Samarkand madrasa Shir Dar

The five main sites in Samarkand are: 1) the Registan, the most magnificent Square in Central Asia; 2) Gur Emir, Tamerlane's tomb; 3) Shah-i-Zinda, Tomb of the Living King; 4) Bibi-Kanim Mosque; and 5) Ulug Beg's Observatory. The easiest way to visit them is to hire a driver with vehicle for the day. The main sights are about a kilometer from one another and can be reached without a whole lot of effort unless it is really hot.

Samarkand is closely associated with Timur (Tamerlane, 1336-1405), regarded in the West as an unforgiving conqueror but respected in Central Asia and the East as a great statesman who made invaluable contribution to world civilization. Samarkand was the capital of the vast empire that embraced the territory of 27 modern-day countries. Tamerlane decided to outshine all of capitals in the world with the grandeur and beauty of Samarkand, a process that was continued by his descendants, the Timurids. The tourist sites are comprised of turquoise-domed Timurid buildings, situated in different locations around the city and ensconced like oases within modern Samarkand. They are definitely impressive but in the opinion have been too immaculately restored by the Soviets and seem cold and out of place in modern Samarkand.

According to UNESCO: “The main listed monuments are well maintained. Some of the medieval features have been lost, such as the city walls and the citadel, as well as parts of the traditional residential structures especially in areas surrounding major monuments. Nevertheless, it still contains a substantial urban fabric of traditional Islamic quarters, with some fine examples of traditional houses.

“The different historic phases of Samarkand’s development from Afrosiab to the Timurid city and then to the 19th century development have taken place alongside rather than on top of each other. These various elements which reflect the phases of city expansion have been included within the boundaries of the property. The inscribed property is surrounded by more recent developments, of which parts are in the buffer zone. Afrosiab has been partly excavated and the Timurid and European parts of the city are being conserved as living historic urban areas.

“The architectural ensembles of Samarkand as well as archaeological remains of Afrosiab have preserved all characteristic features related to the style and techniques and have maintained the traditional spatial plans of the urban quarter. However, inadequate restoration interventions as well as the challenges faced in controlling changes, particularly the construction of modern buildings, and the modernization on private properties have affected the authenticity of the property and make the property vulnerable to further changes. ”

Museums: Samarkand Museum (near the Registan) has exhibits on Samarkand history and regional archeology. There are also displays of folk art and everyday items, including a yurt and some paintings. The Museum of Culture and Art History and the International Museum of Peace and Solidarity are in Samarqand (Samarkand). Samarkand State University's library holds 1. 6 million volumes, and the Pedagogical Institute Ulugbek in Fergana holds 295,000 volumes.


Registan (central Samarkand) is arguably the most famous site in Central Asia. Built over a 250 year period from the early 15th century to the mid-17th century, it is a stunningly beautiful monumental square with both grand architecture and exquisite details. It was intended to convey the artistic achievements and the power of Tamerlane and his descendants. Although the Registan is associated with Tamerlane, its main buildings were built by his Grandson Ulughbek, and the Uzbek Shaybanids that came after the Timurids.

Registan means "sandy place. " The square itself is about the size of three football fields. One side of the square is open. The other three sides are each fronted by massive Madrasahs, Islamic religious schools. The three Madrasahs are what stand out most. The Registan is no longer functioning. But when it was it served as an elite, private school, university, religious center and commercial area. The main square contained a huge bustling bazaar.

The English statesman Lord Corzon called the Registan the "most noble public square in the world" and said no piazza in Europe approached it. To do so he said it needed to be "commanded on three of its four sides by Gothic cathedrals of the finest order. " Explorers such as Ibn Batuta, Fitzoy MacLean and Laurnes van der Post described it in equally grand terms.

During the time of Tamerlane, Registan was transformed into the city center of Samarkand. After which, during the time of Mirzo Ulugbek (1409-1449) it got its more prominent status. The Modern ensemble of Registan is made up of Ulugbek Madrasah (1417-1420), Sher-Dor Madrassali (1619-1636) and Tilla-Kori Mosque Madrasah (1647- 1660). There was a monastery of mystics (hanaka) and tombs in the south side of the Registan square known as Childukhtaron among local people. They were constructed by the order of Kuchkunji-khan (1527— 1530) and they were added (kosh) to Tilla-Kori Madrasah. The building was destroyed during the earthquake of 1904, and in 1910 it disassembled completely and its place tarred into a square. The current appearance of the Registan Square has been restored during the last 100 years.

The Registan ensemble was considerably reconstructed in the 17th century by order of Jalangtush Bahadur, a military leader and politician. Sher-Dor Madrasah and the Tilla-Kori mosque were built at the construction place of the 15th century. Sher-Dor Madrasah was constructed during 1618-1636 on the ruins of Ulugbek’s khanaka which had fallen apart two centuries before. It repeated Ulugbek’s Madrasah and by architectural principle “kosh” (pair) is strictly put with it on one axis.

The Madrasahs were painstakingly restored over the years by the Soviets, who shored up the structure, retiling exteriors and repainting interiors and using massive amounts of gold leaf. Work continues. Sometimes it seems it would better if they stopped. The effect is a little too overpowering and too gaudy and would have been better a left a little rough around the edges. Not all the building are in perfect condition. Tiles have fallen off many of facades, some of the domes look like their missing a few teeth and the interior are ruins, but this adds to the atmosphere.

Madrasahs of the Registan

Samarkand madrasa Shir Dar courtyard
The three Madrasahs are: 1) Ulagbek (on the left), built between 1417 and 1420; 2) Tilla Kari (in the middle), built between 1641 and 1660; and 3) Sher Dor (on the right), built between 1515 and 1631.

Each Madrasah features a dazzling 30- to 40-meter-high arched facade, covered with colorful mosaics and tiles; blue domes; and pedestal-like minarets. On the inside are lecture halls, prayer rooms, dormitories and cells for scholars and imam. What makes the buildings so magical are the elaborate geometric designs of blue, red and black tiles that cover everything.

The mosques, prayer rooms, and cells are no longer used. Some rooms have small displays of old photographs. Here and there are some interesting photographs of heavily armed Turkmen and Uzbeks in traditional clothes taken in the late 19th and early 20th century. Around the central courtyard are rows of cells formally used by scholars and imam and now used by vendors to sell carpets, thickest and scarves.

Ulugbek (Ulagh-Beg) is the oldest Madrasah. Named after Tamerlane's grandson and completed in 1420, it boasts a magnificent mosaic-covered facade, four minarets, two floors and 50 Khujaras (cells), where a hundred students lived. Ulugbek occasionally delivered lectures on mathematics and astrology in the main lecture hall. Mirzo Ulugbek (1409-1449), Timur’s (1370-1405) grandson, started exlensive construction works in Samarkand, Bukhara, Shahrisabz and Gijduvan. Ulugbek Madrasah in Samarkand was constructed during three years (1417—1420) on the west side of the Registan square. It was one of classic education institutions of the East. Inside there is a court yard with 54 cells (hujras), where 110 students lived. The architect of the building was Kavamiddin Shirazi, who served in the court of Shahruh, Ulugbek’s father. The scale of this Madrasah can compete with the largest of Tamerlane’s constructions.

Sher-Dor (Shir Dar) Madrasah is a copy of Ulagbek built by the Uzbek Shaybanids not the Timurids. It is unusual in that it breaks the Muslim prohibition of images with some depictions of animals and men. The lions are curiously striped like tigers. Tilla Kari has an extraordinary blue dome and embraces the Golden Mosque with its rich interior and tromp l'oeil dome (a flat ceiling that appears concave) gilded with nearly a quarter ounce of gold leaf. It also has a charming garden-like courtyard. The sizes of the court yard and the portal of Sher-Dor and Ulagbek madrasahs are almost identical. In the inscription on the portal there is the name of the architect Abd al-Jabbar and masters of the decor Muhammad Abbas Samarkandi As the decor of both Madrasah, historical facts, excerpts from the Koran, Prophet’s dictums with vegetative ornamentation are widely used.

Tilla-Kari Madrasah is the third madrasah at the Registan. The North side of the Registan square was reconstructed during the 17th century. The Ulugbek caravanserai “Mirzoii” was torn down on the orders of Jalangtush Bahodur and replaced with Tilla-Mara Madrasah and a mosque. The construction of the Madrasah and mosque took place over almost fifteen years from 1646 to 1660. Tilla-Kori is not like other Madrasah in the plan. The portal of the mosque and gallery have domes lying on powerful octahedral foundations turned into a court yard. The use of with kundalcolor technology with gold leaf painting on the relief ornament is widely used in the interior. Near the mihrab (a niche specifying a direction to Mecca) is a minbar (a place for the imam-preacher). The mosque court yard served for Friday prayers.

Bibi-Khanym Mosque

Bibi-Khanym Mosque (one kilometer north of the Registan) was built by Tamerlane with the aim of outdoing anything that he had seen during his conquests. When it was completed shortly before his death in 1405 it was the largest mosque in Central Asia. The main gate was 35 meters high, the columns rose 50 meters into the sky and the blue dome looked like it belonged on top of an arena.

In the end the mosque was a clear symbol of Tamerlane wasteful extravagance. Its cupolas began to crumble under their own weight before the mosque was even completed. Over time the mosque was devastated by earthquakes and wars, and finally collapsed in an earthquake in 1897.

Bibi-Khanym Mosque is largely ruin. Work is being to being done but it will be decades if not centuries before the work is finish. Enough pieces of the mosque remain to show off its size and extravagance. The blue dome, the caved in cupolas, ceramic minarets, outer walls and a massive archway are still there. The massive, marble Koran holder is visited by women having trouble conceiving. They crawl under it on the their hands and knees in the hopes that the act will bring them children

According to legend Bibi Khanym was Tamerlane's first wife. She was a beautiful Chinese woman and it is said that she ordered the mosque built in her husband's honor to surprise him after he returned from one of his campaigns. She hired a famous architect to design the grandest structure in the empire. The architect fell in love with Bibi and refused to finish the mosque until Bibi kissed him. She agreed. The kiss left a mark on her cheek, which Tamerlane immediately spotted on his return. Enraged, Tamerlane had the architect killed and decreed that all women had to wear the veil so as not to tempt men.

In actuality the building was not constructed as an expression of love to her husband; rather it was mosque built on the orders of Tamerlane after his Indian campaign. The construction of the building began in 1399 and was finished in five years. The powerful entrance portal strengthened with the minarets (up to 50 meters high) on the corners. The portal of the main building acts as a mihrab. In the centre of court yard there is a huge marble stand for the Koran (laukh). It was made at the time of Ulugbek, Tamerlane’s grandson. In later time (16th-18th centuries) this stand was used by some rulers of Uzbek dynasties as original “throne”, where the khan was rested on white felt.

Legend of Bibi Khanum; Tamerlane’s Wife

Tamerlane's Mausoleum

Dr. Oktyabr Dospanov wrote in for “It is well known that Emir Timur was a great conqueror. His savage hordes conquered many lands and killed many people. Emir Timur had many wives, but his favorite wife was a very beautiful woman named Bibi Khanum. One time, when he was away at war, she decided to surprise him with a great gift. She was eager to honor him by building a great building of stone, which would be decorated with sapphires and turquoise. Thousands of skillful designers, architects, and builders worked to create this marvelous masterpiece. [Source: Dr. Oktyabr Dospanov, |~|]

“But after they had been working for many days, suddenly all work stopped. The main architect had fallen madly in love with Bibi Khanum, and announced that he would only begin working again if she would allow him to kiss her. It so happened that the Emir was a very jealous man, and Bibi Khanum was very much afraid of him, but she was so eager to have her magnificent gift completed before her husband returned, that she consented to the kiss. However, she would grant his wish only on the condition that he kisses her through her veil. Unfortunately his kiss was so passionate, that he left a tiny trace of it on her cheek. |~|

“In a few days the palace was ready. When Emir Timur returned he was very proud of the fine gift that his wife had presented to him, but all at once he noticed the trace of the kiss on Bibi Khanum's cheek. He didn't say anything about it to her, but asked her to climb with him to the top of the palace so that they could enjoy the lovely view together. He said many loving words to her, and then pushed her to her death. He grieved many days for his beloved wife, and named the palace Bibi Khanum. ” |~|

Shahi Zinda

Shahi Zinda (on the outskirts of the city, about one kilometer from Bibi-Khanym Mosque) is impressive necropolis built between the 13th and 15th century. Located where the city walls once stood, it features 25 mausoleums organized in a long in a row on a sunbaked hill. Many of the tombs belong to Tamerlane's relatives or to important nobles and religious figures from the Timurid era, and were designed by a caste of craftsmen enslaved by Tamerlane. They are among the oldest standing buildings in Samarkand.

Shahi Zinda means "Tomb of the Living King. " This is a reference to inner most shrine, which is believed to contain the remains of Qusam ibn-Abas, a cousin of the Prophet Mohammed, who is credited with introducing Islam to the area. For this reason the tombs attract pilgrims

The tombs are beautiful in an understated way. Some have richly tiled walls and blue domes but have not been over-restored like many buildings in Samarkand and Bukhara. The scratched away designs and fading colors are more charming than garishly restored ones. The most outstanding tilework is found in the tomb of Tamerlane’s niece, which is the second tomb on the left after you enter the necropolis.

The memorial ensemble Shahi-Zinda is one of the most esteemed pilgrimage sites in Central Asia. This place is connected with the activity of the cousin of the Prophet Muhammad Kusam ibn Abbas who, by local legend, spread Islam during late 7th century together with the first Arabian conquerors to Central Asia. The legend goes he was attacked but he hid in the well, whence ascended to heaven alive.

Since then this place is considered sacred and each of ruler of Samarkand considered it his a duty to construct a public building or to bury their relatives. Experts consider this place “as the encyclopedia of architecture and architectural decor of the Muslim East” as there are architectural masterpieces from the 20th century to the early 20th century. The ensemble arose in line of the inhabited city destroyed by armies of Genghiskhan, and it is seen that all monuments are positioned along the ancient street. The ensemble consists of the Bottorm. Middle and Upper hallway. Upper hallway (Northern court yard) starts from the funeral-memorial complex of Kusam ibn Abbas.


Gur-Emir (one kilometer southwest of the Registan) is a mausoleum where Tamerlane, two of his sons, two of his grandsons (including Ulugbek) and other descendants and beloved teachers are entombed. Built in 1404, it is a glorious but modest building with a ribbed dome decorated with colored tiles and 30-foot-high ancient kufic script that reads: "There Is No God But Allah and Mohammed Is His Prophet. "

The mausoleum seems relatively small. This is partly because the Madrasah that once stood next to it is gone except for the gate. The restored interior is decorated with carvings and colorful tiles and boasts a golden cupola placed over one of the world's largest slabs of jade―the marker for Tamerlane’s tomb. The jade was once a single piece but in broke in two when it was carted away by a Persian warlord in 1740. According to legend, the warlord suffered many hardships, including the near death of his son while the jade was in his possession and his string of bad luck only ended when the jade was returned to Samarkand.

“Guri Amir” is Tajik for tomb of the emir. Next to the jade slab are six white marble cenotaphs, which are said to contains the remains of Tamerlane's relatives and teachers. The plain marker to the left of Tamerlane belongs to Ulughbek. The one to the right is for Mersaid Baraka, one of Tamerlane’s teachers. The one in front belongs to his grandson Mohammed Sultan. Behind Tamerlane’s marker are stones for his sons Shah Rukh and Miran Shah. Behind these is the marker for Tamerlane’s beloved teacher, Sheikh Rukh.

The seven tombs are just representational. The actual tombs lie in a spare, brick-lined, subterranean crypt, which can be visited if security officials at the mausoleum are in the right mood. The entrance, around the back through a tiny battered wooden door, is under lock and key. In 1941, Soviet anthropologists opened Tamerlane’s grave and confirmed that Tamerlane was in fact lame and that he was also tall for his time (170 centimeters) and that Ulughbek was beheaded. According to an often told story the anthropologists uncovered an inscription that read “whoever opens this will be defeated by an enemy more fearsome than I. ” The next day, June 22, Hitler invaded the Soviet Union.

Tamerlane apparently wanted to be buried in his birthplace, Shakhrisabz, and had a simple crypt built there. Guri Amir was intended for his sons. The story goes that when Tamerlane died suddenly of pneumonia in Kazakhstan in 1405 in the winter all the passes to Shakhrisabz were closed so Tamerlane was buried at Gur Emir instead.

Just outside Gur-Emir are the foundations of a very old Sufi contemplation all and the remains of the gate of the old Madrasah. About 100 meters from Guri Amir is the Al-Saray mausoleum. Built in 1470, it features a lovely blue dome and some frescoes and mosaic. A short distance away in the old town is the Rukhobod mausoleum, dated to 1380 and said to be Samarkand’s oldest standing building.

courtyard of Ulughbek madrasa


Afrasib (2. 2 kilometers from the Siab market) is an archeological site with excavations from Marakanda (ancient Samarkand). The Afrasib Museum contains some maps, models, artifacts and fragments of a 7th century fresco with a hunting scene. The restored tomb of the Old Testament Prophet Daniel is situated on the east side of the site. Daniel’s remains, it is said, were brought here by Tamerlane and placed in a sarcophagus in a building topped by five domes. According to legend, Daniel’s remains grow by one centimeter every year. The current sarcophagus is 18 meters long.

Today, Afrasiab is a wide open hill, adjacent to the northern border of modern Samarkand and covers a total area of 219 hectares. The northern part of the hill borders the Siyab canal. On the south side Afrasiab is adjacent to the so-called “old town”. In 1996, Afrasiab was declared a “State archaeological reserve”.

Archaeological materials of 8th-5th centuries. B.C. found in Afrasiab show that Samarkand was formed as one of the urban centres of Sogdiana. During the time of the Kushan Empire (3rd to 1st century B.C.), the city grew rapidly and was surrounded by a double defensive wall. A large citadel was built. According to the written sources and archaeological materials of the period the Silk Road went through Samarkand and domestic and foreign trade, as well as handicrafts developed rapidly. In the early Middle Ages Samarkand became the main city of Sogdiana, social and economic life were undergoing fundamental changes.

The economies of wealthy landowners developed as the northern part of the city was surrounded by a protective wall. Carved ganch (Uzbek-style stucco) palaces, houses of noble farmers, landowners, mosques and Madrasahs, baths and waterworks, cobbled streets of the Samanid era are found in Afrasiab. Ancient Samarkand was originally called “Khisori Kukhna” (Ancient Khisor), “Kalai Khisor” (castle Hisar), then from the 17th century “fortress Afrasiab” or “Afrasiab”.

In the archaeological excavations in Afrasiab unique examples of monumental paintings and about 30 palatial rooms were found. Most of the rooms are decorated with wall paintings and ornaments. Among them paintings in a large (11 x 11 meters) and small (7 x 7 meters) rooms are relatively well preserved. One of the rooms depicts a man and a woman sitting at the citadel. The walls of the large room are rich in picturesque details: the wedding ceremony, the process of receiving foreign ambassadors by ruler of Sogdia, adventures of ambassadors on the way, battle with predators, hunting panorama, mythical creatures. The monumental painting of Afrasiab gives an idea of the level of development of art of Central Asia in the period before the Arab invasion, and confirms that Samarkand was the centre of art. Location: Samarkand, Tashkent Yuli Street, 7.

Observatory of Ulughbek

Observatory of Ulughbek (one kilometer from Afrasib) is a sophisticated observatory built by Ulughbek, the grandson of Tamerlane, in the 1420s. The observatory is a ruin but in its day it was three stories tall and regarded as the most sophisticated astronomical facility of its time. Its location was only discovered in 1908 by a team led by V. L. Vyatkin. An 11-meter-long track of a massive 30-meter-long astrolabe used in mapping star positions, was unearthed and is now displayed.

A unique examples of 15th century architecture, the observatory was built in 1428-1429 on a hill Kuhak (Chupanota) in the form of a huge cylinder. As stated in the “Baburname” the structure was built was 30. 4 meters height. There were more than ten kinds of astronomical instruments and tools. Important ones included a sextant double quadrant 40. 2 meters in length. The southern part of the quadrant is under the ground, the northern part rises from the ground at 30 meters. Quadrant is built with millimetre accuracy. One degree of the arc of circle of the device is 701. 85 millimeters, one minute of the arc is 11. 53 millimeters.

The instruments and equipment of the observatory was the best in the Middle Ages in their time. One device made it possible to determine basic astronomical constants such as the angle between the equator and the Tropic of Cancer, the annual procedural constant and the length of the tropical year. The observatory had also small measuring instruments: armillary sphere, measuring tools of 2, 4 and 7 rings, triangular, solar and stellar clocks, astrolabes and other stuff. With their help the positions of the sun, moon, planets and selected stars were closely monitored. One of the most important medieval astronomical work, Ulugbek’s “Ziji Kuragani” was written based on data from the observatory.

Construction and scientific activity of the observatory was connected with the names of famous 15th century scientists like Giyasitdin Kashi, Kazizoda Rumi, Ali Kushchi and others who gathered here on the orders of Ulugbek. The remains of the observatory contain a circular wall with a diameter of 48 meters and one brick thickness. The remains found at the centre of the main structure show it was divided into large halls and small rooms. According to Babur, their surfaces were decorated with tiles and mosaics. With a huge device installed at the observatory, to observe the movement of the sun, moon, planets and stars was calibrated with high precision. The observatory had a library. The sky with a star map, a globe with all continents, oceans, mountains, seas, countries were painted on the walls.

After the relatively short-lived Timurid dynasty collapsed, the observatory was abandoned and turned into ruins in the 16th century. Today, the underground part of the quadrant, about 11 meters long, is preserved. Uzbek and foreign scientists continue to conduct scientific research on the true type, internal structure, the basic construction of the observatory. In 1964 a museum of Ulugbek was opened next to it. Location: Samarkand, Tashkent Yuli Street, 7. Hours Open: 8:00am to 6. 00pm.

Imam al-Bukhari Complex

Imam al-Bukhari Complex (32 kilometers miles north of Samarkand) contains the mausoleum of Imam Ismail al-Bukhari (810-87), a great thinker and collector of sayings of Mohammed used for the hadith (the second holiest book in Islam after the Koran).

Imam al-Bukhari Complex was built to commemorate the 1225th anniversary of the birth of Imam al-Bukhari. The Imam was born in Bukhara on July 21, 810, and died in the village of Hartang (present- day Payariq district of Samarkand region), 25 kilometers from Samarkand, where he was buried in 870. Since that time this place has become one of the most revered places of Muslims around the world. His mausoleum — formerly an understated compound, comprised of only a small mosque and a courtyard around the tomb — has long been an important pilgrimage site.

After Uzbekistan gained its independence, the government decided it was time to properly honor Imam al-Bukhari by Hijra” and this the majestic memorial at his tomb was built using traditional Central Asian architecture and using craftsmen of Samarkand, Bukhara, Khiva, Tashekent, Andijan, Kokand and Shahrisabz to build it.

The main facade of the complex administrative building (size 106x12 meters) faces south. Entrance to the complex is through three large carved gates of the arched building. The main entrance through darvazakhana is erected by big arched avian in national style. In miensaray the dome is erected in diameter of 10. 5 meters. On the front of the entrance portal there are skillfully written texts of the complex construction history in the Arabic and Latin script.

A kisva — the cloth from of Kaaba, presented by Saudi Arabia’s king Fahd ibn Abdullaziz — is hung at the mihrab’s niche. The library contains unique samples of the Qur’an manuscripts, various editions, as well as samples of works of Imam al-Bukhari. If you visit the complex it is important to dress conservatively and respect Muslim customs.

Samarqand and Qashqadaryo Regions

Samarqand Region (Samarkand Region) is the regions of Uzbekistan around Samarkand. Located in the center of the country in the basin of Zarafshan River, it borders Tajikistan and Jizzakh Region to the east, Navoiy Region to the north and west and and Qashqadaryo Region to the south. It covers an area of 16,773 square kilometers. The population is around 3. 65 million, with 75 percent of them living in rural areas. Samarkand city is the capital and largest city. Other major towns include Bulungur, Juma, Ishtikhon, Katta-Kurgan, Urgut, and Oqtosh.

There are number of mountain retreats and nature reserves. Among them are Zerafshan Natural Reserve, established in 1975 just in the east of Samarkand in the plain of the Zeravshan river. Covering an area of 2352 hectares to protect a population of the rare Zarafshan pheasant, it embraces shrub thickets and meadows with poplar, willow, Loch, fruit, sea buckthorn, tamarisk, reeds, erianthus, Imperata, licorice, dogbane, agric and Astragalus. The reserve is home to 17 species of mammals, over 170 species of birds and several species of reptiles. Among the animals that live there are common hares, porcupine, fox, jackal, badger, numerous rodents, black-bellied grouse, pigeons, tree frogs, white storks, cranes and various waders.

Qashqadaryo (Kashkadarya) region unique region of Uzbekistan is located south of Samarkand in the southern part of Uzbekistan, in the basin of the Kashkadarya river, on the western slope of the Pamir-Alai mountains. Covering an area of 28,570 square kilomers with a population over 3 million people, it borders the Surkhandarya region in the southeast, Bukhara region in the northwest and Navoi and Samarkand regions in the north. The capital of the region is the city of Karshi. Other major cities are Shakhrisabz, Kitab, Dekhkanabad and Kasan.

Located between the Zarafshan and Amu Darya rivers, Kashkadarya in ancient times, according ancient Greek and Chinese sources, was part of southern Sogdia and southern Turan. It was the the birthplace of Timur Interesting places of the region including Achinkul reservoir with unique flora and fauna, astronomical observatory in Kitab district. There are two large reserves; Hissar National Park and Kitab Geological Reserve. The old city of Shahrisabz is a UNESCO World Heritage Site. In 2006, the city of Karshi celebrated its 2700th anniversary at the initiative of UNESCO.

Near Samarkand

Fan Mountains (east of Samarkand) lie within Tajikistan but are most easily reached from Samarkand. One of Central Asia’s most appealing trekking destinations, these mountains are rocky and barren but punctuated by valleys with lovely lakes and pastures used by Tajik shepherds. The region was unaffected by fighting in the Tajik civil war. Obtaining a Tajik visa is a good idea although sometimes people are allowed in with an Uzbekistan visa. See Tajikistan. Check the Lonely Planet books for details about the trekking routes.

Penjikent (65 kilometers east of Samarkand) is modern town built near the ruins of a ancient Sogdian city occupied from the 5th century to the 8th century. The foundations of Zoroastrian temples, houses and a citadel can be seen. Artifacts are on display at the Rudaki Museum. Some impressive frescoes and manuscripts found at the site now are on display in the Hermitage and Tashkent history museum. The city lies within Tajikistan and you need a Tajikistan visit it. Tour agencies that offer trips to Penjikent can help you work out the details.

Kitab State Geological Reserve (70 kilometers south of Samarkand, partly on gravel roads) is one of the most unique natural zones in Uzbekistan. Rich in fossils from marine animals and plants that lived hundreds of millions of years, it is located in the southwestern spurs of the Zarafshan range, on the left bank of the Jindydarya river in the Kitab district of Kashkadarya region. Trails and viewing platforms, located here along the rock cuts, allow visitors to get acquainted with ancient corals, other marine sedimentary rocks, which were formed 370-470 million years ago. The Kitab reserve was a part of warm sea for 120-140 million years. The field base of the reserve is located at the mouth of the river Khoja Kurgan. There are paleontological and biological museums, a comfortable hotel, dining room, cottages and a hostel. The reserve’s office is located in Shakhrisabz.

Image Sources: Wikimedia Commons

Text Sources: Uzbekistan Tourism website (National Uzbekistan Tourist Information Center,, Uzbekistan government websites, UNESCO, Wikipedia, Lonely Planet guides, New York Times, Washington Post, Los Angeles Times, National Geographic, The New Yorker, Bloomberg, Reuters, Associated Press, AFP, Japan News, Yomiuri Shimbun, Compton's Encyclopedia and various books and other publications.

Updated in August 2020

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