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SAMARKAND

  Samarkand is the mythical, evocative name of one of the key trading cities of the ancient Silk Road. One of the most ancient cities in the world, known as Maracanda to the ancient Greeks. Founded over 5000 years ago, its golden age started under Tamerlaine (Amir Timur) who transformed the city in the 14th century into one of the world's greatest capitals and cultural centre of Central Asia, gracing it with spectacular mosques and madrassas.

  Tamerlaine's grandson Ulugbek who ruled until 1449 made Samarkand the centre of medieval science as well.

  The centrepiece of the city and the symbol of Uzbekistan is the majestic Registan Square (11-16 cc), surrounded on 3 sides by magnificent blue tiled madrassas: the Ulugbeg Madrassah (1420), the Sher-Dor Madrassah (1636) and Tillya-Kari Madrassah (1636).

  Other unmissable sights in Samarkand include the huge Bibi Khanum Mosque (13-14 cc), located not far from the Registan square and named after Tamerlaine's Chinese wife-it was built by Tamerlaine request and supposed to be the best of all known mosques on the East, the best builders from all over the Tamerlaine's empire took the part in this building against theirs will. Ulugbek's observatory (15 c)-which was the most advanced astronomical observatory of its day where the son of Tamerlaine observed the stars with the scientists of that time. They also made the sort of catalogue of 1118 stars with unbelievable accuracy.

  The Gur Emir Mausoleum (14-15 cc) built for Tamerlaines grandson Mukhammad Sultan but later become burial tomb for all Tamerlaine males. Tamerlaine himself was also buried here. The actual bodies are situated in the basement, which unfortunately is not open to the public. The Shah-i-Zinda complex (11-15 cc), one of the most exotic sights of Samarkand, a narrow street hemmed in on either side by the most exquisitely tiled mausoleums built around grave of the cousin of prophet Muhhamad.

  One of the most photogenic places in Samarkand is the oriental bazaar by the Bibi Khanum Mosque. There is also the Afrasiab Museum, not far from the observatory, containing a frieze dating from the sixth century, which shows a train of gifts for the Sogdian ruler of the day.

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