyar was a companion of Kusam ibn Abbas, who was believed to be a relative of the Prophet and one of the first Islamic preachers in Central Asia. According to the biblical interpretation, ‘Daniel’ in Hebrew means ‘the judge of God’, or ‘the God is my judge’. Daniel was born in Jerusalem in 603 B.C. and was a descendant of David and Salomon, the kings. When Israel was conquered by Nebuchadnezzar, king of Babylonia, in 586 B.C. Daniel was brought to Babylon together with other young men of noble decadence to study with the premier scientists of the era also in the fields of astrology and the art of dream interpretation. It appeared that the most capable of the Jewish youth was Daniel. Besides, he proved himself adamant about religious beliefs. He even gave up drinking wine and eating meat, having obtained permission to eat only vegetables in order to observe his religious rules. Therefore, Daniel’s wisdom is treated in the Bible as God’s reward for devotion. For Daniel’s wise interpretation of a dream Nebuchadnezzar reviled to him, the king declared Daniel his closest confidant. In his declining years, Daniel asked the king to let him go into retirement. He moved to Susa (present-day Shush in Iran), where he ultimately died and was buried in the royal burial-vault. It is believed that the spirit of the prophet keeps the town safe from all misfortunes and misery, that Daniel’s remains bring prosperity. So how did this shrine appear in Samarkand? The most widespread version of the legend says that during his seven-year campaign to Asia Minor Amir Timur could not take Susa by storm. Having asked the theologians, the grand conqueror found out that the city was protected by Saint Daniel's hallows. After that Amir Timur agreed with the besieged that he wouldn't touch any inhabitant of Susa if he received a permission to take away a part of sacred hallows of the prophet, namely - the right hand of the Saint so that it protected Samarkand. The camels bringing the remains of the Saint while approaching stopped near the Siab river and didn't want to move. That is why it was decided to build the shrine here and commit the remains to the earth, because that place resembled the shrine in Susa. Soon a spring appeared near it, the water of which is considered holy and collected by piligrims. A peculiar feature of Khodja Doniyor's legend is that the saint continues to grow in the tomb. To accomodate this, his tomb has been periodically extended. Nowadays this is a six domed Mausoleum, of which five sustained, with a 18m sarcophagus, stepping into which (with Your shoes off please) You can see pilgrims circumambulating it. The mausoleum was built at the beginning of the XXth century by the guild of the Samarkand soap makers.
Ulughbek Observatory
On the north - eastern outskirts of the city there is another unusual monument. Here, in the years 1424 - 28, the prince scholar, the grandson of Amir Timur, Ulugbek, who was probably more famous as an astronomer than a ruler, erected an astronomical observatory, a 3-story tall sextant, one of the largest ever constructed, in order to measure the positions of the stars with unprecedented accuracy. It was at that time probably the best - equipped establishment of that kind in the world, both East and West. The building above the ground was circular, on three storeys, decorated with ornamental tiles.Observations and measurements were made by means of an astrolabe. Ulugbek himself constructed astronomical tables called “Ziji - Kuragoniy” (tables of the king’s son - in - law). His works on astronomy were known even in Europe. Nothing of it has been preserved, except a few fragments and 11 meter underground part of the sextant, divided into degrees and minutes. The ruins were unearthed in 1908 by Russian archeologist Vyatkin.