The name of Samarkand is probably what comes first to the mind when thinking about Uzbekistan. As one of the oldest continuously inhabited cities in Central Asia and a prosperous city along the Silk Road, a trip to Samarkand Uzbekistan is sure to mesmerize you! Find out more about Samarkand and why it is now a UNESCO World Heritage Site.
About Samarkand History
What makes Samarkand such a special city is indeed the fact that it survived destruction many times over since its foundation around the 8th–7th centuries BCE.
Among the major events, Samarkand, which was called Maracanda at that time, was conquered and damaged by Alexander the Great in the 4th century BCE, before flourishing under the Greek Hellenistic period.
Maracanda (Marakanda) became the important Silk Road trade post that the city is known for from the 4th century, during the Sassanian period that lasted from the 3rd century CE to the 6th century CE. Ancient Samarkand silk road legacy is still strong today, in Uzbekistan as well as throughout Central Asia.
Samarkand was then conquered by the Turks around the 7th century and brought the city under an early Islamic influence of the Turkic Khaganate. That period saw the development of various religions such as Judaism, Hinduism, Buddhism, and Zoroastrianism. It became one of the most important cultural centers of the Islamic world.
Genghis Khan and the Mongols conquered Samarkand in 1220, and though they did not destroy the city, they removed many treasures. Nonetheless, Marco Polo mentioned how beautiful Samarkand city was in his travel records. But Samarkand got many of its featured monuments when Timur (Tamerlane) made the city his capital in 1370.
After Timur, different Uzbek and Mongols ruled the city until Imperial Russia took over in the 19th century CE, turning into the Soviet-era 1924 to 1991 when Uzbekistan became its independent nation.
Today, Samarkand is listed as a UNESCO World Heritage Site.
What to See in Samarkand
Given the millennia of history, it would be insane to list all the things to see in the ancient city of Samarkand. Instead, here are the top attractions in Samarkand, the must-see during your stay in ancient Samarkand.
By far the most iconic sight of Samarkand, the public square of the Rēgistan (“sandy place” in Persian) is surrounded by three madrasahs (Arabic schools). These buildings are the Ulugh Beg Madrasah (1417–1420), the Tilya-Kori Madrasah (1646–1660), and the Sher-Dor Madrasah (1619–1636).
We will post more Registan Samarkand photos so you can admire the stunning architecture and the sheer size of the complex.
Shah-i Zinda Complex
Also called Shah-i-Zinde Necropolis, the mausoleum complex is incredibly beautiful, with buildings constructed over eight centuries, the oldest dating from the 9th century. The detailed ceramic artwork varies from room to room and will leave you speechless.
Gure Amir (Gur-e-Amir) Mausoleum
Gur-e Amir (“Tomb of the King” in Persian) holds Tamerlane’s tombs and several members of his Timurid dynasty. Indeed, his sons Shah Rukh and Miran Shah and grandsons Ulugh Beg and Muhammad Sultan are also buried in that mausoleum.
Bibi Khanum Mausoleum
The small mausoleum was built for Timur’s wife. This Samarkand mausoleum was restored in 2007 but is still small and less decorated than other Samarkand sights.
Erected by order of Timu between 1399 and 1404, the mosque was one of the largest and most beautiful in the Islamic world in the 15th century.
Hazrat Khizr Mosque
Built-in the 8th century, this mosque is one of the oldest Muslim buildings in Samarkand. At the top of the hill, you can have great views of the old city Samarkand.
The ancient settlement of Afrasiyab close to the Bibi Khanaum Mosque dated from the first millennium BC and was the oldest part of the ancient city. Fantastic frescoes have been unearthed through excavations and are now on display at the Afrasiab Museum of Samarkand.
Other Samarkand city buildings worth mentioning
- Ulugbek Observatory
- Rukhabad Mausoleum
- Mausoleum Khodja Abdi Darun
- Mausoleum Al-Bukhari
- Mausoleum of Ak-Saray and its beautiful interior artwork
- Afrasiab Museum of Samarkand: the one Samarkand museum not to be missed!
- Orthodox Churches: The second-largest religious group in Samarkand after Islam is the Russian Orthodox Church. Even nowadays, several Orthodox churches are still active, like the Cathedral of St. Alexiy Moscowskiy, the Church of the Intercession of the Holy Virgin, and the Church of St. George the Victorious.
Which Hotel in Samarkand Uzbekistan?
There is no shortage of accommodations in Samarkand, for all taste and budget. Narrowing it down is a difficult task, but here are some of the Samarkand hotels that stand out.
Most Popular Hotels
- Alexander hotel Samarkand: 4-star accommodations with a bar, a garden, and a terrace in the city center. Read reviews
- Emirkhan Hotel Samarkand (Emirhan hotel Samarkand): A beautifully decorated hotel recommended for its breakfast and swimming pool. View photos
- Arba hotel Samarkand (Otel’ Arba): An elegant hotel within walking distance from the city attractions. Check the latest offer.
- Platan Hotel Samarkand: Close to Guri-e-Mir and Registan, the top-rated hotel is also known for its vegetarian menu and live music at night. Read reviews.
- Registan Plaza Hotel Samarkand: Right by the square of the same name, you can’t be any closer to Samarkand’s top attraction
- Bibikhanum Hotel Samarkand: Ideal location in the ancient city area
Budget Hotels in Samarkand
- Jahongir Guest House: A nicely decorated guesthouse five minutes away from historic Registan Square. View photos.
- Rabat Boutique Hotel: Beautiful old building with a courtyard not far from the city
Center. See the recent prices.
- Trip.LE Guesthouse: Another cozy guesthouse in Old Samarkand, known for its barbecue. View location.
- Golden Star Guest House: With lavash decorations and top-rated, this guest house comes with a tasty breakfast. Read the reviews.
Samarkand Travel Tips
- Visit Samarkand during the shoulder season if you can as the city tends to be busy thanks to its popularity
- Most mausoleums and mosques require entrance fees and some additional photography fees.
- Shopping in Samarkand is available everywhere, but you can also check the busy Siyob Bazaar, also called Siab Bazaar
- Plan at least two days, though three days would be better. That way, you can take your time to enjoy your visit through the city without rushing.
- Before you go, make sure to get copies of an English-Uzbek Phrasebook and Samarkand Lonely Planet (1996) or Uzbekistan Bradt Travel Guide (2020) that is more recent. Also, grab an example of Road to Samarkand, a fascinating book by Yaffa Assouline.
- You can either fly to Samarkand Airport. Indeed, the Samarkand International Airport (SKD) is deserved by flights from Moscow, St. Petersburg, and Istanbul. Or board the Tashkent to Samarkand high-speed train or Bukhara if you are making your way towards Tashkent.
Have you been to Samarkand? What did you like best? Don’t forget to leave a comment – we love to hear from you!
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