Exploring Samarkand, the city hosting SCO 2022 Summit


“Samarkand, with its magnificent mosques, tombs, and dazzling ensembles of ceramic tiles, is still one of the world’s most awe-inspiring cities.”

One of the oldest cities and continuously occupied cities in Central Asia is Samarkand. It was founded in the 7th century BC as ancient Afrasiab. It is also known as Samarqand in Uzbek and is located in east-central Uzbekistan.

The city with an enriched history is once again in the limelight, this time because of its status as the city hosting the Shanghai Cooperation Organization’s (SCO) Summit this year.

In ancient and medieval periods, Samarkand’s commercial importance sprang from its placement at the crossroads of trade routes between China and India.

Samarkand became a significant center for the export of wine, dried and fresh fruits, cotton, rice, silk, and leather once the railway arrived in 1888.

Cotton ginning, silk spinning and weaving, fruit canning, and the manufacturing of wine, clothes, leather, footwear, and tobacco are currently the city’s primary industries.

One of the oldest cities and continuously occupied cities in Central Asia is Samarkand
Samarkand is one of the oldest cities and continuously occupied cities in Central Asia

The production of tractor and automotive parts, as well as cinema equipment, is also economically significant.

Famous landmarks of Samarkand

The present-day Samarkand now comprises a newer part created after Russian settlers took control of the region in the 19th century, as well as an older city from the Middle Ages.

Samarkand’s architectural hues also convey important messages. Blue is the predominant hue in architecture used by Timur to convey a wide variety of ideas.

The old city’s design features streets converging toward the center from six gates in the 5-mile-long, 11th-century walls. Although the walls and gates were removed after the seizure of the town by the Russians, the plan of the medieval period is still retained.

The ancient city features some of the best monuments of Central Asian architecture from the 14th to the 20th centuries, including some buildings during Timur’s reign.

Among the latter are Timur’s tomb; the Gūr-e Amīr mausoleum, which was completed around 1405, and the mosque of Bībī-Khānom which was commissioned by Timur’s favorite wife.

Timur's tomb; the Gūr-e Amīr mausoleum
Timur’s tomb; the Gūr-e Amīr mausoleum

Another, jewel reminiscent of history is the Ak Saray tomb, with a beautiful interior painting, dating from the second part of the 15th century.

Rīgestān Square, an attractive public square in the ancient city, is flanked on three sides by various madrasahs, including those of Timur’s grandson, the astronomer Ulūgh Beg, Shirdar, and Tilakari.

Other mausoleums, madrasahs, and mosques in Samarkand date from the 15th to the 17th centuries, but they are not as remarkable as Timur’s constructions.

The magnificent entrances, large colored domes, and stunning exterior embellishments in majolica, mosaic, marble, and gold are the main highlights of Samarkand’s ancient structures.

Along these lines, in 2001, the historic city was named a UNESCO World Heritage site. Aside from that, the newer Russian sector of Samarkand developed significantly during the Soviet period, with the construction of public buildings, houses, and parks.

There are Uzbek and Russian theatres, as well as a university founded in 1933 and higher education institutions for agriculture, medicine, architecture, and trade.

Samarkand's architectural hues also convey important messages. Blue is the predominant hue in architecture used by Timur to convey a wide variety of ideas.
Shah-i-Zinda; Samarkand’s architectural hues also convey important messages. Blue is the predominant hue in architecture used by Timur to convey a wide variety of ideas.
Anatomy of Samarkand

There are three primary divisions in Samarkand’s historical portion. The site of the ancient city of Afrosiab, which Genghis Khan destroyed in the 13th century after it was constructed in the 7th century BC.

It is located in the northeast and is now protected as an archaeological reserve. The old castle and defenses, the 7th-century palace of the monarch, significant wall murals, and residential and commercial areas have all been uncovered by archaeological digs.

A sizable old mosque constructed between the eighth and twelfth centuries is also still observable.

The Timurid era, which spanned the 14th and 15th centuries, produced medieval cities and architectural ensembles to the south that had a significant impact on the region’s development of town planning, architecture, and the arts.

The old town still has significant portions of its original historic structure, including its typical narrow streets and districts with social centers, mosques, madrassahs, and residential dwellings.

Registan Square at night

Traditional Uzbek homes are made of mud brick and have one or two stories, as well as painted timber ceilings and wall decorations.

The rooms are arranged around central courtyards with gardens. Timurid masters’ contributions to the planning and construction of Islamic ensembles were essential for the growth of Islamic art and architecture.

They had a significant impact on the entire region, inspiring the Safavids in Persia, the Moghuls in India, and even the Ottomans in Turkey.

The region to the west corresponds to Russian extensions from the 19th and 20th centuries that were constructed in a European design. This historic area is surrounded by a contemporary metropolis.

The neighborhood system, tiny towns, mosques, and homes all reflect the area’s historic character and continuity. Many homes still have painted and furnished interiors and are clustered around gardens and courtyards.

Mosque of Bībī-Khānom, Samarkand
Mosque of Bībī-Khānom
Geography and Climate

Samarkand is 135 kilometers from Qarshi in southeastern Uzbekistan, in the Zarefshan River basin. The M37 road connects Samarkand to Bukhara, which is 240 kilometers away.

The M39 highway connects it to Tashkent, which is 270 kilometers away. Tajikistan’s border is around 35 kilometers from Samarkand, and the Tajik capital, Dushanbe, is 210 kilometers away.

The M39 road connects Samarkand to Mazar-i-Sharif, Afghanistan, which is 340 kilometers away. Samarkand has a Mediterranean climate that borders on a semi-arid climate with hot, dry summers and somewhat wet, unpredictable winters that vary between spells of mild and cold weather.

July and August are the warmest months of the year, with temperatures reaching and exceeding 40 degrees Celsius. From December to April, precipitation is scarce. The temperature dipped to 22 degrees Celsius in January 2008.

Samarkand in History

Samarkand was the capital of Sogdiana in the 4th century BCE. Sogdia or Sogdiana was an ancient Iranian civilization that existed between the Amu and the Syr Darya; in modern-day Uzbekistan, Turkmenistan, Tajikistan, Kazakhstan, and Kyrgyzstan.

Ak-Saray Mausoleum in Samarkand, Uzbekistan
Ak-Saray Mausoleum in Samarkand, Uzbekistan

It was also conquered by Alexander the Great in 329 BCE and was known as Maracanda amongst the Greeks. Moreover, before being seized by the Khwarezm-Shah dynasty in the early 13th century.

Khwarezm-Shah dynasty ruled in Central Asia and Iran, first as vassals of the Seljuqs and then as independent monarchs from 1077-1231.

Samarkand was then destroyed by the Mongol invader Genghis Khan, the city was subsequently ruled by Central Asian Turks in the 6th century CE.

Furthermore, Arabs in the 8th century, the Samanids of Iran during the 9th–10th century, and other Turkic peoples from the 11th–13th century.

The Samanid Empire was a Persianate Sunni Muslim empire of Iranian dehqan origin. It was also known as the Samanian Empire, Samanid dynasty, Samanid emirate.

From 819 to 999, the empire was centered in Khorasan and Transoxiana, spanning modern-day Afghanistan, large parts of Iran, Turkmenistan, Uzbekistan, Kyrgyzstan, Tajikistan, and parts of Kazakhstan and Pakistan.

Transoxiana or Transoxania (Land Beyond the Oxus) is the Latin term for territory and culture in lower Central Asia that roughly corresponds to modern-day eastern Uzbekistan, western Tajikistan, parts of southern Kazakhstan, Turkmenistan, and southern Kyrgyzstan.

Geographically, Transoxiana was located between the Amu Darya and Syr Darya rivers to the south and north, respectively. In addition, in 1365 Samarkand became the seat of the empire of Timur aka Tamerlane after overthrowing its Mongol rulers.

Ulugbek Observatory
Ulugbek Observatory

The Mongols had transformed the city into the most prominent commercial and cultural center in Central Asia. Moving ahead in history, the Uzbeks took control of Samarkand and annexed it to the Bukhara Khanate in 1500.

The Bukhara Khanate, a new administrative unit was formed in 1533 and was the continuation of the Shaybanid dynasty.

The Khanate controlled area stretching from Kashgar (west of China) to the Aral Sea, and from Turkestan to the eastern portion of Khorasan. The official language at the time was Persian, while Uzbek was also widely spoken.

The Shibanids or Shaybanids or more precisely the Abu’l-Khayrid-Shibanids were a Turko-Mongol dynasty that reigned over the majority of present-day Kazakhstan, a large portion of Uzbekistan, and a portion of southern Russia including Siberia in the 15th century.

The city fell by the 18th century and was unoccupied from the 1720s to the 1770s. Moreover, the economic recovery of the city didn’t occur until it was established as a railroad hub and a provincial capital of the Russian Empire in 1887.

It is also noteworthy that Samarkand also served as the capital of the Uzbek Soviet Socialist Republic for a brief period from 1924 to 1936.

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