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The Crossroads of Cultures. The popular nickname for Samarkand is an apt one; the city is a storied Silk Road hub held in awe by travelers and dreamers alike, known for its bustling bazaars, towering minarets, and magnificent architecture. The former capital of Timur the Lame–who was known to the West as Tamerlane–Samarkand is a fulfilling, though initially disappointing, destination.
Let’s get the negative out of the way first. The reason Samarkand is a disappointment has to do with the expectations most visitors arrive with. While Samarkand is a treasure trove of ancient architecture and Central Asian culture, it is also a modern city with boulevards upon avenues of drab Soviet buildings. It can be a bit disheartening for starry-eyed travelers in search of the jewel of the Silk Road, but you just have to hold on and dig a little. Amidst the bustling streets of the city are treasures waiting to be discovered. Here are a few you shouldn’t miss!
Samarkand’s most famous site is the sprawling Registan, a complex of madrasahs amazingly well preserved since their construction from 15th through the 17th century. The oldest, the Ulugbek Madrasah, is on the west side of the complex (on your left as you enter). The madrasah was finished under the rule of Ulugbek, Timur the Lame’s grandson. Unlike his grandfather–a fearsome conqueror renowned for building pyramids out of the severed heads of his enemies–Ulugbek was a man of learning who poured resources into developing the cultural and academic facilities of his capital.