In Middle Ages Samarkand was the capital of one of the most powerful states of Asia – the Timur`s Empire (also known as Tamburlaine), a descendant of Genghis Khan`s cousin. But Timur had only added some splendor to his capital, and the city itself was founded about 700 B.C. Actually, Samarkand can be considered one of the most ancient cities in the world. It is even older than Rome. And when it became the capital of Timur`s Empire, Samarkand was also one of the largest cities of that time with population of about half a million people.
Timur (Tamburlaine) was one of the most talented military leaders of his time. He not only subjugated all the lands of Golden Horde, but also extended the limits of his empire from Minor Asia to China. Timur won nearly all his wars, and all the treasures of conquered peoples was sent for decoration of Samarkand. Different craftsmen and women were also sent there. However, after the death of Timur in 1405 his empire was quickly divided into separate states.
Apart from being the capital of empire ruled by one of the cruelest conquerors in the world, Samarkand had also the other period in his history – the reign of Timur`s grandson Ulugbek. He headed the empire yet before its disintegration in 1409, but he turned all his efforts not to conquests but to development of mathematics and astronomy. Being himself a scientist, he invited to his court the most prominent scientists of Arab world. It was just him who compiled the star catalogue (after Ptolemy), which is today used by astronomers from all over the world.
After the murder of Ulugbek the collapse of empire was imminent, but Samarkand retained its role as one of the most important cities of Asia, because it was the key point of the Great Silk Way, which connected Europe with Asia. That’s why UNESCO included it into its lists as cross-cultural city.
Registan Square is the main sight of Samarkand. It is surrounded by medieval madrasa(h)es (schools): those of Ulugbek, Tillya-Kari, and Sher-Dor. All madrasa(h)es are finished with blue tiles. There are many interesting places around Registan Square. They aren’t only historical sites but simple narrow streets of the Old Town retaining the atmosphere of Central Asia of past centuries.
You must go to Timur`s Mosque, Bibi Khanym, located near Timur`s Mausoleum where he was buried. There is a following inscription on the tomb: «That who violates Timur`s precept will be punished, and cruel wars will break all over the world". According to one famous story, Stalin ordered to open the tomb to demonstrate its artifacts at the exhibition dedicated to Tamburlaine. The expedition had been working for several months studying its contents, and the opening of sarcophagus was appointed to June 21, 1941. As is known, there was a war in Europe at that time, but it didn’t then touch the Soviet Union. And several hours after the tomb had been opened, the armies of Hitler invaded the USSR and the Great Patriotic War began.
Besides Registan and Tamburlaine`s Mausoleum, you should see the famous Observatory of Ulugbek, mausoleums of Ishrat-Khan and Rukhabad, as well as that of Biblical prophet Daniel. In order to get the flavor of East, you can go to the City`s Bazaar.
When at Samarkand you should plan a trip to Bukhara (250 km). It is the second most famous ancient city in Uzbekistan. In late Middle Ages just Bukhara became the capital while Samarkand eventually lost its significance. The sights of Bukhara are at least as impressive as those of Samarkand. The most famous square of Bukhara – Poi-Kalyan (also Poi Kalyan), is very similar to Registan Square. There are also many beautiful madrasa(h)es, minarets, mausoleums and simply old constructions in the Old Town of Bukhara.