After three hard days of cycling, 135km, 75km into the wind and rain, and 125km, we finally arrived in Samarkand. It’s one of Central Asia’s oldest cities and was a key place on the silk road, being at the junction of routes to China, India and Persia. It is definitely worth coming to and is one of those places that that feels sort of mythical, yet real, like Timbuktu or Kashgar, other important places on trading routes in Mali and China respectively.
The city of Samarkand is about 2500 years old and has had a rich and varied life, being ruled by just about everyone from Alexander the Great to Jenghiz Khan (who destroyed it) and finally to Timur, the great Central Asian warrior and patron of the arts who created the Samarkand that you can see in these photos.
It’s been a little sovietised, with huge pointless empty pedestrianised areas around the buildings, and the life has been sterilised from the old parts of town, although with such important buildings to be preserved it's probably no surprise. In some of the photos from the turn of the last century it looks amazing with people and markets surrounding all the monuments.
Most of the beautiful buildings you can see are the oldest Medressas still standing anywhere in the world, important places of learning where scholars studied higher mathematics while Europe was still in the dark ages.
It does however feel like it might be a tourist hell hole during high season, with small shops occupying the rooms inside the Medressas, beggars hanging around outside and the inevitable policemen offering to take you to closed off areas ‘for a small donation’.
Despite all this it's well worth visiting and undoubtedly beautiful in design and proportions. The blue/green tile work is amazing, especially as some of it is unchanged since the 14th century. Some of the buildings have been over enthusiastically rebuilt but the Soviet’s have done a good job of preserving the monuments and the inside of some of them are incredibly ornate and lavish in their use of gold leaf.
Here’s a small slide show of some of the sites: