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Immortalised in the poetry of Lord Byron, among others, Samarkand is perhaps one of the best known and popular of Uzbekistan’s Silk Road Cities. As old as ancient Rome, the city is one of the oldest continuously inhabited cities in Central Asia, prospering in the medieval centuries from the influx of traders passing by on the long road to and from Asia and the Mediterranean. A crossroads of world cultures, Samarkand has undergone a myriad of religious and cultural changes over the years, and today there are still Buddhist temples in the city, dating back to at least the 8th century, alongside the many Islamic mosques and madrassas. Persian is predominantly spoken here although Russian is frequently heard.
The city is divided into an old and new town and the leafy tree-lined avenues of the Russian quarter contrast with the majesty of the Shah-i-Zinda, or Avenue of Mausoleums, in the Old Town, a burial place for kings of days gone by and a popular site of pilgrimage. The electric blue hues of the impressive madrasas and mosques are sure to capture the imagination of any traveller. The Shah-i-Zinda is considered one of the most impressive sites in all of Samarkand.
The focal point is Samarkand’s Registan Square, a three-sided plaza featuring imposing madrasas, domed minarets and mosques. It was once the cultural centre of the city, a place of education, worship and gathering and it is home to Emperor Timur’s tomb, the founder of the Timurid Empire in Central Asia.
The Ulugh Beg Madrasa, an educational institution and another building bordering Registan Square, is unmissable and humbling in its intricate decoration, both on its exterior and interior. If you desire a taste of authentic Samarkand, you cannot miss the Urgut Market. A little off of the usual tourist route, the market is the perfect place to pick up a Silk Road souvenir or a beautiful locally weaved Persian carpet whilst soaking up the old-world charm and unique atmosphere.
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