From the 1st February 2019, the Government of Uzbekistan permitted more than 50 nations (including the UK, Australia and New Zealand) to enter the country visa-free. More details on our Visa Information page.
Sacred mosques. Beautiful madrassas. Heartfelt hospitality. Uzbekistan is the land of a thousand shrines. The blue domes of this country’s magisterial Silk Road cities are a siren call to curious travellers from near and far.
The oases cities of Samarkand, Khiva and Bukhara shine like jewels in the desert and our Silk Road tours tell the story of how these cities expanded the frontiers of human knowledge in astronomy, philosophy and medicine.
Our Uzbekistan trips take you well beyond the margins of travel brochures. Rather than only focusing on the highlights, we like to take our guests off the well-beaten path and into the homes and hearts of the Uzbek people. With our help you can explore ruined desert fortresses, meet famous artists, understand the hidden symbolism in Islamic carvings, visit silk worm farmers and experience the beating heart of modern Uzbek life.
Things to do in Uzbekistan
Turn back time. Uzbekistan travel is all about savouring the country’s Silk Road delights. Each and every glazed tile is a testament to this historical crossroads between east and west.
Explore a nuclear blast-proof metro. Tashkent’s Soviet-built underground line is packed with ornate mosaics and murals. Combined with the rigid boulevards above, it’s easy to see why this country is said to be marooned ‘somewhere between Mohammed and Marx’.
Barter in a bazaar. With silks, ikat coats, ceramics and embroidered bags to haggle over, you might want to think about upgrading your baggage allowance on the flight home.
Embark on a Silk Road Adventure
Uzbekistan is our most popular Silk Road destination. We arrange expert tours that cover each and every corner of the country at different times of year.
Our Uzbekistan tours are built on the knowledge of our director Antonia, who produced the Uzbekistan and Kyrgyzstan episode of Joanna Lumley’s Silk Road Adventure for ITV. With her knowledge, we can help you experience Uzbekistan in a way few other travellers get to do. Why not get in touch?
Images courtesy of Charles Pitcaithly
- 11 Days
Our classic Uzbekistan itinerary that showcases much of what this country is rightly famous for. An intoxicating mixture of deserts, ancient walled citadels and spectacular Silk Road architecture that you’ll remember forever.
- 16 Days
Exploring the Silk Road as shown in Joanna Lumley’s popular TV series, this trip has been designed by one of the series producers and provides a unique chance to really get to follow in her footsteps. An incredible opportunity.
- 26 days
Follow in the footsteps of Marco Polo, Alexander the Great, Tamerlane and many more as you track the course of the mighty Amu Darya river, from the Aral Sea to the High Pamir mountains.
A unique opportunity to experience the very best of Uzbekistan – Khiva, Samarkand, Bukhara and Tashkent – during the Spring Festival of Novruz. Enjoy the foods, music, dance and traditional celebrations of this 3000 year-old Zoroastrian festival on this immersive, small-group tour.
Uzbekistan - history, culture, things to see and places to visit
A rich historical legacy combined with unspoiled dramatic landscapes and a wealth of ancient monuments make Uzbekistan an ideal destination to uncover. Travelling through Uzbekistan is an unforgettable experience, enriched by the hospitality of its ethnically diverse inhabitants and made possible by the process of change that the country is going through.
Uzbekistan and the Silk Road
The Silk Road was the ancient ‘broadband’ or information highway enabling trade between East and West for 2,000 years. The Uzbek cities of Samarkand, Bukhara and Khiva were major merchant stopping points caravanserais along its route. That route also encouraged the exchange of ideas, knowledge and invention that led to the cultural enrichment of the many peoples along this invisible track; indeed, it enabled Europe to lift itself out of the Dark Ages.
A cultural crossroads
The Silk Road has always demonstrated a tolerance and open-mindedness to cultural specificities, a legacy reflected in the lively mix of traditions that exist side by side in Uzbekistan today. Take for instance a wedding ceremony, where elements of ancient Zoroastrianism – the origins of which are particular to this region – are fused with Islamic beliefs and modern-day influences to create harmony. This heritage and cultural fusion is what makes Uzbekistan, now more than ever, such a rewarding destination for the modern day explorer.
An explorer’s paradise
A long list of intrepid explorers lend their names to the discovery of this mysterious part of the world: The cloak and dagger exploits of Englishmen Burnes and Burnaby, the grisly fate of Conolly and Stoddart at the hands of the Emir of Bukhara, and the missions of Abbott and Shakespeare to free the Russian slaves of Khiva all fired the imagination of the Victorians during the period of the Great Game: this political match, known as the Tournament of Shadows by the Russians, took place when Tsarist Russia sought to expand its frontiers towards the jewel of India whilst Britain tried to outmanoeuvre them by acquiring influence in Central Asia, Afghanistan and Persia.
Today, Uzbekistan (formerly known as Turkestan) faces challenges of economic and political transition just like every other country in the world. A proud people, independent only since 1991, Uzbeks of all ages are trying to carve their own unique identity and way of life following the fall of the Soviet Union. Engaging with both their Asian and European cultural roots, they are preserving the best of their traditions whilst engaging openly with the wider world. Here is an authentic and original culture so far untouched by the creeping global colonisation of western cultural imports led by McDonalds, Starbucks and Hollywood. It may not resist this encroaching westernisation indefinitely: as such there is currently a unique opportunity to explore authentic Uzbekistan.
While Samarkand, Bukhara, and Khiva symbolise the golden years of the ancient Silk Road, Tashkent represents a different era of Uzbek history. The city holds several Soviet treasures, from the Hotel Uzbekistan to a labyrinthine metro system.
After an earthquake devastated Tashkent in 1966, Soviet architects rewired the Uzbek capital with vast boulevards and tree-lined streets. The higgledy-piggledy charm of the city’s old town offers a stark contrast to the meticulously planned squares of the centre. There, low adobe houses turn inwards on their shady courtyards, winding streets, and ancient mosques.
Tashkent: Where to start
A good place to begin any tour is the imposing statue of Amir Temur in the centre of town. This imperious bronze monument stands on the very ground which used to support statues of Kaufman, Lenin, Stalin, and Marx. Here and all over the city Uzbekistan’s Russian past lingers, but the city’s oriental roots can never be in any doubt.
The liveliest stretch in downtown Tashkent used to be the street known as ‘Broadway’, leading off from Amir Temur’s statue. It was a fun place, especially at weekends, to wander and drink in the atmosphere, and to browse the antiques and souvenirs. Karaoke stalls did good business and artists, trinket sellers and cafes all plied their trade.
But in 2006, by government order, the area was closed to prevent an uncontrolled spill of unsightly activity and replaced with luxury shops. In the future it is hoped that there might be some easing of the regulations to bring back the thriving hub of Tashkent back to life. Keep an eye out for its revival!
The Tellya Sheikh Mosque
The Tellya Sheikh Mosque in the old city houses a beautiful Islamic library, complete with painted ceilings and ancient manuscripts on display. Another highlight is the huge Osman Koran, which is thought to be the world’s oldest edition of the sacred Islamic text. Fable has it that it was also stained with the blood of Osman himself in 655.
For culture, take your pick from the eleven theatres in Tashkent. The Navoi is the largest and puts on a rotating programme of Russian ballet and opera and Uzbek folk productions. You’ll often find well known ballets and operas being put on for a very reasonable price by Western standards. For modern productions try the Ilkhom Theatre off Navoi Street.
A city of museums
Museums are also plentiful. For Uzbek arts and crafts such as ceramics, tiles, wood carving, embroidery and metal ware, visit the State Fine Arts Museum. The cumbersomely named Museum of the History of the People of Uzbekistan, once dedicated solely to the life of Lenin, now houses archaeological treasures including a second Century complete Buddha figure. On the third floor you will find more recent historical information about the current president, Islam Karimov, and his vision for the country.
The Applied Arts Museum is popular not only for its beautiful exhibits but also for its setting. Built in the 1930s by a Russian diplomat who developed a love for Uzbek architecture and design, its painted ceilings, verandas, cool stone courtyard and woodcarving create a peaceful haven in the middle of the city.
Tashkent by plane and train
More regular international flights serve Tashkent than any other Central Asian city, though many arrive at antisocial hours of the morning or late at night.
Trains run from Moscow via Samara, across Kazakhstan to Tashkent, or via Urgench, Charjou, Bukhara and Samarkand to Tashkent. It takes about 56 hours to get from Moscow to Tashkent by train.
Madrassa of Abdulkasim Sheikh (16th century)
The Madrassa of Abdulkasim Sheikh, built up in the 16th century, was initially a complex which comprised of a mosque, bathhouse and madrassa. The location of the complex, formerly called Yangi Mahalla, was one of the main public centres. Originally, the Abdulkasim Sheikh Madrassa was a single-storey building. It was rebuilt in 1864 and a second storey was added. One enters through a beautiful arched portal, flanked by arcades and two towers (guldasta). The square-shaped courtyard has a mosque and lecture rooms and is still bordered by the dormitory cells in which students lived. For a long time Abdulkasim Sheikh Madrassa was located in a back street, yet recently it has acquired a new stately neighbour, the Parliament building. In contrast to modern Central Asian architecture, the historical madrassa looks even more impressive.
The Madrassah Kukeldash is one of most significant architectural sights of the 16th century. The imposing main entrance leads to the courtyard that is bordered by two-storied hostels. The towers at the corners served as muezzins (azanchi), from where believers used to be called for worship (namaz).
Dzhuma Mosque (the Main Friday Mosque)
The first edifice of the Dzhuma Mosque (the Main Friday Mosque) was built in 1451 at the expense of Sheikh Uboydullo Khodja Ahror (1404-1490).
The Main Friday Mosque was built on a hill and therefore highly visible, even at a great distance.
The Mosque of Uboydullo Ahror was badly damaged by a devastating earthquake in 1868. Although it was rebuilt 20 years later, the subsequent Russian invasion and the Soviet era left the mosque crumbling and in 1997 the ruins were razed and a completely new Friday mosque erected.
Sheikh Hovendi at-Tahur (Sheikhantaur) was born at the end of the 13th century. He came from a family of Saints (Khodja), who were considered the offspring of Mohammed the prophet. It is thought that the Sheikh died sometime between 1355 and 1360.
The mausoleum (mazar) of Sheikhantaur has undergone constant architectural changes since it was erected in the 14th century. The name is derived from petrified coniferous trees that once lined the path. They were devoted to Alexander the Great, who is revered in the region as the ancient prophet Iskander.
The Qaldirghochbiy Mausoleum
Qaldirghochbiy Mausoleum is a burial vault with a pyramidal dome, which is an uncommon sight in Uzbekistan. Qaldirghochbiy was a legendary judge from the Duglat tribe, which once actually ruled Tashkent. The Mausoleum was erected in the first half of the 15th century. The yard and its decoration have, however, unfortunately deteriorated over time.
The mausoleum of Unus-Khan
The mausoleum of Unus-Khan is located close to the mausoleum of Sheihantaur. It is the one of the two monumental buildings constructed in the 15th century which still can be seen today. Unus-Khan of Mogolistan (1415-1487) was one of Tashkent’s rulers.
The Khast Imam Square
The Khast Imam Square and the Barak Khan Madrassa were founded in the 16th century by a descendent of Tamerlane who ruled Tashkent during the Shaybanid dynasty. The ornate facade of the blue-tiled mosaic and Koranic inscription conceals a rose garden courtyard and 35 hujras (small chambers). Visitors have to obtain prior permission to view the interior as this is the administrative centre of the Mufti of Uzbekistan, the head of the official Islamic religion in the republic. Directly opposite Barak Khan is the Tellya Sheikh Mosque first built in the same era and now employed as the city’s main Friday Mosque. Male visitors may petition the imam for the chance to see its beautiful Islamic Library.
The Madrassa of Barakhan
The Madrassa of Barakhan was formed in the 15th-16th century. The initial body was a mausoleum east of the actual complex. The second element was the two-cupola Mausoleum-Khanaka, of Tashkent’s ruler Soyunidj Khan Shaybani, 1530. In the middle of the 16th century the complex was rearranged into a madrassa. The complex was named after the ruler of that time, Nauruz-Ahmed, nicknamed Barakhan. The entrance portal to the Madrassa of Barakhan is not characteristic of Tashkent architecture; its bay is topped with a vault and the tympanum arches and pylons are decorated with carved bricks and various mosaics.
The Mausoleum of Kaffol Shoshiy
The mausoleum was built in honour of Imam Abubakr ibn Ali ibn Ismail Al Kaffol al Shoshiy, an Islamic scholar of the Shabanid period. The actual mausoleum was built in 1542 by Gulyam Hussain, who was the Khan’s architect. It is an asymmetrically domed portal mausoleum, known as a khanaka. Khanakas were erected to give pilgrims shelter by providing them space in the many rooms; the hujras. Mausoleum sites also often included a mosque and an eating-room, called oshkhana, with a kitchen. There is a burial place (sagana) on a small yard south of the main building.
The Mausoleum of Sheikh Zaynudin Bobo
Sheikh Zaynudin Bobo was a writer and a member of the Sufi order known as Suhrawardiyya. It is thought that he was a son of the founder of the Suhrawardiyya order, Diya al-din Abu ‘n-Najib as-Surawardi (1097-1168), who sent Sheikh Zaynuddin to Tashkent with the purpose of spreading the ideas of his order. Having lived to the venerable age of 95, Sheikh Zaynuddin was buried at the graveyard of Orifon village beyond the Kukcha Gate (now within the Tashkent city limits). There is an underground cell (chillakhona of the 12th century) to the mausoleum, where Sheikh Zaynuddin conducted his 40-day meditations and a chartak dating back to the 14th century. The mausoleum from the 16th century was rebuilt at the end of 19th century.
The mausoleums of Zangiata – Sufi
The mausoleums of the well-loved Zangiata – Sufi and of his wife Ambar Bibi were built by Tamerlane at the end of the 14th century. Zangiata’s real name was Sheikh Ay-Khodja, but he was given the nickname Zangiata meaning ‘black’; he sought spiritual enlightenment under the tutelage of Sufi Khodja Ahmad Yassavi who is considered to be the spiritual forefather of all the Turkic tribes of Central Asia. The mausoleum complex consists of the following: the Namazgoh mosque (1870); a minaret (1914-1915); the mausoleum of Zangiata; a courtyard with living quarters – hujras (dating from the 18th – 19th centuries) and a cemetery with the mausoleum of Ambar Bibi contained within.
State Museum of Applied Art
In the renowned State museum of Applied Arts of Uzbekistan there are more than 7,000 displays of traditional folk art, starting from the first half of the 19th century until modern times. Every region of Uzbekistan and its distinct traditional craft is represented by the wide reaching collection; amongst the exhibits you will find wonderful examples of ceramics, glass and porcelain, embroidery, fabrics and clothes, carpets, wood engraving, varnished miniatures and jewellery. It also hosts exhibitions of contemporary art, created using local traditional techniques. This museum is a must for visitors, not only for its extensive collection but for the building itself, a model of architectural decorative arts from the early 20th century.
State Museum of Arts
The comprehensive collection in this museum consists of decorative folk art and fine art from Uzbekistan, Russia, Western Europe and Asia . Some pieces date back to the 1st century B.C. and are discoveries made during excavations on the territory of Southern Uzbekistan – in Khalchayan castle, Varakhsha (Bukhara), and the settlement of Kuva (Ferghana Valley).
Museum of the History of the Timurids
The museum holds a collection of objects related to Amir Temur and the Temurids. Amir Temur was a statesman, military commander and legislator. He was the founder of a great empire, the borders of which reached from the Mediterranean Sea up to the Great Wall of China, from the Caspian Sea to the Persian Gulf.
The museum displays a wealth of archaeological discoveries concerning the history of Amir Temur’s state. Artful miniatures and copies of Amir Temur’s portraits that were painted by European artists also form part of the collection. Some of the originals are currently stored in the National Library of France.
State Museum of History of Uzbekistan
The history of Central Asia is enormously complex and there is no better place to gain a deeper understanding of this region and its many civilizations than a visit to the State Museum of History. Starting from the Stone Age, the visitor is led through the subsequent establishment of first states on the territory of Uzbekistan right up to modern times. Many exhibits of the museum are world-famous. Among them, the large bronze Saxon cauldron of the 5th and 6th centuries B.C., decorated with animalistic shapes and drawings and the magnificent sculpture of Buddha of the 1st century A.D., which was found in the Surkhandarya region. The museum has a fine collection of ancient ceramics and textiles. Besides a large set of ancient coins, the museum owns more than 250,000 exhibits.
The Tashkent Railway Museum
This unique museum of railway equipment was opened on the 4th of August 1989 in honour of the centennial of the Uzbek trunk railway and is one of the largest museums of its kind in the world. Among the many exhibits are 13 historical steam locomotives, 20 diesel and electric locomotives and engines built and maintained by local engineers and technicians. The main attraction (for adults as much as for children) is an opportunity to ride on a mini-diesel TU 7-A locomotive with two carriages.
Alisher Navoi State Academic Grand Theatre
The Alisher Navoi State Academic Grand Theatre is the only Grand theatre in Central and South-Eastern Asia and houses an impressive hall that seats 860 people . Its culturally rich repertoire includes festivals, opera, ballet and plays based on national Uzbek history, traditions and dance culture. Operas are performed in Italian, Russian and Uzbek, the most popular being classics such as Carmen and The Magic Flute. The theatre’s ensemble welcomes foreign touring performers and participates in different international projects and contests.
Central Exhibition Hall of the Academy of Art of Uzbekistan
The exhibition square (2500m2) of the Hall is the biggest in Central Asia and accommodates the state exhibition management office and the Art Hamroh and Manzara galleries. It houses conferences and meetings as well as providing a meeting place for representatives of the creative arts. It produces catalogues, brochures and invitations for exhibitions.
Gallery of Fine Arts
This glorious gallery, opened in 2004, accommodates a rich collection of Uzbekistan fine art dating back from the beginning of the 20th century to the present day. The collection includes a unique collection of numismatics of Central Asia.
The state-of-the-art gallery with 15 halls includes a lecture hall, a cinema, a library, a studio for master-classes and an art-studio.
Zoo of Tashkent
The Tashkent Zoological park covers an area of 22.7 hectares and is sympathetically designed to give the animals as much freedom as their captivity allows. The cultivation of rare and disappearing species is the Zoo’s main focus in cooperation with 46 zoos worldwide. Furthermore, Tashkent Zoo has specialised in the reproduction of birds of prey and achieved considerable success in breeding white-headed griffons, black griffons and condors.
The Aquarium features sharks, tropical fish, and over 2000 specimens from rivers, lakes and the seven seas, whilst mammals, reptiles and birds are also represented by a huge number of species.
The Botanical garden
The Botanical garden of the Uzbekistan Academy of Sciences was created in 1950 and is the oldest botanical garden in Uzbekistan. It covers 66 hectares and is situated in the north-eastern part of Tashkent. The Dendrarium area of the garden is 40 hectares and it consists of trees and plants from Eastern Asia, Northern America, the Far East, Europe, the Crimea and the Caucasus. More than 4,500 trees, bushes, shrubs, lianas, types of grass and water plants can be found in the Botanical garden.
If you want to see how a local market operates, nothing is better than a wander through the Chorsu Bazaar, Tashkent’s most famous farmer’s market. Located at the southern edge of the old town, it’s a feast for the eyes and the senses where you can taste delicious fruits and buy exotic spices. It’s a good place to practice bargaining for souvenirs such as hats, coats and knives using any Uzbek or Russian language you may have learned on your travels.
“We travel not for trafficking alone,
By hotter winds our fiery hearts are fanned.
For lust of knowing what should not be known
We take the Golden Road to Samarkand.”
James Elroy Flecker 1913 – “The Golden Journey to Samarkand”
Samarkand has, since time immemorial, attracted visitors with its mysterious allure. Throughout the course of history, the jewel of The Great Silk Road has held a particular fascination unlike any other city east of the Bosporus. The town itself has become legendary, not only for its turquoise cupolas, but also its rising minarets, squares of hammered stones and ceilings decorated with gold. Past and present continue to exist side by side in this extraordinary city.
The name of the town is mentioned as far back as the first thousand years B.C. in the Holy Book of Zoroaster, the ‘Avesta’. It is described as a developed agricultural region in the Zaravshan river valley where ‘the high mountains are abounding in pastures and water, providing the cattle with plentiful fodder, where deep lakes with vast water surface and navigable rivers with broad beds prevail…’
In the notes of Alexander the Great’s biographer, Arian, a town by the name of Marakanda is referred to, which is situated in the present region of Samarkand.
The city looks back on 3000 years of history. And what a history; for Samarkand was one of the main thoroughfares of the Silk Road, a city where immense wealth was traded and a crossroads that linked the other Silk Road branches leading to Syria, Turkey, India, and China. It was under the Timurids, however, that Samarkand really came to its legendary fame.
Amir Temur had chosen Samarkand as the capital of his formidable empire that stretched from Kashmir to the Mediterranean Sea and from the Aral Sea to the Persian Gulf. His aim was to build a capital to outshine all others with her greatness and beauty. From the territories he had conquered he summoned masters of their trade: the greatest architects and builders, experts in tile making, archery and armoury, master weavers, potters, glass-blowers, jewellers and many more. Amir Temir’s vision was brought to life and the palaces of Gur-Emir, Bibi-Khanum and the Nekropolis of Shah I Zindah emerged as the monumental Islamic architecture of their time. The grandeur and beauty of these buildings still takes your breath away.
Amir Temur’s grandson, Ulugbek, was a renowned scientist, under whose rule the motto ‘The striving for knowledge is a must for each Moslem’ prevailed. Ulugbek’s main contribution to the development of science was the building of his madressa on the Registan square and his observatory, which had no equal at the time. Ulugbek plotted an accurate map of the skies, listing over 1000 stars, the Gurgan tables and a catalogue of geographical coordinates of many points on earth. His mentors were among the foremost scientists of his era and Ulugbek himself nurtured some of the great scientific talents, amongst them Ali Kushchi, who calculated ‘Pi’ with an accuracy which remained unsurpassed for 250 years.
Afrasiab is the name of the legendary king of Turan; Turan was an extensive territory, occupying almost all of Central Asia.
Afrasiab was conquered by Alexander the Great in 329 B.C. In the beginning of the 8th century the site of Afrasiab was conquered by the Arabs and developed into a cultural centre for the Islamic world. In 1220, Afrasiab was conquered and razed almost to the ground by the Mongols under Genghis Khan.
On the hillside of Afrasiab, behind the Museum, current archaeological excavations reveal the remains of the ancient city.
In the 14th century Registan became the central market place of Samarkand. Literally translated, Registan means ‘sandy place’, and it was from here that six main streets led towards the destinations of the precious wares traded in Samarkand, specifically Misr (Cairo), Dimishk (Damascus), Baghdad, Sultaniya, and Farish (Paris), names still held by Samarkand’s suburbs today. The architecture of the Registan is considered pre-eminent in Central Asia and supreme among Islamic monumental architecture. Registan is today framed from three sides by the Ulugbek Madressa (1417-1420), Sherdor Madressa (1619-1636), and Tillya-Kari Madressa (1647-1660).
In its heyday, this institute of higher learning accommodated at least 100 students under its roof. Some of the best scholars of the time taught students science, languages and the ways of Islam,. The sublime elegance of its tiled façade gives way to a beautifully proportioned structure. The entrance gate to this 15th century masterpiece leads into an inner yard of four arches with two rows of hujras.
The second madressa of the Registan was built under governor Yalangtush during 1619 – 1636. His aim was to achieve perfect harmony by building a second structure of equally grand scale but at the same time abiding by Islamic law prohibiting total symmetry in the form of ‘mirror reflection’.
Governor Yangtush completed the Registan complex during 1646 – 1660 by bridging the gap between the two Madressas with an architectural masterpiece, 75m in height. A gilded inscription forming the word ‘Tillya-Kari’ complemented by suras from the Koran provides one of the highlights of this breathtaking interior. The colour spectrum on the long façade picks up the hues of Sher Dor with bright yellow dominating the lavish sunbeams and intertwined flower motives.
Gur Emir Mausoleum
The construction of the mausoleum was started in 1403 upon the sudden death of Muhammad Sultan, the direct heir and beloved grandson of Tamerlane (Amir Temur). Ulugbek completed the construction and it was during his reign that the mausoleum became the family crypt of the Timurid dynasty. It is here that the remains of Amir Temur were supposedly laid to rest. On 19th June 1941, Amir Temur’s tomb was excavated, in spite of the stone carved warning on the sarcophagus, casting a curse on those trying to break open the sarcophagus by force. The inscription said literally that “the one who breaks the precept of Temur will be punished, and a terrible war will break out over the world”. The scientists present in 1941 reported that Tamerlane’s embalmed body was badly preserved and that his remains consisted of bones only. Judging from the skeleton, the man lying in the coffin was a tall person with a big head. According to their descriptions, his leg was mutilated and his back deformed.
Three days after the tomb was excavated, on 22nd June 1941, German forces attacked the Soviet Union. Was this the outcome of the ominous curse or a mere coincidence? The dispute continues to this day.
Following the victorious campaign of Temur in India, the construction of the mosque was undertaken in 1399 and was completed in 1404. By Temur’s decree the mosque Bibi-Khanum had to outshine everything he had seen on his travels. Considering that he had assembled the most skilled and innovative masters of their trade in Samarkand, it was seen as a realistic endeavour. Ulugbek later placed a monumental marble Koran holder inside the Mosque, which was moved to the centre of the courtyard in 1875.
In the northern part of Samarkand, on the edge of the Afrosiab hill site and among the vast ancient graveyards lies a narrow corridor lined with numerous mausoleums. The most famous is the grave of Kussam, the son of Abbas, the cousin of the Prophet Mohammed. The deep turquoise and emerald green tiles that adorn almost every façade and interior create a magical atmosphere that is unparalleled anywhere in the world.
Among the people, Kussam is known under the name Shah-i-Zinda ‘The living king’, who, according to Samarkand’s legends, was beheaded for his Islamic faith only to take his head and make his way into the Garden Of Paradise where he still lives. On the headstone of Kussam the following sura from the Koran is written: “The ones, who are killed on the way to Allah, are not considered as dead: no, they are alive…”
From the entrance at street level, 36 stairs lead up to an ante chamber, which gives way to the necropolis. Most of the mausoleums originate from the 14th and 15th century. The necropolis has been sensitively renovated, including the diverse collection of glazed majolica patterns which are premiere examples of the finest composed mosaics.
Observatory of Mirzo Ulugbek
The observatory, built in 1429, once contained the largest sextant in the East. A sextant was an instrument used for determining the angle between the horizon and a celestial body, such as the Sun, the Moon or a star. One of the most precise instruments of Ulugbek’s time, it was used to determine latitude and longitude. This particular example, a mighty 40m in height, was discovered by local archaeologist V.L Vyatkin in 1908 and today it is the main attraction of the site. A small museum provides further insight into the accomplishments of Ulugbek, such as a fragment of the famous ‘Gurgan Tables’, the most encompassing catalogue of stars known at that time. If you take a shared taxi, marshrutka, from the centre you can enjoy a trip through Samarkand’s suburbs that will give you a flavour of real Samarkand life away from the beaten track.
Mausoleum of the Prophet Daniel
In the hills of Afrasiab, on the river-bank of the small river Siebcha (a tributary of the Zerafshan river), there is a miraculous place where complete calm prevails. Even the birdsong is muted. This is where the Mausoleum of Saint Daniel lies. Among scholars, there is still no agreement as to when and how the mausoleum of the biblical prophet Daniel appeared in Samarkand. It is a sacred site for three world religions: Islam, Judaism, and Christianity. This is a location for pilgrims from all over the world as well as local inhabitants in search of blessings.
The History of Samarkand Paper
In the 7th century Samarkand was the first city outside China to produce paper using a water mill. Later, due to the extensive travel of the Arabs and the spreading of Islamic culture, the secret of paper making reached Spain and subsequently the rest of Europe.
With the arrival of the Russians came industrialisation and a depressing administrative culture based on paper documents. Hand crafted paper making became an extinct art and cheaper, mass produced pure white paper became widely available to respond to this ever growing demand.
Nowadays handmade paper is once again available in Samarkand, thanks to support by UNESCO and the relentless effort and passion of the Meros craftspeople association under the directorship of Zarif Muhtarov, the driving force behind the Samarkand paper revival. The paper mill can be visited and the Meros craftspeople will gladly give you an introduction to this ancient craft.
The Museum of History and Culture of Uzbekistan
This rich collection of exhibits encompasses thousands of years of history, reflecting the way of life and events of the greater Samarkand area. The following exhibits are of particular interest to the visitor: the original coffin of Amir Temur, which was replaced after the excavation of his tomb in 1941; a special edition of the Koran, written on palm leaves whose length surpass 1.5m; a collection of ancient Islamic manuscripts and twenty volumes of the Koran, dating back to the 6th century.
The Museum of Antique History of Samarkand
On the grounds of ancient Afrasiab, this smaller museum provides an excellent insight into the era of Samarkand’s ancient city. Ossuaries, fragments of blades, knives, arrows, coins, ceramics and delicate frescoes depicting city life were all unearthed during various archaeological expeditions in the hills of Afrasiab. Just behind the museum in an open field you will see the remains of the archaeological excavations of Afrasiab, although today you are more likely to see farmers grazing sheep than archaeologists picking coins from the dust.
The Museum of Local Lore of the Samarkand Region
This museum takes the visitor to a more recent era in the history of Samarkand. Housed in the palatial residence of the famous Jewish merchant Kalandarov, the exhibits depict the facets of life in the early 19th century, from the ‘Flora and Fauna’ section to ‘Interior of living quarters and workshops’, enhanced by costumes, furniture, objects, photos and books. The beautifully ornamented concert hall in the left wing of the building is not to be missed.
The Museum of Winemaking, attached to the winery named after Khovrenko
With Central Asia growing some of the best grapes of the world, wine making goes back to pre-Islamic times, possibly to the Bronze age. The wines produced here have been awarded international diplomas and medals. There is also the opportunity to enjoy wine tasting and a shop to buy your favourite bottle from.
Bazaars of Samarkand
A visit to the famous Bazaar of Samarkand, the old town bazaar next to the Bibi Khanum mosque, will give you a taste of the essence of Central Asia. Buzzing with activity, you will find the true hustle and bustle that makes Central Asia so fascinating. Local dress and the Uzbek and Tajik language prevail and trade is brisk along the stalls displaying a colourful multitude of goods. Anything that can be bought or sold is on display. From spring to autumn exuberant piles of freshly picked fruit and vegetables spill over the stalls like precious jewels. Not much has changed here over the centuries and for the passing visitor a bazaar gives the most vivid snapshot of real Uzbek life.
As is customary, haggling over price is expected, not with the sole aim of making a quick buck but for the pure joy of the banter between seller and buyer. A seller who loves his trade could be offended if his goods were bought without a haggle, but haggling down to the last penny would not be appropriate.
If the Siabian Bazaar has not quenched your thirst for the vitality of the bazaar, catch a taxi further up from the Registan and drive out to Urgut on a Saturday to delve into the wholesale bazaar, quite an experience.
Samarkandi bread – non
Upon approaching Samarkand from Tashkent, Uzbeks will always stop at the famous bread bazaar for Samarkand bread. The round lipyoshka (still called by its Russian name) is treasured throughout Uzbekistan. The history of baking this bread dates back to ancient Sogd, after the transition from nomadic lifestyle led to agriculture and the first settlements. Non is baked to this day in the traditional tandir clay oven. There really is nothing more delicious than to bite into a piece of non fresh from the oven.
Christianity and Christian Temples in Samarkand
The Sogdian culture was defined by tolerance and religious freedom. For instance, in Urgut (40 km from Samarkand), a Christian church, Zoroastrian temple, and Buddhist monastery existed together, side by side.
Thanks to the Sogdians, Christianity spread to the Fergana valley and further on to Eastern Turkestan, right up to Mongolia, Kashmir, and Tibet. Sogdian scriptures have been deciphered as translations of the New Testament. Nowadays in Samarkand there are four functioning Orthodox churches, one cathedral of a Catholic parish and chapels of various different Christian communities.
International Music Festival : Shark Taronalari
Every two years, inside the Registan, the international music festival Shark Taronalari is held. Since its inception in 1997, when musicians from 31 countries participated, it has become one of the greatest festivals not only in Central Asia, but in the world. In 2017 there were 250 participants from 60 countries.
Samarkand offers one of the best restaurant, café and bar scenes in the country. The most common national dishes in Samarkand are: pilaw; shashlik from any sort of meat, samsa (small cakes with meat, baked in a tandir oven) with meat, potato, or pumpkin; shurpa (soup, with meat, potato, or sometimes pumpkin); lagman (thick spaghetti with meat or vegetable sauce); nuhad (Central Asian big peas, stewed with mutton); moshkichiri (a stew of mung bean, rice and meat) and manti (big steamed raviolis). There are also nearly 120 varieties of melon to be tried during the season (May to November). It is said that eating melons makes men desirable and women beautiful…
Souvenirs and gifts from Samarkand are widely available. Objects less than 50 years old do not require an export permit. If they are older than 50 years and are considered to be objects of cultural value, they will require an expertise and export certificate available at designated museums.
The inhabitants of Samarkand speak three languages: Tajik, Uzbek, and Russian. It is common though to come across someone who knows English, German, French or Japanese. The city has a long tradition, dating back to Soviet times and the onset of tourism in the 1970s, of receiving foreign travellers.
Bukhara I Sharif, otherwise known as Bukhara the noble, is a highlight on any journey through Central Asia. The old town, Lyabi Hauz, evokes an atmosphere of antiquity and it is here that most of the hotels and B & B’s are located.
The Ark Citadel was the residence of Bukhara’s former sovereigns and is the most ancient memorial of Bukhara, with foundations dating to the 3rd century B.C. The Ark contained an entire city, with the state chanceries lying side by side with the Emir’s quarters and his harem. The Ark was repeatedly damaged and destroyed during its existence, but was always regenerated by the take-over of a new dynasty. One of these dynasties, the 16th century Sheybanids, shaped the Ark the way it looks today. The buildings you pass or enter on your visit to the Ark were all constructed between the 17th and 20th centuries.
The Poi Kalyan Cathedral Mosque
The Cathedral Mosque of Bukhara was originally situated near the walls of Bukhara’s Citadel but was badly damaged in 1067 during a civil war. The governor of Bukhara at the time, Arslan-Khan, ordered the mosque to be re-built away from the citadel, adding a magnificent minaret. As medieval chronicles tell us: ‘there was not anything of its kind, so workmanlike and beautiful ever made’. What the traveller admires today is not the original construction, which inexplicably collapsed soon after its completion, but the replacement which was built in 1127. Access is gained over a bridge-passage from the mosque; the climb is well worth it for the view over the magnificent Bukhara oasis.
Built by Tamerlane’s grandson, Ulugbek the astronomer, this is the oldest madressa in Bukhara. It is still active today, reinstating Bukhara’s role as the holiest city of Central Asia. Its classic outline encompasses a rectangular building with courtyard and decorated front portal, the peshak. The entrance is divided by crosscut corridors (mionkhona), one end leading into a lecture room (derskhana) and the other end leading into the mosque. There was a library (kitabkhana) situated on the second floor, above the entrance.
The most popular place in Bukhara is the reservoir Lyabi Hauz. The pool is rectangular from east to west and shadowed by ancient plane trees. Steps descend from the banks into the water and since 1620, it has been a meeting place for locals to drink tea and discuss business.
Emir’s Summer Palace
4 kilometres away from Bukhara, along the road leading to Guzhduvan from the Samarkand gates, stands the magnificent summer palace of the last Bukharian emir’s dynasty, Sitorai Mokhi Khosa.
The first palace constructions were built in the period of Emir Nasrullokhan’s government (1826-1860).
More recent alterations to the building were made during the governing years of Bukharian emir, Mirsaid Alimkhan (1911-1920). The palace divides into old and new. The new palace’s official reception room resembles the shape of the letter “П”. There is a high terrace, called the salomkhona (greeting-room) on its north side, with the ziyofatlar zali (living room), kutish zali (waiting hall), takhthona (throne room) and khazinakhona (treasury) on the north and east side of the palace.
Nodir Devon Begi Madressa
The façade of this madressa, an impressive wooden gate bathed in sunshine, is a true Bukharan landmark. The beautiful inner courtyard is the heart of Bukhara and offers an enchanting atmosphere at all times of the day, playing host to a variety of stalls selling local crafts. In the evening, a folklore show with live music and dance is a highlight on the travel agenda.
Not far from Lyabi Hauz, accessible through narrow lanes towards the northeastern part of town, a square opens to an extraordinary memorial of the 17th century. Chor Minor, ‘Four Minarets’ is a madressa commissioned in 1807 by the wealthy Turkmen Khalif Niyaz-Kula. It is not entirely clear what role the madressa played, but was likely to have been part of a larger complex serving a dual purpose of worship and habitat.
There was a bazaar here before the Arab conquest, where herbs, potions and spices were traded and the goddess of the moon, Mokh, was worshipped in a Zoroastrian temple. In later years, the temple was replaced by a mosque. The first part of the name, ‘Magok’ means ‘pit’ or ‘excavated’, because its entrance is halfway below the surface.
The revival of the repeatedly damaged mosque dates back to 1546 as indicated by an inscription above the portal. It has housed a Buddhist temple, a Zoroastrian temple and a Jewish synagogue at points in its history prior to the 16th century.
Mausoleum of the Samanids
The Mausoleum, the family grave of the Samanid sovereign’s dynasty, represents one of the most impressive architectural examples of artful brickwork typical of the Samanid’s governing period (875-999).
In a beautiful park, the perfect cube topped by a half-sphere dome stands all on its own. Its seemingly ever-changing appearance throughout the day is due to the shadow cast by the patterns shaped by the protruding bricks in ever new constellations. The mausoleums intricacy is a photographer’s dream.
Chashma-Ayub Mausoleum (Spring of Jove)
On leaving the park, one passes the Mausoleum of Chashma-Ayub (Spring of Jove), which has been restored to its former splendour. It is a building from the 14th century, shaped into an oblong prism and crowned with various domes above rooms of different size and shapes. Underneath a double dome lies the spring where pilgrims come to drink the sacred water.
The spring is linked to the legend of the Prophet Jove. During a drought, the local people, dying from thirst, appealed to Jove to send them water. In response to the plea, Jove touched the ground with his baton and fresh water streamed from a spring to slake their thirst. The water still flows today.
The Bukharian Jewish community today comprises of over 50 families. Their ancestors’ contribution to arts, music, crafts, and textiles cannot be over-estimated, helping Bukhara become the mysterious and coveted destination of many tradesmen and adventurers. A visit to the synagogue, the Jewish school and Museum will allow you a glimpse into the life of the Jewish community.
Arts, Crafts and Entertainment
Bukhara is a shopper’s paradise for souvenirs from Uzbekistan, earning its former reputation as a main trading point. Of the five trading domes, three are still in operation. Under their cupolas, an amazing display of objects that have shaped The Great Silk Road are on offer. From silk to spices and antiques to contemporary works of art, this is an essential visit for anyone who wants to experience what trading would have felt like in ancient Bukhara. It is the perfect opportunity to find souvenirs, on any budget, from carpets to jewellery and textiles to ceramics.
String instruments originated in Central Asia and Bukharian masters hand carve a variety of instruments. They are always happy to demonstrate their art or let you try out an instrument while telling you about the history and their love for their craft and music.
One of the most widespread crafts of contemporary Bukhara is gold embroidery. In the past, only men practiced the art of stitching these delicate threads to velvet, but today gold embroidery is in the able hands of many women. No wedding, celebration or interior design would be complete without these distinctive metal stitched patterns.
Thanks to a UNESCO initiative, Bukhara is one of two places in Uzzbekistan where carpets are being woven based on patterns found on original Timurid miniature paintings; the other is in Khiva. The Bukhara workshop is located in the Eshoni Pir madressa. You can watch every stage, from the original design to the finished article.
A visit to the Centre for the Development of Creative Photography is an eye opener. Travelling exhibitions and varying monthly themes offer interesting new perspectives on life in Central Asia.
Sator i Magoki Sarai
It seems unfortunate that the last Emir of Bukhara, Alim Khan, was not able to enjoy his Summer Palace for long. Commissioned in 1826 under Nasrullokhan and finished just before the revolution by Mirsaid Alim Khan, the Palace is a wonderful example of how the Bukharian Emirs adapted to new style trends from abroad. Sitora I Mokhi Khoza and its surroundings are delightful and make an interesting contrast to the 16th century old town.
Take your time exploring the splendidly decorated reception rooms, the harem, the textile museum in one of the pavilions, and wander down to the lake along shady avenues where proud peacocks strut.
Paykent was the forerunner of Bukhara and high culture city state, not ruled by a governor but a merchants’ republic from the 2nd century. It fell into disrepair in the 8th Century after multiple conquests and when the river changed its course, destroying the foundations of the town which was built on the shores.
The archaeological site and the museum of Paykent are a 45 minute drive from Lyabi Hauz, in the lower reaches of the Zerafshan river. You may run into visiting scholars on archaeological expeditions, often from the Hermitage in St. Petersburg, who can give you background information on this Sogdian city, which held a key position along The Great Silk Road.
The history of Khiva and the Khorezm oasis is fascinating: a walk through the Ichan Kala, the old walled city of Khiva, will give you a unique insight into the past. On crossing the legendary Amudarya (Oxus) river, the mighty citadel rises before you and the main gate opens up to the old city. It becomes clear why Khiva is referred to as a ‘museum in the open’.
Today Khiva is the gateway to a region rich in history. Ancient Khorezm, which stretches up to Muynak, offers the opportunity to discover lost cities from the 6th century, sleep in a yurt or take a river boat ride. You can drive through villages made entirely from clay where the friendly inhabitants lead a lifestyle similar to that of their ancestors; donkey carts are still a common means of transportation and the villagers’ hospitality is renowned.
There are several small tea houses to be found inside Ichan Kala; delicious mantys and fried fish are found at the Zarafshan Chai Khana; lunch and dinner can be enjoyed at Bir Gumbaz near the Information Centre. Chai Khana Farruh, on the main pedestrian zone, is also a good choice. With advance booking, wonderful home cooking can be enjoyed at Mirzobashi and most hotels are happy to serve meals with some advance notice. Don’t miss out on steaming plov from Khorezm and fish specialties prepared from the day’s catch from the Amu Darya river.
Cool down in the heat of the summer with an ice cream, available on every corner, or a cold local beer in the evening under the stars; the night sky as seen from the old town is breath-taking and will imprint Khiva forever in your memory.
Khiva town was surrounded with two rows of walls, the Ichan-Kala (inner town) and Dishan-Kala (outer town). The wall of Ichan-Kala was created at the turn of the 6th century B.C. and are 10m high and 8m thick, built of adobe, capped with toothed railings and pierced by narrow cavities from which enemy attacks were overthrown. Some of the moats are still visible today, though they are no longer filled with water.
Ichan-Kala is the most densely populated part of Khiva, comprising both private residences and historic monuments turned into museums. Explore the lanes leading off the bazaar and you will understand that the Ichan-Kala has grown organically and not through urban planning. The span of arches and portals, high walls, light angled towers, cupolas, minarets, and lofty aywans with wooden columns create unexpected silhouettes.
The ramparts and town gates are rare samples of medieval fortification, beautifully preserved. Gates and access to public spaces were elaborate in design, for a city’s prestige was judged by the grandeur of its access. The gates were trimmed with beautiful multi-coloured glazed tiles and adorned with ayats from the Koran. The walls of Ichan-Kala have 4 gates: Ata-Darvaza, Palvan-Darvaza, Tash-Darvaza, and Bagcha-Darvaza.
The minaret was built by the order of Islam-Hoja, the prime minister of the Khan. This minaret is called the symbol of Khiva, its conical shape an early sample of the architecture of ancient Kunya-Urgench from the 14th century. The brickwork is based on a striped pattern from glazed tiles.
Minaret Kalta Minor
Kalta Minor was once planned to be the highest minaret in the Islamic world at 80m, but construction of the minaret was interrupted and the project abandoned on the death of its commissioner, the Khan himself, in 1855. As a result, the proportions between the height of 29m and the base diameter of 14.2m are not in line with the magnificent tower the Khiva ruler had in mind. Kalta Minor is, however, the only minaret entirely covered in glazed tiles.
Madressa of Shergazi Khan
Situated in the centre of the Ichan-Kala across from the entrance to the beautiful Pahlavon Mahmud mausoleum, the madressa of Shergazi Khan is listed as the oldest and biggest madressa of Khiva. Its entrance is 2m below street level due to the terrain.
Madressa of Muhammad Rakhim Khan II
The full name of the Khan was Said Muhammad Rakhim Bahadur Khan, although he was commonly known as Madrim Khan II. He also used the pseudonym, Feruz, to author poetry. The construction of madressa, which he had overseen, was completed in 1871 and is one of the largest in the Ichan-Kala. The view onto the madressa from Rakhim Khan’s private residence was short lived though, for in 1973 Khiva surrendered to the Russians and the Khan fled the city.
Madressa of Muhammad Amin Khan
Offering space for over 250 students, the madressa was the biggest in all of Central Asia in the 1850s with hujras on two stories. An innovative design, the students’ hujras on the second floor each had an annex, allowing for more space while those on the ground floor were open to the outer facade.
According to a description by the Arab geographer Al Muqaddasi, the mosque dates from the 10th century. This mosque is unique in its construction; it has no portals, cupolas, galleries or inner yard and access to the mosque is possible from three sides.
The ceiling of the huge hall rests on 213 wooden columns dating from various centuries. Small openings in the ceilings let in light and air. Along the southern wall, niches with stalactites stand out and on the right, a marble plate indicates profits and estates. The hand carved doors and columns are of special interest for they show different styles and techniques through the ages and some of them are even engraved with the year they were carved, namely 1316, 1517, 1788 and 1789.
Uch Avlioli Mausoleum
The huge hall of the mausoleum is covered by a cellular vault cupola, under which rest the remains of three saints. There are many burial places in the mausoleum; the earliest dates back to 1561, as inscribed on the panel of the entrance door. In the 1980’s the entrance portal, some of the columns and parts of the aywan were damaged by heavy rains. After many years of restoration, the mausoleum has once again become a frequently visited pilgrimage site.
Mausoleum of Said Allauddin
The building of the mausoleum borders upon the eastern walls of the Matniyaz Divan-begi madressa and was built in honour of the famous Sufi sheikh in 1303. The burial vault, with its cupola and its unique majolica headstone, is dated to the first half of the 14th century. A zioratkhona, the place where followers of Sufism held their rituals, was added in the 17th century.
The old fortress Kunya Ark connects the western wall of Ichan-Kala with the abode of the hermit, Ak Sheikh Bobo. At the end of the 18th century, Kunya Ark became a ‘town within a town’, and was separated from the Ichan-Kala by a high wall. At one time the fortress consisted of a multi yard complex encompassing the Khan’s winter and summer mosques, chancery, reception hall, harem and barns (stable, storehouses, workshops, powder mill). The present day structure of Kunya Ark in its restored state stems from the 19th century. The square near the entrance to Kunya Ark was used for military parades and training battles.
There was also a zindan (prison), bordering upon the eastern walls of Kunya Ark. All that remains of the former vast estate are the eastern gate and guard room and the Kurinish khona reception hall and aywan with anti chamber from the 1680s, though this was destroyed by Iranian invaders in the 18th century and subsequently re-constructed and adorned with beautiful majolica under Alla Kuli Khan. It is here that the Khan, seated on his throne, received his subjects, dignitaries and delegations. The wood carved throne, along with its silver ornaments, is now on display at the Moscow Museum.
Some of the best views of Khiva can be photographed at sunset from the Akshik Bobo ayvan high above the palace.
Tash Hauli Palace
The palace is situated in the eastern part of Khiva and was built between 1830 and 1838 by Alla Kuli Khan under the architectural leadership of Usto Kalandar Hivagi. Situated opposite his recently restored madressa, it features prime examples of exquisite geometric majolica compositions by a master craftsman, Abdulloh, nicknamed ‘the genius’.
The main purpose of the Tash Hauli was to provide living quarters for the ladies of the harem. On the southern part of the harem’s inner courtyard, four small aywans each belonged to one of the four official wives according to sharia law, with the fifth aywan reserved exclusively for the Khan himself. The period of the Alla Kuli Khans is characterized by strong governmental skills, successful international politics and progress in trade with Russia.
The woodcarving in Khiva is among the finest in Uzbekistan. Wander down the narrow lanes and pass through the carved wooden gates into the hidden courtyards, where many masters and their apprentices are engaged in this detailed craft.
Khiva is also famous for its ceramics and their blue and white glaze. Visit the UNESCO Carpet Workshop, where the entire process of the art of carpet weaving can be watched and unique carpets, mirroring the majolica tiles of the Ichan Kala, can be bought on site.
The Suzani Embroidery Workshop, established with the support of the British Council, makes beautifully handcrafted gifts. At the Alla Kulli Khan Madressa, which was elaborately restored a few years back, you will find some interesting shops including handwoven Allacha, the striped cloth of traditional Khorezm chapan coats.
The turquoise Khiva ceramics are very specific to the area and cannot be bought elsewhere.
Just as Uzbekistan is the heart of Central Asia, the Fergana Valley is the heart of Uzbekistan. Over seven million people, about a third of the population, live in this vast and fertile flood plain of the Syr Darya, the second largest river of Central Asia. The river sweeps down from the Pamirs into the Fergana valley which is 300 km long and 170km wide. It’s surrounded on three sides by the spurs of the Tian Shan; the Chatkal range to the north, Ferghana to the east and the Pamir-Alai to the south.
Parallel to the Syr Darya, the Fergana Channel, a man-made waterway, leads water from the mountains to urban centres. Ancient Chinese sources claim that Fergana was once an independent state and there is evidence to suggest that the area was settled in the Stone Age. During the Bronze Age this particular stretch of land was inhabited by tribes who thrived on cattle-breeding and farming. In 104 B.C.the Chinese ambassador Zhang Qian counted 70 big and small towns in this territory including Sokh, Uzgen, Kuva, and Akhsi. Among those that still prosper as small towns are Khudjand, Margilan, Kokand, Andijan, Namangan, and Rishtan.
One branch of the Great Silk Road led through the Fergana valley. As a result, the architecture of Fergana has been greatly influenced by Chinese, Indian and Persian cultures. Architectural remains testify to the existence of Buddhist temples and Nestorian churches in the valley. This leg of the Great Silk Road was paved with stones and had the status of a free-trade zone. Not surprisingly, it was a busy route for merchants and caravans who made use of the many caravanserais, warehouses and workshops producing a variety of tradable goods along the way.
It is currently the country’s most industrial region, providing significant agricultural exports including vast quantities of cotton, Uzbekistan’s ‘white gold’.
The Khanate of Kokand is one of three states that existed on the territory of Central Asia before the revolution. In contrast to the Bukhara Emirate and the Khiva Khanate, which were Russian protectorates until the onset of the Soviet era, Kokand was conquered by Russian troops and joined the Russian empire in 1876. At this time the Kokand Khanate was ruled by the khans of the Ming dynasty.
Kokand was founded later than the other cities in the Fergana Valley. Nevertheless, soon it flourished and became an important trade and religious centre. The Khudoyarkhan Palace, built at the end of the 19th century, is the most significant site to visit. It became the symbol of the entire valley due to its role in Kokand’s rich history.
The facade of the palace with four towers is inlayed with ceramic tiles. A wide ramp leads to the main entrance; the gates of the palace are a masterpiece of wood engraving. The domed room of the darvozkhana is decorated with large stucco patterns. Khudoyarkhan’s throne-room is the most splendid room in the palace. It is decorated with many forms of traditional art; the ceiling is ornamented with 14 golden figured cavities, called khavzaks.
On joining the Russian empire, the throne room became the Orthodox Church; boys and girls schools were established on the premises of the palace. After the October revolution, it became the administrative centre of the poor and farmers’ union – Koshchi. In 1924 the palace was the venue for the agricultural exhibition of the Fergana region and a year later, in 1925, it was restructured into the museum. During the Second World War it served as a military hospital.
Margilan – one of the ancient cities of Fergana valley – is renowned for the breeding of silk worms and subsequently for the quality of its silk. Until the 14th century the town was a major stopover on the Silk Road. According to national legends the settlement’s history can be traced back to the period of Alexander the Great.
The many mulberry trees in Margilan bear witness to the thriving silk industry, mulberry leaves being the main source of food for silkworms. The city is famous for its distinctly patterned khan-atlas and its printed silk fabric. Via the Silk Road, parcels of silk from Margilan were carried by camel to Baghdad, Kashgar, Khurasan, Egypt and Greece. With such a longstanding tradition it is not surprising that even today Margilan is the centre of Uzbekistan’s handwoven silk production, with several workshops scattered around town. The Yodgorlik Silk Factory on Imam Zakhriddin street is the easiest to visit, open daily with a free tour and a shop.
For nearly three centuries, from 1598 to 1876, Margilan belonged to the Khanate of Kokand. When Central Asia was integrated into the Russian Empire on the 8th September 1875, Margilan became the capital of the district and a wholesale market for silk and cotton. By then Margilan had suffered numerous conquests by the Arabs, Tataro-Mongolians and Iranians. Such conquests left many a bloody trail throughout the reigns of the Temurids, Sheybanids and other rulers.
Considerable reconstruction of historical architecture has taken place over the last decades. The complex around the Pir-Siddik mausoleum was constructed in the middle of the 18th century. Its name derives from the legend of a pigeon that saved the life of a saint. Pigeons are therefore now held in high esteem on the grounds of the complex.
The Khodja-Magiz mausoleum is from the early 18th century and is architecturally the most superior memorial building in Margilan.
The Madrassa Said-Ahmadkhodja and its ornamental mosque in the adjacent yard was built in the late 19th century. For the weary traveller, the Mosque is a haven of peace, the plane trees providing much needed shade and some respite from the sun.
A mere 50 km from Fergana lies Rishtan, famous since the 9th century for its pottery. For over a thousand years, specialised skills and knowledge of pottery work has been passed from generation to generation.
Rishtan ceramics are shaped from local red clay, which is found in abundance around the settlement. Its specific glazing is created by mixing ground minerals and ashes from indigenous plants found in the nearby mountains. Traditional big platters – lyagan, deep bowls – shokosa, water jars, milk jugs and many other pieces are all burnished with this glaze of turquoise and ultramarine known as ishkor. Such distinctive quality has made Rishtani ceramic masters celebrated all over the world.
Ceramics from Rishtan are coveted gifts and prized possessions in both private and museum collections.
Archaeological excavations have shown the city to have had a strong historical presence dating back to the 10th century.
Formerly known as Aksikent, it was the wealthy capital of Fergana for three hundred years until the 13th Century, when it was razed to the ground by Mongolian conquerors. It was destroyed once again in the 18th Century by a powerful earthquake.
In 1875 Namangan became a part of the Russian Empire and was swiftly reinvented as a model Russian garrison town with the classic fan shaped street layout. At the beginning of the 20th century Namangan had grown into the second biggest city and the cotton processing centre for the entire Fergana valley.
The Khodja Amin mausoleum and the Madrassa Mullo-Kirgiz still remain as testament to the time before the Russian revolution.
Kuva is one of the earliest settlements in the Fergana valley, with some remains being traced back to the 3rd century B.C. In medieval times, the city was known as Kuba and was situated along the ancient road which connected the Fergana valley with Kashgar.
It was once second only to Aksikent in terms of its culture and economy, but was similarly destroyed by the Mongolian invasion in the 13th Century. During excavations, archaeologists also discovered the foundations of a Buddhist temple dated to the 6th to 8th centuries A.D.
Kuva is also the native city of the famous medieval scientist Al-Fergany, who was well-known in Europe under the name Alfraganus.
Shakhrisabsz means ‘Green City’ and indeed, as you look down from the mountain pass over the plains, the reason for this becomes apparent. The drive there takes you through a wealth of orchards, fertile fields and vineyards.
The architectural landmarks of Shakhrisabsz are at least 500 years old; the famous Ak Saray Palace and the Jahangir Mausoleum were built in the late 14th and early 15th centuries.
Among the most important historical monuments are the Shamsiddin Kilab Mazar, the Kok Gumbaz Grand Mosque, and the Gumbazi Saidan Mausoleum. They all date back to Timurid times, which is unsurprising as Shakhrisabz was Amir Temur’s hometown, at one time overshadowing neighbouring Samarkand.
The local bazaar and the city’s ancient bathhouse, both from the 15th century are also stopovers on the grand tour.
Shakhrisabsz is a traditional centre of folk art and is renowned for its distinctive embroidery style, a very complex flat stitch that covers the base fabric entirely. The embroidering ladies from Shakhrisabsz are famous throughout Uzbekistan, where they are a fixture at every craft fair. Their embroidered waistcoats are proudly worn in places as far away as Canada and Japan.
The imposing Ak Saray, the White Palace, was Tamerlane’s favourite and most ambitious undertaking in his home town. Clavijo, the Spanish envoy to Samarkand, reported back in the early 15th century that it was a colossal 40m structure with a pool on its roof. Beautiful filigree-like blue, white and gold mosaics remain and it is awe-inspiring to imagine the splendour and size of the original construction.
Kok Gumbaz Mosque and Doru Tilovat
The mosque was built by Ulug Bek near the original mausoleums of Sheikh Shamsuddin Kulal, teacher and spiritual mentor of Temur and Temur’s father Amir Taragay. The tombstone of the Sheikh is said to have curative effects and it is decorated with opulent marble ornaments. The blue domed mosque was designed as a Friday Mosque and, like almost everything Ulug Bek commissioned, the shape of the inner dome was executed with incredible geometrical accuracy and complicated engineering, which resulted in its outstanding acoustic effects. The Imam, upon your request, will recite a sura of the Koran and a prayer, which will not fail to affect you, whatever your religion may be. These are holy sites famous throughout the entire Islamic world.
The first settlement on the grounds of Termez can be traced back to the Bactrian kingdom in the 4th century B.C. and there is speculation that the foundations were laid by troops of Alexander the Great, who had a tremendous cultural influence on the region.
The ancient name of Termez Tarmit stems from the name of the Greek-Bactrian King Demetriy, who built a citadel here. The citadel was destroyed by the Mongols under Genghis Khan, but the Russians built a garrison town on the same spot in 1888. The town became an important hub for power supply, communication and transportation and the construction of telegraph cables and railway tracks enabled Termez to grow into a strategic military stronghold for the Russians in their Afghanistan campaign in the 1970’s. Today the city is also a key transit point for goods from Afghanistan, some legal and some contraband.
For decades a ‘forbidden city’, inaccessible to visitors, Termez is nowadays the administrative centre of the Surkhandaria region with important sightseeing points in and around town. Termez is mentioned in scriptures by Chinese travellers as early as the 7th century. Greek, Armenian, Persian and Arabic sources also mention its most famous inhabitant, Hakim-al-Termizi, by his full name: Abu Abdullah Muhammad bin Ali bin Hasan bin Bashir al-Hakim al Termizi. Born around 750 A.D, Al Termizi grew up in a family of scholars and intellectuals and became one of the most noted thinkers of his time. His graveside and mausoleum are an essential visit for they also command a view over the Amudarya river on to the deserted plains of Afghanistan.
A major Buddhist site of interest outside the town is the ancient capital of the Kushan empire of the 1st century B.C., Dalverzintepa. You might even be able to observe a Japanese archaeological team and their Uzbek colleagues at work, excavating coins, statues, frescoes, tools and jewellery from this ancient fortified town and its large temple complex. When Dalverzintepa was first re-discovered in 1967, 36kg of gold, silver and precious stones was unearthed and made international headlines amongst the archaeological community.
Kara-Tepe, a temple complex of the 2nd and 3rd century, is well worth visiting, as is the unique building of the forty virgins Kirk-Kiz. At the time of writing Kara-Tepe was off limits to tourists as it is situated right on the Afghan border in a sensitive military zone and special permits are required to visit. You could try a well-connected travel agency to find the necessary permits.
Termez boasts the highest average temperatures in Uzbekistan: the winter is warm and the summer is long-lasting and hot. Regular flights get you to Termez from Tashkent and Moscow or you can opt for the train ride from Tashkent via Samarkand. As Termez has hosted a German airbase, there are now numerous hotels in the city and a host of restaurants and cafes catering to European tastes.
Nukus is often either the starting point or final destination of a tour through Uzbekistan. Officially founded 75 years ago and located in the heart of the Kizil Kum desert, the foundations of ancient settlements on the same spot indicate habitation since the 4th century B.C.
Nukus has become a definitive destination due to the world famous Karakalpak State Art Museum, also known as The Igor Savitskiy Museum. Originally from Kiev and raised in Moscow, Savitskiy fell in love with Karakalpakstan and its folk art on an archaeological expedition he joined in 1950. To the amazement of the local population, he tracked down objects of Karakalpak cultural heritage and subsequently opened the new State Museum in 1966. He also used the museum to collect work by artists living in Central Asia and store forbidden avant-garde art through his close connections with artistic circles in Moscow. Today the collection of Russian art is the largest in the world outside of Moscow. Savitskiy devoted his life to the museum. The building is now falling into minor disrepair, but there remains an outstanding collection comprising 90,000 pieces. A surprising contrast of fine and modern art sit alongside an excellent exhibition of archaeological finds of ancient Khorezm. The UK’s “The Guardian” newspaper recently filed an article on the museum, which you can read via this link.
Nukus is the starting point of the Golden Ring of Khorezm, a tour along the relics of a high culture defined by urban centres, the kalas, which thrived for 2000 years along the original Great Silk Road and river bed of the Amudarya river, before it changed its course.
Toprak Kala (1st – 4th centuries A.D.)
The former capital of ancient Khorezm, Toprak-Kala is situated in the Ellikkalinsky district of Karakalpakstan. The rectangular fortification wall, once 9m high, protected a city state containing important temple complexes, the relics of which are currently exhibited at the Nukus Museum. A miniature model at the museum provides an understanding of the scale at which Toprak Kala was constructed.
Ayaz Kala (4th – 2nd centuries B.C.)
40 km to the north-east of the town of Beruni, the impressive ruins of Ayaz Kala are perched high on a hill overlooking the once fertile plains. Ayaz Kala’s 3-tiers cling onto a cliff, and it is quite miraculous how the exposed bricks of the walls have withstood the ravages of time and weather. The exact purpose of Ayaz Kala has yet to be determined for there is little indication that it was used as human habitat. Below Ayaz Kala, on the same elevation, the Ayaz Kala Yurt Camp provides comfortable accommodation. To spend a night at this very well appointed camp, enjoying delicious food under millions of stars, is one of the great experiences on any Uzbekistan trip.
Big Guldursun (5th – 3rd centuries B.C.)
A mere 20 km to east of Beruni, this huge and well preserved fortress with side walls over 300m long has yielded many archaeological objects of daily use such as ceramics, bronze coins, pottery and jewellery.
Mizdakhkan (Gyaur-Kala in Khodjeli) (4th century B.C.)
The Ancient Mizdahkan archaeological complex is located on three hills in the south-western suburbs of Khodjeli town. It includes the Gyaur-Kala fortress, the Shamun Nabi mausoleum, the Mazlumkhan Sulu, Khalfa Erejep and a caravanserai. During archaeological excavations, unique ossuaries (the burial receptacles of Zoroastrians) were unearthed next to coins, household items, glassware and gold.
The legend of the Mazlumkhan Mausoleum claims that a beautiful girl called Mazlumkhan and a builder fell in love with each other. To prove his love, the builder set out to build the highest tower in her honour. When Mazlumkhan’s father refused to allow his daughter to marry the ambitious builder, the desperate couple jumped together from that very tower to meet their death. Another legend claims the mausoleum to be the tomb of a holy man who nurtured the religion of Islam at its earliest stage. Near the entrance of the mausoleum is a pile of baked bricks. It is said that each year, one baked brick falls down from the wall and the day the last brick drops is to be doomsday…
Chilpik (2nd – 4th centuries A.D.)
Off the road from Khiva to Nukus, a circular silhouette is highlighted against the southern horizon. This hill is 40m high and represents the remains of a former Zoroastrian temple and burial site, which can still be climbed today.
Jampyk Kala (4th – 6th centuries A.D.)
6 km to the south-east of Karatau village and behind the first chain of south-western Sultanuizdag’s black mountain range, this fantastic, pink coloured citadel is well worth the detour. Plenty of artefacts are still to be found and archaeologists have unearthed precious objects from places as far away as China, Egypt, Russia, Europe, and India, an indicator that Jampyk was an important trading point. Indeed, Jampyk is adjacent to a branch of the Amudarya river – the settlement used to serve as a port with barges transporting goods in large quantities both north and south.
The place we’ve all seen pictures of. Rusting hulks of ships sitting in the deep desert, dozens of miles from the nearest shore. The relics of an ecological mishap, stemming from the Soviet desire to use the land of the region for growing cotton. Diverting rivers has led to a 60% decrease in the area of the Aral Sea, increase in the salinity of the remaining “sea”, the collapse of the fishing industry for which Nukus was once a primary port and the increase in salt-laden winds carrying sands out across the fertile agricultural plains of the Amy Darya and Syr Darya rivers. It is a very poignant place.
The wide variety of flora and fauna and favourable climate attracts many ecological tourists. There are ten nature reserves in Uzbekistan, which display a variety of unique landscapes from velvet sand to flowering oases, stunning scenery from the Tugai River to Alpine plains, the desert lake Aydarkul, the lofty glacier Fedchenko and the surviving coniferous woods on the Pskem mountainside. There is a thriving bird population, attracted to the lakes and forests for nesting opportunities. The forests are also home to mammals such as bears and lynx whereas wolves, hares and birds of prey can be found in more rocky mountainous habitat.
The Badai-Tugai reserve was established in the Karakalpak Autonomous Republic in 1971. It covers an area of 6,497 hectares and is situated in the lower reaches of the Amudarya, on the territories of Beruniy and Kegeyliy, on the right bank of the river.
The Hissar reserve was founded in 1994 and its current territory occupies 80,986 hectares. It is situated in a typical mountainous area with canyons and karst caves, mountain streams, water-falls and small glaciers. There is also a large stretch of coniferous woods, which is home to many species of birds.
The Zamin mountain-coniferous nature reserve covers an area of 10.5 hectares, of which 4,161 hectares are forests.
The Zerafshan nature reserve was created in 1975 in the Samarkand region. Occupying 2,352 hectares it is located in the flood lands of the Zerafshan River in the Bulungur and Jambay regions of Samarkand, typical of a valley and flood-tugai reserve. Since 1999, deer reproduction in this area has been supported by a project sponsored by WWF, and there is widespread international support for its breeding programmes.
Kitab Geological Preserve in the Kitab region of Kashkadarya, was established in 1979; this mountainous landscape has yielded many examples of fossils and evidence of life millions of years ago, some of which are on display in the museum on site.
The Kizilkum Tugai-Sand nature reserve is located along the riverside of the Amudarya and comprises of forest, sand and flood lands.
Situated in the Jizzak region on the northern side of Nuratau, the Nurata nature reserve was established to protect the population of rare species of mammals, such as the Severtsov sheep.
Surkhan Forest-Mountain nature reserve is found in the South-West branches of the Hissar Mountains as part of the Pamir-Alay mountainous system. In the southern part of Baysuntau there is a well-known cave, Teshik-Tash, where the skeleton of a Neanderthal boy was found.
Chatkal forest-mountain biosphere reserve consists of two areas, Bashkizilsay and Maydantal, separated from each other by mountain passes. Maydantal is hardly accessible and can be reached only by walking or horseback.
Uzbek people do not only like to eat but also to prepare delicious food. For the honoured guest, the host rolls up his sleeves and cooks the national dish, plov, serving this local rice dish on a large, hand painted lyagan plate.
All regions have their own traditional plov and every area has their very own distinct recipe. Plov is always accompanied by fresh salad, syuzma and chakka (dairy specialties made from buttermilk) as the perfect counter-balance to the richness of the dish.
Plov is made with heads of garlic, raisins, almonds, peas and quince. The remaining ingredients depend on the imagination of the cook, who is known as ‘osh-paz’. The plov course is always followed by hot and aromatic green tea. It also serves as the ultimate street food, a large queue of faithful customers being a reliable advertisement for quality.
If you visit grocery stores in Tashkent however, it may seem that the traditional food of Uzbek people is ravioli. Mantys are the equivalent of ravioli in Uzbekistan. They are steamed dumplings stuffed with diced potato or meat with onion and spices. Meat prepared for the filling of the mantys is never minced but cut into tiny pieces so that the meat stays juicy and does not lose its flavour.
Soup plays an important part in Uzbekistan cooking. The rich shurpa is made up of a golden broth with mutton or beef, potato and carrots; many of the soups based on dairy products are typical only to Uzbek cuisine and originated from their nomadic ancestors.
The interlacing of traditions and cultures on the Great Silk Road can be observed even in cookery, as demonstrated by the arguments about the origin of macaroni. It is most likely that it was invented in the East. Try lagman, the ancestor of modern spaghetti – the preparation of this long vermicelli is very difficult and mastered only by skilled chefs. The vermicelli are flung back and forth through the air with very specific flicks of the wrist and are entirely handmade.
Many snack bars prepare and sell not only traditional pastries, but also samsa. Samsa is baked in a tandyr clay oven, with the baking process being an art form in itself. To throw the filled dough triangle onto the interior clay wall of the hot tandyr where it sticks until it is ready and knowing when to remove it before it falls into the flames, requires talent and skill.
Along the road from Tashkent to Samarkand, the road side chaikhanas are famous for an unmissable delicacy: tandyr-kebab, mutton grilled in the wood burning clay oven, over branches of juniper.
Shashlyk – marinated skewered meat – is served in almost all cafes and restaurants. There are different kinds of shashlyk, from mutton, beef, chicken, fish and liver. The more fat on the meat the better as that’s where the best flavour comes from.
Tea is just as important as food in Uzbekistan. Dinner begins with a bowl of tea; tea is served with rich dishes and tea finishes a dinner and is drunk with sweets. People from different regions enjoy different types of tea. In most parts of Uzbekistan in the East and South (Bukhara, Samarkand, Fergana Valley) people drink green tea, while in Tashkent and the Northern regions black tea is preferred.
In case anyone thought the Russian hangover had passed, many Uzbeks (despite their Muslim heritage) are heavy drinkers enjoying vodka drunk with numerous toasts. There is a fair amount of pressure to down each shot poured, so be prepared for a heavy night with locals. Russian and European beers are also available, and occasionally you find a good local beer, which, if it is served cold, is welcome relief from the summer heat.
The Uzbek nation is one of the most ancient and vital nations in the world.
In the 4th century B.C. the inhabitants of the lands of Uzbekistan changed their nomadic lifestyle and settled in these fertile areas. At the dawn of civilization, settlers made a distinctive culture their own and it has remained largely similar to that of the times of Darius and Alexander the Great. Even the migration of entire peoples through its territory or the intrusion of the Mongolians did not dilute that local culture. Only Islam, introduced with the Arab conquest, had a slight influence on the Uzbek people, yet it did not override the essence of Uzbek culture but blended in to harmonise with existing values.
Naturally, modern life and globalisation brought changes, but most Uzbek families still honour the ways of their ancestors. The common Uzbek family consists of several generations of relatives living together. There is a specific hierarch: all members obey the head of the family and respect the elderly. An Uzbek woman is a wife and a mother, but also the subordinate of her mother and father in law. But it is not perceived as discrimination, just as an ancient tradition based on life. Children are the most cherished members of the family.
‘Mahalla’ is a community of neighbours living in one street, part of town or village, with their own institutions of local government and its own subculture and traditions – the traditional form of social order.
The noblest tradition is khashar, mutual aid. The customary tradition is that of hospitality. Adhering to the code of welcoming one’s guests is more valuable than the wealth of the host. Do not refuse your host’s invitation for dinner or you may hurt his feelings. While visiting a home it is customary to present souvenirs or sweets for the children. The host will meet you at the gate, greet you, ask about your business and life and invite you inside. Guests are welcomed in the reception room or in the yard. When you enter the living quarters take off your shoes. The richly laid-out table dastarkhan is placed at the centre of the room, veranda or in the yard under the trees or vines.
The seats farthest from the gate or entrance are the most honourable ones. Usually women sit separately from men, but in cities this rule is rarely kept. Dinner starts and finishes by drinking tea. Sweets, pastries, dried fruits, nuts, fresh fruits and vegetables are served as appetizers and at the end of dinner. Also, plov or another main dish is served for guests. It is obligatory that round flat bread lepyoshka is broken and placed on the dastarkhan.
The essential part of every dinner is the tea-drinking ceremony. Preparing and serving tea is always the job of the host. Tea is infused in the tea-pot and poured into pyalas (small bowls). A humble amount of tea in a pyala is the sign of utmost hospitality so the more honourable the guest is, the less tea is in his pyala. For a guest to hold out the empty pyala for extra tea means he is paying tribute to the host. Uninvited guests are served a full pyala of tea, so you will know when it is time to leave!
Islam plays the most significant part of life in Uzbek families. The religion exists in both private and family life; it also influences the art and the way of people’s life in public.
But some traditions are different from conventional Islamic rules. For instance, the obligatory visit to Mecca in Saudi Arabia is replaced by a pilgrimage to the ‘sacred places’. There are some customs regarding marriage and upbringing of children which are unique to the region. These traditions often show the intertwining of Islamic beliefs with pre-Islamic practice.
Uzbek people are very friendly. It is customary to shake hands while greeting (except with a woman, unless she first extends her hand). While shaking hands you will be asked about your health, business and life. There is also another way of greeting, putting the right hand on the heart and bowing the head.
Uzbek men commonly wear dark coloured padded coats chapans but occasionally you will see striped ones or for special occasions, the luxurious golden-embroidered chapans. Women wear the voluminous national dress and straight-cut wide trousers with colourful scarves. Men wear a type of skull cap. The kids’ skull-caps are by far more diverse, embroidered and colorful with splendid brushes, pom-poms and amulets. The skull-caps of different regions vary from each other in their forms, design and colour.
Taking into account the influence of the world’s fashions, most people in big cities and villages keep abreast of the times, especially young people. Nevertheless famous Uzbek embroidered clothes and traditional head-dresses are still held in great esteem and often preferred over the European style.
The arts and crafts of Uzbekistan have enjoyed well-earned fame for centuries. The pre-eminence of the arts can be attributed to historical conditions, such as the emergence of urban oasis and a bourgeoisie who had the means to beautify their homes, shaping the cultural development of the Uzbek people. Uzbeks have developed their technical and artistic traditions over centuries. The applied art reflects everyday life; its main attribute is the close connection between artistic creativity and daily material necessity.
The social nature of decorative art lies in its collectivity. Art is the heritage of many generations; it represents a series of consecutive layers, reflecting people’s culture through the ages. The skills and knowledge imparted by various ethnic groups that eventually came together to constitute the Uzbek nation created this diversity of artistic traditions that is the distinguishing feature in works of art of all genres.
Amongst the many artistic traditions that still thrive today is the production of decorative ceramics, their distinctive glazes being a key indication of where they were produced. In the Fergana valley and Khorezm, where the alkaline glaze ishkor is used, blue, white, and green colours are predominant. In the areas where lead glaze is used as in Samarkand, Bukhara, and Tashkent, shades of the yellow-red-brown spectrum prevail. The ceramic paintings in these districts are defined by their deep, glowing colour range, and at the same time their surprisingly delicate beauty.
Fabric design in Uzbekistan is an outstanding example of folk art. The past and present are wonderfully combined – the traditions of ancient folk art interwoven with the knowledge and understanding of modern times. The art of decorative fabric acts as a kind of history book, reflecting its centuries-old development, and embodying the creative work of many thousands of talented masters and weavers. In the second half of the 19th century, miscellaneous plain and patterned hand-made fabrics of simple and complex texture were designed and produced. This is what we now refer to as ikat.