Sweet to ride forth at evening from the wells, When shadows pass gigantic on the sand,
And softly through the silence beat the bells, Along the Golden Road to Samarkand.
We travel not for trafficking alone, By hotter winds our fiery hearts are fanned
For lust of knowing what should not be known, We make the Golden Journey to Samarkand.
James Elroy Flecker, Hassan (1913)
City of Famous Shadows
The Mirror of the World, the Garden of the Soul, the Jewel of Islam, the Pearl of the East, the Centre of the Universe. These are all the names that were given to Samarkand by noble people. Lying in the river valley of the Zerafshan (gold-strewer) and flanked by Pamir-Altai mountain spurs, this fabled oasis at the fringes of the Kyzyl Kum desert has never lacked breathless admirers. Another name, City of Famous Shadows, reveals Samarkand as witness to the full sweep of Central Asian history.
The Capital City
The city properly claimed to be equal with Rome and Babylon. Archaeologists date urban settlement at least to the sixth century BC. Until the 16th century, Samarkand was always the first city of Transoxiana in population, commerce and culture, for fertile earth rewards the farmer and trade routes west to Persia, east to China and south to India met here to form a major Silk Road crossroads and emporium. Among conquerors to cast their shadows were the Macedonian Alexander the Great, the Mongol Genghis Khan and, above all, Amir Timur, whose capital of fluted domes and sky-blue mosaic excites the traveller even today.
One of the most ancient cities in the world
There are cities with centuries-old history which embody the history of whole nations and countries, reflecting the way passed by many generations. Such is Samarkand - one of the most ancient cities in the world. As other first centers of human civilization, Babylon, Athens, Rome, Alexandria and Byzantium, Samarkand was intended to go through rapid events and shakes.
Samarkand's history goes deep into thousand years. Archeological findings and proceedings of eyewitnesses and ancient historians allowed to establish with full reliability that a man had been living on the territory of modern city many thousand years ago. Special advantageous geographical location, comparatively cool climate, abundance of natural springs with fine water, "obi rahmat" (mercy water), nearness of mountains with large wild fowl, flowing near Zaravshan river. All these always provided favorable conditions for human settling in that area. Strong walls, castles, majestic buildings and temples of Samarkand were raised some centuries ago B.C.
In historical proceedings of ancient time the earliest mention about Samarkand, that was famous then as Marakand, related to 329th year B.C., in descriptions of eyewitnesses and participants of Alexander Macedonian’s aggressive tours.
Already at that time Samarkand was a big city with crowded population, developed crafts, trade, and culture. It had unassailable citadel and outside defensive wall about 10 and half kilometers long.
A 2,500 years old city
With new archeological findings, scientists concluded that Samarkand occurred much earlier than Greek-Macedonian winnings and already during the epoch of the state development of achaemenids (6-4 BC) was quite developed city. That is why the "age" of Samarkand amounted to round chronological data of 2,500 years starting from the day of its birth on the forest hill of Afrosiab, though it is greatly older.
Everybody has been here
During its history the city saw half savage sacs and massagets on the streets, iron “flanks” of Greek Macedonians, hordes of cruel karakitays, the city withstood destructive invasion of Arabic commanders, the followers of Islam. Bloody hordes of Genghis Khan came down on its peaceful houses with fire and sword. Samarkand became the capital of World Empire that ranged from Ind River to Bosfor at the time of Amir Timur’s ruling.
Under Timurid’s ruling
After Timur’s death all his empire goes to the power of his children and grandchildren. Samarkand and bordered to it areas devolved to the ownership of Ulugbek, Timur’s grandson. Ulugbek ruled Samarkand during 40 years. During the whole history Ulugbek was the most peace-loving ruler. He almost did not participate in aggressive campaigns over ruling his state. He visited other countries many times but only for learning traditions, culture, and customs of those countries. He was great scientist, astronomer, and mathematician. That is why he brought many scientists from different countries for science development in his government. In reality Timur’s grandson was called Muhhmad Taragay, and his grandmother, Timur’s wife, gave Ulugbek name to him because from early childhood he was very clever boy, and Ulugbek means “clever, talented”. That is why in history Timur’s grandson mentioned only under the name Ulugbek.
Now, Samarkand is a city divided into two parts, like most cities of Central Asia: old city and new city. New part is an administrative part of the city where industrial, cultural centers, and educational institutions are located. There are 5 institutes in Samarkand: medical, agricultural, architectural, cooperative, institute of foreign languages, and also State University that has 10 faculties.
Old part is the part where historical monuments, shops, small school are located. Excursions will be mainly in the old part of the city.
Population of Samarkand is about 500,000 people. This is a multinational city of more than 100 nations living together. Samarkand takes second place in Uzbekistan by number of population and territory.