Samarkand is a city with two faces –you can find such statement in almost every account of a trip to this city and most guidebooks. After the first glance, every tourist (and there are lots of them) comes to conclusion that Samarkand is a real gem. The city is extremely well maintained, clean and trimmed in every respect, a real postcard. All around you may see glistening turquoise historical buildings, which are in perfect condition despite the fact that they are one of the oldest buildings in the whole Central Asia, as well as well-tended urban greenery, elegant souvenir shops, wide streets and colourful fountains playing music. It all looks rather amazing, especially when you reflect that Uzbekistan is a former Soviet Republic and has been an independent country for not such a long time, only since 1991. But this perfect image of Samarkand does not come from nowhere. As you walk along the main promenade, at almost every step you can meet representatives of a large group of workers maintaining the perfect image of the city. Here a woman with scissors is trimming tufts of grass that slightly overgrew the pavement; there two men are cleaning facades of buildings with sponges. The city is continuously cleaned, swept, fixed and improved. You won’t find a single wrapper, not to mention a discarded cigarette end.
Work is in full speed at every hour of night and day…
The Registan in the background
One of the many carefully restored mosques in Samarkand
Bibi Khanum Mosque
But… you may see a completely different face of the city if you only take a look behind one of the gates that separates the representative pedestrian area from the residential part of Samarkand. We strongly advise you to go in the opposite direction to the well-marked tourist routes. You’ll see modest houses, slightly littered dirt roads, smiling kids kicking a ball and asking tourists for bon-bons, that is candies. This part of Samarkand teems with life –here the locals smile at you, bakery boys invite you in to boast of the best Uzbek bread in the city, women walk with prams and home smells escape to the street. If you want to see that face of Samarkand, go beyond the beaten track and take at least a short walk through one of the ordinary side streets.
One of the side streets of Samarkand
The little ones are doing just fine…
Sitting and talking….
Samarkand is the third biggest city in Uzbekistan and one of the oldest continuously inhabited cities in the world. The first references to Samarkand date back to 329 BC. During the reign of a medieval ruler Timur [h1] called a tyrant with a soul of an artist Samarkand became the most beautiful city in the whole Central Asia in terms of architecture. Its modern enormity and splendor puts it among greatest world architectural jewels. The impressive number of its historical buildings was another reason for entering the city on the UNESCO World Heritage List in 2001. Even those who usually don’t necessarily like to admire art and architecture should take some time to see at least the most famous treasures of Samarkand such as the Registan –the celebrated postcard-perfect gem of Uzbekistan consisting of three monumental buildings erected in the Middle Ages that are the showcase of the city attracting thousands of tourists; Bibi Khanum Mosque –the biggest and the most beautiful mosque in Samarkand that was converted into a museum; Shah-i-Zinda [h2] -a complex of 20 buildings called an “avenue of mausoleums” fascinating tourists with its size; Gur-e-Amir –”The King’s Tomb”, a resting place of Timur and his descendants.
The most recognizable object in the country and a showcase of Samarkand and whole Uzbekistan. Beautiful and well maintained square surrounded by characteristic majestic madrasahs. The place attracts hosts of tourists but it’s really worth visiting. The beautiful rich ornamentation of the buildings will stay in your memory for a long time.
A necropolis located on the top of a hill next to Siyob Bazaar. It is actually only a single alley winding among incredibly decorated mausoleums with tombs of relatives of Amir Timur. It is also a resting place of the controversial president of Uzbekistan, Islam Karimov.
AROMATIC SIYOB BAZAAR
The bazaar is situated in the very centre of the city, close to its main sights. One might say that it’s the centre of everyday life in Samarkand. It literally teems with life, tempts with beautiful smells and fascinates with handicrafts.
BIBI KHANUM MOSQUE
The enormous mosque with its characteristic turquoise dome was erected by Amir Timur himself. The legend has it that almost 100 elephants were brought over from India for the purpose of its construction. For a long time this monumental structure remained a ruin, yet now it’s the second most recognizable object in the country, right after the Registan.
Its name translates as “The King’s Tomb” and it’s a resting place of Amir Timur. The mausoleum is a very majestic object including a 12-meter-high entrance gate covered in intricate mosaics. A real must-see, if only due to the fact that Amir Timur is such an important figure in Uzbekistan. [/box]
Turquoise dominates and enchants… in Samarkand
By all means, go and see some of the beautiful objects from an almost endless list of architectural gems of Samarkand, but don’t forget to visit Siyb Bazaar located right next to Bibi Khanum Mosque. Even if you don’t want to do any shopping, it’s worthwhile to watch the locals, taste oriental dainties and fill your nostrils with aromas of splendid Uzbek fruit. Although the fruit’s size and perfect look may be often attributed to pesticides, they are delicious. Samarkand’s specialty are homemade sweets sold by local housewives. Chocolates, nougats, a wide range of dried fruit and nuts –they are really worth tasting! A practical tip –haggling is not an option, it’s a must! And don’t forget that the bazaar is closed on Mondays.
Antica Hotel 58, Iskandarov Street
Boutique hotel with unique charm located close to Gur-e-Amir [h1] mausoleum. The place is quite popular with tourists so it’s a good idea to book a room in advance. The hotel also has a beautiful yard full of flowers and various plants where breakfasts are served. The rooms are designed rather traditionally, with addition of antique furniture. Prices for a room for two start from 400 000 Som.
Jahongir Hotel, Kchirokchi Street
A charming well-maintained and nicely furnished hotel with a beautiful yard full of greenery. It’s a perfect place if you’re looking for comfortable accommodation at a reasonable price. Double room with delicious breakfast costs around 220 000 Som.
Amir Hostel, 45, Jomiy Street
Affordable hostel with helpful staff. A bed in a shared room costs from 60 to 65 Som.[/box]
Golden Smiles / Siyob Bazaar– a must-see for everyone doing sightseeing in Samarkand!
*Text written by us was also included in a guidebook published by Bezdroża Publishing House under the working title “Uzbekistan” First edition. Premiere of the book will take place in the first quarter of 2019! GO TO MEET THE UZBEK GALLERY GO TO UZBEKISTAN...ON THE SILK ROAD GALLERY