It makes sense that before extensive maritime transportation that Eurasia, with its massive landmass, would be where the longest trade routes were located. Trade between China, Rome, Persia, India and others peaked before the start of ocean-going long haul ships. Samarkand, a two-hour high-speed train from Tashkent, was one of the most important trading cities in the silk road network.
I was in awe standing at night in the Registan and thinking of all of the great names in history who had come through Samarkand. Alexander the Great, Marco Polo, Genghis Khan, Timur (Tamerlane) all spent much time in the city. They would not have had the view we did that evening because of course at that time, there was not electricity. I wonder what they would have thought to stand there with us in 2019?
The Registan (Persian language meaning sandy place or desert) was the central plaza, the heart of the city and back in the day, probably a busy market. Today, the main bazaar moved down the street and the Soviets and Uzbeks have created a clear space on the Registan so people can admire the three madrassas that form the borders of the clearing. The architecture, colors, designs and size of the madrassas are truly breathtaking and I see why it was made a UNESCO World Heritage Site. The muqarnas, or vaulted arches with the tiled designs of different blues, made me want to paint them. The different hues of blue tiles with intricate designs blend perfectly with the beige bricks and brown sand and mountains that surround the city. I hope to learn more about Islamic architecture during my time in Uzbekistan.
Samarkand today is Uzbekistan’s second city with a population around 1 million people in the metro area. The little over 300 kilometer distance takes 2-hours on a high-speed train. It is quite convenient for us because the train station is close to our house. My only complaint was half of the seats in the train face backwards on every journey. I wish they had the reversible seats like or turn the trains around in the station. It is better than the 4-hour+ drive. Samarkand was originally a Persian city and the majority of the population speaks Tajik, which is an Iranian language. Many Iranians almost moved to Samarkand in the 1800s. Walking around the city, I noticed the the Tajiks/Iranians have a bit darker skin and have slighter builds than Uzbeks.
We spent the second day wandering around the hills and ruins of the ancient city of Marakanda. This was the original Samarkand, when it was controlled by the Sogdians, an Iranian/Persian tribe that had a huge empire starting around 500 BC. It is a huge archeological site (500 acres+) just north of the city and has been preserved by the Soviets and the current Uzbek government. It was an ancient walled city. The Sogdians survived Alexander the Great taking the city in 329 BC, the Arabs in 712 AD and finally, dwindled away after Ghengis Khan wrecked Marakanda in 1220. It wasn’t until Timur conquered the area and made his capital in present day Samarkand in the 1300s.
It made for a nice afternoon for me and the boys. Much better than trailing my wife and her sister through the markets and tourist shops. The area is large and I wonder how much is still underneath. We visited the museum and learned there are three areas, including a citadel. It is called Afrasiyab settlement and can be reached on foot from the Registan. You can kind of make out where they are with faint foundations and hills. We found some cool earthen caves on the sides of hills, which are probably used by herders tending their sheep as they graze over the area. We looked for some ancient pottery and threw a lot of rocks. We did a big loop around the grounds and checked out the most interesting areas. It was nice to have free reign over the area and not signs or guides prohibiting exploration.