Having once been both a central point of the Silk Road and part of the Soviet Union, Uzbekistan is a country which is rich in history. Today, the double-landlocked country is emerging from the break up of the Soviet Union in 1991, and is home to among the most devout Muslim populations in Asia.
Though it is a fairly isolated country, Uzbekistan is full of relatively unknown sites which hark back to its diverse history. From stunning mosques which punctuate the skyline alongside Soviet-era architecture, to older sites such as ancient cities and mausoleums, here are 5 key historic sites in Uzbekistan for any history enthusiast.
1. Guri Amir
Guri Amir, in the former Silk Road city of Samarkand in modern Uzbekistan, is the mausoleum of the Mongol leader Timur (1369-1405), also known as Tamerlane. Timur was responsible for building many of Samarkand’s most impressive sites, including the Registan trio of madrassahs.
A blue-domed building encrusted with Samarkand’s trademark clay tiles, Guri Amir is the final resting place not only of this famous leader, but of his two sons and two grandsons.
2. Registan of Samarkand
Registan is one of the main sites in the ancient city of Samarkand in Uzbekistan. Samarkand was founded in approximately 700 BC and its location along the vital trade route known as the ‘Silk Road’ transformed it into a prosperous centre of commerce.
Now made up of three ornate madrassahs – centres of learning – facing onto a central courtyard, Registan was the medieval centre of Samarkand. Of these three symmetrical buildings, each of which is elaborately adorned with glazed clay tiles, the Ulugh Beg Madrassah is the oldest, dating back to 1420. The other two madrassahs, Sher-Dor and Tillya-Kori, were built in the seventeenth century under the rule of Yalangtush Bakhodur. Registan is part of the UNESCO World Heritage site of Samarkand.
3. The Bibi-Khanym Mosque
The Bibi-Khanym Mosque in Samarkand in Uzbekistan was originally constructed by Timur (1369-1405), a warrior and Mongol leader who ruled this important Silk Road city.
A vast structure crowned by a blue dome and overlooking a courtyard, the Bibi-Khanym Mosque was built by Timur for his wife between 1399 and 1405. Much of the Bibi-Khanym Mosque was destroyed in an earthquake in the nineteenth century and has since been reconstructed.
Shah-i-Zinda in the UNESCO-listed city of Samarkand in Uzbekistan is an incredible complex of mausoleums, mosques and madrassahs. The most important of these shrines, alluded to by the name ‘Shah-i-Zinda’, meaning ‘living king’, is what is thought to be the mausoleum of Kusam ibn Abbas, cousin of the Prophet Mohammed.
Like many of the buildings in Samarkand, the structures are adorned with geometric shapes created using colourful glazed tiles. Some of the buildings of Shah-i-Zinda have undergone significant (and controversial) renovations and reconstructions.
5. Itchan Kala
Itchan Kala is the inner town (protected by brick walls some 10 m high) of the old Khiva oasis, which was the last resting-place of caravans before undergoing the extensive desert crossing to Iran. Although few very old monuments still remain, it is a rounded and well-preserved example of the Muslim architecture of Central Asia.
Today, there are several outstanding structures such as the Djuma Mosque, the mausoleums, and the madrasas as well as the two stunning palaces built at the beginning of the 19th century by Alla-Kulli-Khan.