The capital of the country is Tashkent (Stone City). It is situated in the foothills of Tien Shan, in the very centre of blossoming oasis in the Chirchik River valley. Tashkent had been the crossover of different trade routs for many centuries; that formed its extremely varied look. The first information about Tashkent appeared in eastern chronicles of 2nd century – running trough the Great Silk Road caravans had already passed trough blossoming Shash city (ancient name of Tashkent). Chinese sources named it Yuni, and in famous inscription on “Kaaba of Zoroaster” (262 year BC) it was mentioned as Chach oasis. Manuscripts claim that there were beautiful palaces among gardens, mosques, and shady streets. In 8th-11th centuries the city was named Binkent. In the beginning of 13th century, on the eve of Mongolian conquest, Shash oasis had been completely ruined by the army of Mukhammad Khorezm shah. In 14th-15th centuries the city was revived again as a trade and cultural centre of Timur’s and Timurid Empire, expending intensively into the south and east, becoming one of the biggest cities of that time. For its existence Tashkent had endured ups and downs, but it always remained on the crossover of trade routes; also, it was the centre of unique Central Asian culture. Profitable location had predetermined the choice of this city as capital of republic. Awful earthquake of 1966 almost completely ruined the city. However, with the help of habitants’ diligence and all USSR republics the city was rebuilt during 10-15 years, and now this is one of the most colorful cities of the region. Just few historical buildings, mosques, and mausoleums have left from old Tashkent. However, “old city”, or it is called “eski-shakhar”, still shows the labyrinth of its narrow streets, low wattle and daub buildings, mosques, and madrassas (Muslim educational institutions). The best samples of ancient architecture of the capital are Sheikhantaur ensemble, composed of 3 mausoleums – Yunus-khan (15th), Sheikhantaur (15th-19th), and Kaldirghach-Biy with its famous dodecagonal pyramidal cupolas (15th); also, Zainutdin-Bobo mausoleum (16th), Sufi-Ota mausoleum (16th), and architectural ensemble Khast-Imam with Barak-khan madrassah (16th-17th, on the foundation of 15th century buildings), Al-Bukhari institution, and Kaffali-Shash mausoleum (15th). These mosques are not less interesting: Jami (Juma, 16th), Mirza-Yusuf (19th), Khairabat-Eshon (18th-19th), and Sheikh-Tilla on the Khast-Imam square. There are also several orthodox churches, convents, and even Roman Catholic Church – tolerance of local governors was always widely known. There are many museums in Tashkent. Most famous among them are: National Museum of Art with vast collection of paintings, ceramics, royal regalia, and “suzani” (“syuzane”, embroidered ornamental panels in Persian style), State Library, new Museum of Amir Timur, Museum of history of Uzbekistan, Museum of applied art of Uzbekistan (opened in 1937, nearly 30 thousand samples of cottage craft items and jewelries), Museum of Literature, Museum of history of railroads, etc. World-known Theatre of opera and ballet of Alisher Navoi with fine square in front of it, Conservatory, 9 theatres, and many other cultural spiritual institutions deserve your instant attention. As everywhere on the East, there are many bazaars and markets in Tashkent, the best of which are the oldest bazaar Eski-Juwa and Chorsu (near Kukeldash madrassah). There is Zangi-Ata village 15 km to the south of Tashkent, where 2 ancient mausoleums are situated – Zangi-Ata and of his wife Ambar-Bibi (14th). There is wide garden, monumental complex (14th-19th), madrassah (18th-19th), mosque (1870) with minaret (1914-1915), and ancient cemetery around them.
Samarkand is one of the most ancient cities in the world, peer of Rome, oasis of ancient Silk Road, and the capital of great Timurid Empire. It is satiated in the Zeravshan River valley in the south-east of Uzbekistan. The city had been famous since middle of the first millennium BC, and for the first time it was mentioned in avestian texts as Markand – the capital of rich area of Sogd (Sogdiana). Almost completely ruined by the army of Alexander the Great, legendary sogdian Afrasiyab had been built from the start a bit aside from its first location, and it became again the centre of Asian province (of the city titles – “Makhfuza” can be translated as “protected”). In 4th century BC Samarkand was a part of Selevk empire; in 2nd-1st centuries BC Backtrian kingdom was prospering on these lands. In the beginning of new millennium the region was under the power of Kushan kingdom. In 712 Arab troops under the command of Kuteiba ibn-Muslim had conquered the city, but in a year first popular uprising broke out; these uprisings were shaking north-east outskirts of the caliphate for almost a century. Thanks to them in 809 Samarkand became relatively independent and the biggest city of the region. In March 17, 1220 troops of Genghis Khan had entered the city, and after his death in 1227 it became the residence of the second son of – Chagatai. When Timur came to power (1370), Samarkand became the capital of his huge empire and started its unprecedented cultural and economical bloom, which continued with Timur’s grandson – Ulugh Bek. In 14th-15th centuries citadel and fortified walls were constructed; wide streets were built; grandiose architectural ensembles were raised; and the perimeter of the city was surrounded by giant circle of 13 parks and gardens. Most of these objects are still the main symbols of the city. Main attraction of Samarkand is Registan (el Registan, 15th-17th), one of the most beautiful squares in the world. Surrounded by such number of great ancient monuments, minarets, and mausoleums, the square seems giant exposition hall of history. Especially exciting thing on the square is the meeting of the dawn, when deep shadows create very fantastic combinations of forms and reveal the most unapparent peculiarity of filigree stone engraving pattern, which decorates walls and portals of surrounding buildings. Samarkand amazes by the monument buildings’ decoration; glazed revetment art reached its highest point exactly here – there was no even a little part of surface of old constructions without décor. None of the world architectures knows such unrestrained abundance of multicolored ornamental painting, gilding, and glazed revetment – neither before nor after. Bright example is Tillya-Kari madrassah (17th), which got its name “Gilt” thanks to interior of domical hall performed with “kundal” painting. Even famous masters of caliphate did not know such solid gilding of huge areas. Starting the trip from Registan, you can go around whole old town, visiting such unique cultural monuments as Ishrat-Khona mausoleum (women from Timurids’ dynasty lie there, 15th); observatory of Ulugh Bek (1428-1429); Rukhabad mausoleum (burial vault of Islamic mystic Burkhaneddin Sagardji, 14th); Khodji Abdi-Darun mausoleum (10th-17th); imam Al-Bukhari mausoleum with splendid cupola decoration (9th-13th, it has been completely restored recently); and biblical prophet Daniel mausoleum (14th). There are madrassah of Ulugh Bek (1417-1420), Sher-Dor madrassah (1619-1636), and Tilya-Kori Madrassah (1646-1647) around Registan. Religious place of Samarkand is cathedral mosque of Timur – Bibi-Khanym Mosque (the biggest medieval building in Central Asia, 1399-1404). There is Timur’s and his descendants’ mausoleum - Gur-e Amir (1403-1410) not far from Bibi-Khanym Mosque. It amazes by its perfect proportion and forms’ symmetry, which remind giant blue tulip. Panels of its interior walls were made of yellow-green marble, painted by blue color, and trimmed with gilt in the way that creates the glimmer and lightness effects of the whole interior volume of burial vault under cupola space. City museum of art, Ack-Sarai mausoleum (1470); Namozgokh mosque (17th); Khodja Akhror madrassah (15th); Khodja Abdi Darun mausoleum (9th); Chupon Ata mausoleum (1430-1440), and Khazrat-Khizr mosque (19th) are also interesting to visit. From the south Afrasiyab city adjoins to the town boundary (7th-2nd centuries BC). Unique ensemble of Shah-i-Zinda necropolis is situated in the north part of Afrasiyab, which consists of mosques, mausoleums, and cenotaph of Muslim Saint Abbas ibn-Kussam (11th-15th). Here is Afrasiyab Museum with wide collection of archaeological finds, made in the territory of this ancient city. You should also visit city market Chorsu (17th); travel to close Urgut with its well-known market and centuries-old plane trees; go to Khazrat-Daud (Muslim name of biblical king David) cave in the Turkestan mountain ridge, not far from Aksai settlement.
Bukhara is situated in the north-west of Uzbekistan, nearly 200 km from Samarkand. Bukhara is one of the most ancient cities in Central Asia. “Star of Islamic world” and “noble city of Central Asia” - it had deservedly got these titles; there were 360 mosques and 80 madrassas in Middle Ages. Old legend says that the light of God's divine grace descends from the sky on all Muslim cities, and only in Bukhara it rises up. Founded 2500 years ago by Persian prince Siavash as royal citadel, the city started to develop quickly thanks to its strategic location on the crossover of trade routes, leading to Merv, Urgench, Kabul, and Samarkand. The city got its modern look in the time of Shaibanid and Ashtarkhanid Dynasties (16th-17th), when most of wonderful mosques and madrassas, caravanserais and bathhouses, fortified walls and gates, and also architectural ensembles and burial vaults were built. This amazing city was not beyond the scope of its fortified wall, built in 16th century, and contained many religious buildings and bazaars, where everything could be bought. To walk on the Old Bukhara, founded in the first centuries BC, you happen to visit ancient civilization monuments. The walls of old citadel, more than 140 architectural monuments of Muslim era, and amazing districts and narrow streets of old town remained till our days. The pearl of the city is small Samanid mausoleum; it has celebrated its thousandth anniversary recently (Bukhara had been the capital of this dynasty). At a distance, this very proportional burial vault looks like carved goldish casket, crowned with low cupola. Close by, many tourists “have their eyes on the forehead” from the amusement because the whole mausoleum was built from simple baked brick, but the art of brickwork and fanciful brick carving creates such game of the light and shadow that the whole look of mausoleum is filled with air and absolute grace. Another architectural symbol of Bukhara was built in this way – architectural complex Po-i Kalyan (“Grand Foundation”), which consists of great Kalyan minaret (1127, it is considered to be the highest in Asia), Kalyan mosque, and two madrassas – Mir-i Arab (1536) and Emir-Alimkhan (20th). Fantastic panorama of ancient Bukhara is opened from the round gallery at the minaret’s lantern. Architectural monuments with universal importance are also Chashma-Agrob mausoleum (Chashma-Ayub, 1380); Buyan-Khuli-Khan mausoleum with fine terra-cotta walls’ decoration (1358); Saifiddin Bokharzi mausoleum (13th-14th); summer residence of Bukhara emirs – city fortress the Ark (15th-19th), religious Gaukushon ensemble near Khoja-Kalyan mosque, Khoja-Gaukushon minaret and madrassah (1570); Tack-i-Telpack-Furushon arcades (16th); unique Magock-i Attori mosque (1546-1547); palatial Jami mosque (19th); Balyand (14th) and Khoja-Zainuddin (1555) mosques; Bola-Hauz mosque and madrassah (18th); Ulugh Bek madrassah (11th-16th, the only building of his governing time); Abdulaziz-Khan madrassah on the opposite side of Ulugh Bek madrassah (1652); Modar-i Khan (1566-1567) and Abdulla-Khan madrassas (1558-1590, together they are Kosh-madrassah – “double madrassah”); Chor-Minor madrassah (1807), and country palace of the last emir – Mokh-i Khossa (19th-20th, 4 km to the north from Bukhara). Lab-i Hauz is the centre of another great monument of Bukhara. “Hauz” means pond, and it is unnecessary to mention the importance which ponds had played in the life of this city, situated on the edge of sultry deserts. Lab-i Hauz is a pool with rectangular shape and cut angles, surrounded by three monumental madrassas of 16th-17th centuries; it used to be the centre of social city life. The Kukeldash Madrassah(1568–1569) and Nadir Divan-Beghi khanaka (1622) make up one ensemble, where Lab-i Hauz is the central element. Amazing heap of cupolas of Tock-i Zargaron market and many other fine architectural monuments has remained till our days. And, of course, nobody can pass noisy Bukhara bazaars. There are some historical monuments concentrated around Bukhara – Varakhsha settlement with palace (5th-9th) and Ibrahim Okhunda madrassah (1884); country Namozgokh mosque to the south of the city (12th-16th); shelter for travelling dervish-monks – Faizabad khanaka (1598-1599); burial vault of sheikhs of “nakshbandiya” order – Chor-Bakr necropolis in the Sumitan settlement (16th, burial place of Jubairi Shaeikh’s family); Bakhauddin Nakshbandi mausoleum – patron saint of Bukhara and spiritual leader of Timur, founder of Sufi “Nakshbandiy” order (1560-1563); the tomb of Bakhauddin Nakshbandi teacher – Kharzrat Said Amir Culol, in the Kasri-Arifon settlement, and Rabat-i Malik caravanserai ruins in Kermin.
City-reserve Khiva lies in the centre of the Kara-Kum desert, on the left shore of Amu Darya, 450 km away from Bukhara. The legend says that it was founded by Shem (Sim) – son of the legendary Noah. In former times Khorasmiya, later Khwarezm and Chorezm, had been one of the main centers of the Silk Road; in 16th century it was the capital of Timurids’ Dynasty; it served as the main slave market and centre of the khanate during three hundred years till its entrance into Russian Empire. It is useless to describe the city by words – you should see it. More than hundred monuments of different ages and nations have been kept there; that is why in 1967 Old Khiva, and in 1990 Itchan Kala were inscribed in the World Heritage List of UNESCO. Founded in 5th century BC, the oldest part of the town, being a part of Itchan Kala complex (“Old City”), is situated within the limits of ancient town wall. First fortress walls on this land were raised in 5th-6th centuries BC; in present days surrounded by the wall inner town includes nearly 60 historical buildings. Here you can see such historical monuments as Kunya-Ark citadel complex (1686-1888); Palvan-Darvaza eastern gates (1804-1806); Tash-Darvaza southern gates (19th); Baghcha-Darvaza northern gates (19th); Ata-Darvaza main gates (1842-1975); Tash-Khauli palace complex (Alla-Kuli-Khan palace, 1830-1838); Kalta-Minor minaret, entirely covered with glazed tile (1835-1955); famous Juma mosque with its 218 carved columns (1788-1789); symbol of Khiva – Islam Khoja minaret (1910, 56 m high); Palvan-Kari minaret (18th); Murad-Tura mosque and minaret (1888); Anush-Khan mosque and chambers (1657); mosques: Ak (1832-1842), Baglandi (1809), Khasan Murad Kushbegi (1802), Sheikh Mukhtar-Ata (1810-1838), and Yar Mukhammad Devon (18th), and also Akshi-Bobo bastion (17th), and Palvan-Kati trade complex (1905). Mausoleums of Pakhlavan Makhmud (14th-16th), Payandi (16th), Said Allauddin (1303), Tugon-Tura (19th), Utch-Ovlia-Bobo (15th-20th), and Yunus-Khan (1558-1559); madrassas of Arab-Mukhammad-Khan (1616-1834), Khojamberdibia (1688-1834), Shirghaziz-Khan (1718-1720), Sherghazi-Khan (1718-1726), Mukhammad Amin-Inak (1785), Abdulla-Khan (1855-1865), Kutlugh Murad-Inak (1804-1812), Khoja Maram (1839), Moosa Toora (1841), Mukhammad-Rakhim-Khan palace and madrassah (1846-1855), Mukhammad Amin-Khan (1851-1871), Amir Toora (1870), Matniaz Devan-beghi (1871), Mukhammad Rakhim-Khan (1871), Yakubbai-Khoja (1873), Dost-Alyam (1882), Mazari-Sharif (1882), Atajanbai (1884), Kazi-Kalyan (1905), Matpanabai (1905), Matrasulbai Mirzaboshi (1905), Matrasulbai Mirzaboshi (1905), Abdurasulbai (1906), Yusuf Yasulbashi (1906), Said-Bai mosque and madrassah (19th-20th), Tolib-Maksum (1910), Matniyaz-Divanbeghi and Kaz-i kalon, and also Alla-Kuli-Khan caravanserai and madrassah (1834-1835), and attached to it Tim with the same name (Tim – covered bazaar, 1836-1838) can be considered as religious buildings of Itchan Kala. The outer part of Khiva is called Dichan Kala. It re[resents dwelling and trade zone of ancient town, also surrounded by ancient walls. The following sights also deserve your attention: Dichan Kala rabad, its northern gates Kosh-Darvaza (20th), western gates Ata-Darvaza, restored gates Ghandimian-Darvaza (1842-1970), Khazarasp-Darvaza gates (19th), Tozabogh ark (1910) and Kibla-Tozabogh palace (1897), Nurulla-Bai palace (1910-1918), Said Niyaz Shalikar-Bai mosque and madrassah; mausoleums of Abdal-Bobo (12th-18th), Shakalandar-Bobo (16th), and Said Mukhammad Makhiriy (19th); also, Said Mukhammad Khan madrassah (1864), Tort-Shaffaz (1885), Bikanjan-Bika (1894), Mamat-Maram (1903), Palvan-Kari (1905), and Khorezm-shah (1915). Makhmud Pakhlavi mausoleum, Alla-Kuli-Khan caravanserai (19th), Said Allauddin mausoleum (14th), house of famous Khiva photographer Khudaibargen Devanov (1908), Matvafo Karvanboshi house (1910), and many other unique buildings are very interesting to visit. In the outskirts of Khiva you should see Atajan-Toora mosque and madrassaah (1893-1899), Ibrahim Khoja madrassah (1888), such minarets as Shakhimardan (18th) and Shah-i-mavlon (19th); also, mausoleums of Bibi-Khojar (1846), Sheikh Mavlon-Bobo (19th), and Shah-i-mardan (18th).
Small town of Shakhrisabz (Persian “green city”) is located 90 km south of Samarkand, at the foot of Gissar and Zeravshan mountain ridges, at the confluence of Aksu and Tankhoz rivers. This is one of the most ancient cities of the world; some resources say that settlements had existed there by 1700 BC. Phalanxes of Alexander the Great had marched here; Bactrian satrap Bessus had been captured on this territory; anti-Arabic movement had been born, and the Great Silk Road caravans had been passing in Shakhrisabz. Once ancient Kesh, birthplace of Amir Timur, and ex home residence of Timurids used to be greater and richer than Samarkand. Only some historical monuments have remained here, but all of them are unique and have huge historical value. The sights of Shakhrisabz are Timur’s palace Ak-Saray (“White palace”, 1380-1404), which is mostly ruined, but it is being restored intensively. In addition to giant gates 40 m high, you can see magnificent filigree mosaics and unique (by technology) examples of wall laying, which are the evidence of greatness of this big summer residence. Ensemble of Dorus-Saodat mausoleum (“Place of power”, 14th) – crypt of Djakhangir and Omar (Timur’s sons) is not less interesting. It can be compared with Ak-Saray by its size and decoration. Religious places of the town are Dorus-Tilovat ensemble (“blue mosque”, 14th) – Shamsiddin Kulola mausoleum (spiritual leader of Timur), graceful Ghumbazi-Seyidon mausoleum (16th, Ulugh Bek’s descendants lie there), and cathedral mosque Kok-Ghumbaz (1435); also Khazrat-Imam mosque (14th), and Timur’s tomb - mausoleum of great conqueror’s relatives (he was buried in Samarkand).
As Uzbekistan is the heart of Central Asia, as Fergana valley is the centre of Uzbekistan. More than 7 million people, nearly third part of the whole population, live on this fertile plain of Syr Darya river. The river goes down from the Pamirs and stretches for nearly 300 km long and 150 km wide; at the same time it is surrounded by Tien Shan tops – Chatkal mountain chain on the north, Fergana on the east, and Pamir-Alai on the south. Khojikent gates on the south had been the best passageway for merchants and conquerors, where the river leaved the valley and went to the steppes. Khojikent town originates from the conquest times of Alexander the Great in 329 BC, when Macedonian created his ninth Alexandria – Alexandria Eschate ("The Furthest"). Two centuries later, Chinese messenger and pioneer of The Silk Road – Zhang Qian had reached the valley after ten years of wandering because of nomads’ raids on Chinese borders. Fergana valley includes 6 cities: Kokand, Fergana, Marghelan, Shakhimardan, Andijan, and Namangan. Called mystically “City of winds”, Kokand had shared its name with powerful khanate of 19th century, stretching from Fergana valley to Tashkent and south Kazakh steppes. Being younger town than others, Kokand had bloomed quickly into perspective trade and religious centre, competing by gifts of Central Asia with Khanate of Bukhara and Khiva. Fergana city became third in size in Fergana valley with 220 000 population. Founded in 1820 20 km from Marghelan, it had been named New Marghelan, later in 1907 it had become Skobelev (in honor of first military governor), and finally in 1927 it had taken the name of the valley. Wide roads are scattered in semicircle from old military fortress, reminding St.-Petersburg’s design of Tashkent. Parks, fountains, Russian architecture, and industrial areas make stronger the similarity and contrast with Uzbek Islamic Marghelan. Long keeper of silkworm breeding secrets, Marghelan had been the biggest stop on the Silk Route till 9th century; though, local legends related the birth of town history to the times of Alexander the Great. On his arrival he had been presented with chicken (“murgh”) and bread (“non”), after this the city got its name. Later in 15th century Babur saw the city full of different kindness. Its peaches and pomegranates were delightful; living creatures and wildfowl were good; many noticeable champions of Samarkand and Bukhara were from Marghelan. Summer similarity of Fergana valley with boiling pot makes many people recall forgotten traditions and head for the mountain foot. Popular resort Shakhimardan, where constant cool air, seething rivers, and mountain lakes are, has its double charm in political and religious pilgrimage. The roads go along seething Shakhimardan River till its source in the town, where the purest Kok Su river interflows with waters of shining Ok Su river. Famous in 10th century as Andijan village, stable development of Andijan had marked and strengthened full-scale defeat of Mongolian epoch governing. Later in 13th century, Kaidu Khan, grandson of Genghis Khan, remodeled city into capital of Fergana. It remained so during 3 centuries, naming the whole valley after his honor under Turkish Chagatai. In the capacity of eastern gates to Transoxian, Andijan had been the centre of profitable trade with Kashgar. Namangan city has the status of the third biggest city in Uzbekistan after Tashkent and Samarkand; also, it is new relative city of the cradle of Fergana civilization. Its name was originated from local salt ore “namak kann”. It had been salt provider of Tashkent for a long time. During Russian occupation, Andijan region became the Islam bastion with more than 20 madrassas and 600 mosques. Tsars and Soviet Era russified the centre, and submountain areas turned into industrial appendage, increasing the population to 330 000 people; but they could not subordinate the people. “After visiting Uzbekistan, you will be fully surrounded by respect and hospitality, and local families will welcome guests under their shelter with joy”.