Samarkand (from Sogdian: "Stone Fort" or "Rock Town"; Uzbek: Samarqand; Persian: سمرقند; Cyrillic/Russian: Самарканд), alternatively Samarqand or Samarcand, is a city in modern-day Uzbekistan and is one of the oldest inhabited cities in Central Asia. There is evidence of human activity in the area of the city from the late Paleolithic era, though there is no direct evidence of when exactly Samarkand proper was founded; some theories are that it was founded between the 8th and 7th centuries BC. Prospering from its location on the Silk Road between China and the Mediterranean, at times Samarkand was one of the greatest cities of Central Asia.
By the time of the Achaemenid Empire of Persia, it was the capital of the Sogdian satrapy. The city was taken by Alexander the Great in 329 BC, when it was known by its Greek name of Marakanda. The city was ruled by a succession of Iranian, Persian, and Turkic peoples until the Mongols under Genghis Khan conquered Samarkand in 1220. Today, Samarkand is the capital of Samarqand Region, and Uzbekistan's second largest city.
The city is noted for being an Islamic centre for scholarly study. In the 14th century it became the capital of the empire of Timur (Tamerlane) and is the site of his mausoleum (the Gur-e Amir). The Bibi-Khanym Mosque (a modern replica) remains one of the city's most notable landmarks. The Registan was the ancient center of the city. The city has carefully preserved the traditions of ancient crafts: embroidery, gold embroidery, silk weaving, engraving on copper, ceramics, carving, and painting on wood. In 2001, UNESCO added the city to its World Heritage List as Samarkand – Crossroads of Cultures.
The name probably originates in the Sogdian words asmara, "stone", "rock" and kand, "fort", "town".
Along with Bukhara, Samarkand is one of the oldest inhabited cities in Central Asia, prospering from its location on the trade route between China and the Mediterranean (Silk Road).
Archeological excavations held within the city limits (Syob and midtown) as well as suburban areas (Hojamazgil, Sazag'on) unearthed evidence of human activity as early as 40,000 years old, in the late Paleolithic era. A group of Mesolithic era (12th-7th millennium BC) archeological sites were discovered at Sazag'on-1, Zamichatosh, and Okhalik (suburbs of the city). The Syob and Darg'om canals, supplying the city and its suburbs with water, appeared around the 7th to 5th centuries BC (early Iron Age). There is no direct evidence when Samarkand was founded. Researchers of the Institute of Archeology of Samarkand argue for the existence of the city between the 8th and 7th centuries BC.
Samarkand has been one of the main centres of Sogdian civilization from its early days. By the time of the Achaemenid dynasty of Persia it had become the capital of the Sogdian satrapy.
Alexander the Great conquered Samarkand in 329 BC. The city was known as Maracanda by the Greeks. Written sources offer small clues as to the subsequent system of government. They tell of an Orepius who became ruler "not from ancestors, but as a gift of Alexander". While Samarkand suffered significant damage during Alexander's initial conquest, the city recovered rapidly and under the new Hellenic influence flourished. There were also major new construction techniques; oblong bricks were replaced with square ones and superior methods of masonry and plastering were introduced. Alexander's conquests introduced into Central Asia classical Greek culture; at least for a time the Greek models were followed closely by the local artisans. This Greek legacy continued as the city became part of the various Greek successor states that emerged following Alexander's death: it would become part of the Seleucid Empire, Greco-Bactrian Kingdom, and Kushan Empire, successively. After the Kushan era the city declined; it did not really revive until the 5th century.
Samarkand was conquered by the Sassanians around 260 AD. Under Sassanian rule, the region became an essential site for Manichaeism, and facilitated the dissemination of the religion throughout central Asia.
After the Hephtalites conquered Samarkand, they controlled it until the Göktürks, in an alliance with the Sassanid Persians, captured it during the Battle of Bukhara. The Turks ruled over Samarkand until they were defeated by the Sassanids during the Göktürk–Persian Wars. After the Arab conquest of Iran, the Turks conquered Samarkand and held it until the Turkic khaganate collapsed due to wars with the Chinese Tang Dynasty. During this time the city became a protectorate and paid tribute to the ruling Tang. The armies of the Umayyad Caliphate under Qutayba ibn Muslim captured the city in around 710 from Turks.
During this period, Samarkand was a diverse religious community and was home to a number of religions, including Buddhism, Zoroastrianism, Hinduism, Manichaeism, Judaism, and Nestorian Christianity. However, after the Arab conquest of Sogdiana, Islam became the dominant religion, with much of the population converting.
Legend has it that during Abbasid rule, the secret of papermaking was obtained from two Chinese prisoners from the Battle of Talas in 751, which led to the foundation of the first paper mill of the Islamic world in Samarkand. The invention then spread to the rest of the Islamic world, and from there to Europe.
Abbasid control of Samarkand soon dissipated and was replaced with that of the Samanids (862–999), though it must be noted that the Samanids were still nominal vassals of the Caliph during their control of Samarkand. Under Samanid rule the city became one of the capitals of the Samanid dynasty and an even more important link amongst numerous trade routes. The Samanids were overthrown by Karakhanids around 1000. During the next two hundred years, Samarkand would be ruled by a succession of Turkish tribes, including the Seljuqs and the Khwarazm-Shahs.
The 10th-century Iranian author Istakhri, who travelled in Transoxiana, provides a vivid description of the natural riches of the region he calls "Smarkandian Sogd":
I know no place in it or in Samarkand itself where if one ascends some elevated ground one does not see greenery and a pleasant place, and nowhere near it are mountains lacking in trees or a dusty steppe....Samakandian Sogd...[extends] eight days travel through unbroken greenery and gardens....The greenery of the trees and sown land extends along both sides of the river [Sogd]...and beyond these fields is pasture for flocks. Every town and settlement has a fortress...It is the most fruitful of all the countries of Allah; in it are the best trees and fruits, in every home are gardens, cisterns and flowing water...
The Mongols conquered Samarkand in 1220. Although Genghis Khan "did not disturb the inhabitants [of the city] in any way", according to Juvaini he killed all who took refuge in the citadel and the mosque. He also pillaged the city completely and conscripted 30,000 young men along with 30,000 craftsmen. Samarkand suffered at least one other Mongol sack by Khan Baraq to get treasure he needed to pay an army. It was part of Chagatai Khanate until 1370.
The Travels of Marco Polo, where Polo records his journey along the Silk Road, describes Samarkand as "a very large and splendid city..."
The Yenisei area had a community of weavers of Chinese origin and Samarkand and Outer Mongolia both had artisans of Chinese origin seen by Changchun.
In 1365, a revolt against Mongol control occurred in Samarkand.
In 1370 Timur, the founder and ruler of the Timurid Empire, made Samarkand his capital. During the next 35 years, he rebuilt most of the city and populated it with the great artisans and craftsmen from across the empire. Timur gained a reputation as a patron of the arts and Samarkand grew to become the centre of the region of Transoxiana. Timur's commitment to the arts is evident in the way he was ruthless with his enemies but merciful towards those with special artistic abilities. He spared the lives of artists, craftmen and architects so that he could bring them to improve and beautify his capital. He was also directly involved in his construction projects and his visions often exceeded the technical abilities of his workers. Furthermore, the city was in a state of constant construction and Timur would often request buildings to be done and redone quickly if he was unsatisfied with the results. Timur made it so that the city could only be reached by roads and also ordered the construction of deep ditches and walls, that would run five miles (8.0 km) in circumference, separating the city from the rest of its surrounding neighbors. During this time the city had a population of about 150,000. This great period of reconstruction is encapsulated in the account of Henry III's ambassador, Ruy Gonzalez de Clavijo, who was stationed there between 1403 and 1406. During his stay the city was typically in a constant state of construction. "The Mosque which Timur had caused to be built in memory of the mother of his wife...seemed to us the noblest of all those we visited in the city of Samarkand, but no sooner had it been completed than he begun to find fault with its entrance gateway, which he now said was much too low and must forthwith be pulled down."
Between 1424 and 1429, the great astronomer Ulugh Beg built the Samarkand Observatory. The sextant was 11 metres long and once rose to the top of the surrounding three-storey structure, although it was kept underground to protect it from earthquakes. Calibrated along its length, it was the world's largest 90-degree quadrant at the time. However, the observatory was destroyed by religious fanatics in 1449.
In 1500 the Uzbek nomadic warriors took control of Samarkand. The Shaybanids emerged as the Uzbek leaders at or about this time.
In the second quarter of the 16th century, the Shaybanids moved their capital to Bukhara and Samarkand went into decline. After an assault by Nader Shah the city was abandoned in the 18th century, about 1720 or a few years later.
From 1599 to 1756, Samarkand was ruled by the Ashtarkhanid dynasty of Bukhara.
From 1756 to 1868, Samarkand was ruled by the Manghyt emirs of Bukhara.
The city came under Russian rule after the citadel had been taken by a force under Colonel Konstantin Petrovich von Kaufman in 1868. Shortly thereafter the small Russian garrison of 500 men were themselves besieged. The assault, which was led by Abdul Malik Tura, the rebellious elder son of the Bukharan Emir, as well as Baba Beg of Shahrisabz and Jura Beg of Kitab, was repelled with heavy losses. Alexander Abramov became the first Governor of the Military Okrug, which the Russians established along the course of the Zeravshan River, with Samarkand as the administrative centre. The Russian section of the city was built after this point, largely to the west of the old city.
In 1886, the city became the capital of the newly formed Samarkand Oblast of Russian Turkestan and grew in importance still further when the Trans-Caspian railway reached the city in 1888. It became the capital of the Uzbek SSR in 1925 before being replaced by Tashkent in 1930.
Historically, Samarkand was a diverse religious community. Since the 8th century when the Arabs entered Central Asia, Islam has become the main religion. According to some sources, approximately 90% of people are Sunni while Christianity, and Judaism are minor religions.
Since the advent of Islam, many mosques, madrasas, and mausoleum were built and all of these make the city very attractive for tourists to visit. What is more, it is very common to notice that until these days many prayers are led in mosques especially on Friday prayer or Jummah. Many of these monuments were built during 14th–15th centuries by Tamerlane including Registan Mosque and madrasas, Bibi-Khanum Mosque, the Shakhi-Zinda compound and the Gur-Emir ensemble, as well as Ulugh-Beg's Observatory
There are some Shia towns in Samarkand where Shia Muslims are composed almost entirely of ethnic-Iranians. They have their own mosques, graveyards, and mausoleum. Furthermore, they have their own prayer, religious holiday, and community.
Christianity is diminishing since majority of Christians have been leaving the city year by year. Majority ethnic Christians include: Russians, Koreans, Ukrainians, and Armenians. A very few churches have any services or do not hold any services.
Even though 90% of the population of Uzbekistan are Muslims, Islam is not followed strictly. It can be easily seen by visiting Samarkand and how people wear clothes, especially youth, talk about religion and think about it. Many tourists state that people of Samarkand are becoming more westernized rather than keeping their ancestors' tradition and culture. In spite of following Islam, many Muslims in Samarkand drink alcohol especially during weddings, holidays and birthdays. In addition, there are 14 small wine manufacturers in Uzbekistan and one of the oldest and famous one is in Samarkand. People have habit of drinking vodka to celebrate good days with their relatives, friends, and neighbors.
- The Registan, a famous example of Islamic architecture. It consists of three separate buildings:
- Madrasa of Ulugh Beg (1417–1420)
- Sher-Dor Madrasah (Lions Gate) (1619–1635/36).
- Tilla-Kori Madrasah (1647–1659/60).
- Bibi-Khanym Mosque (replica)
- Gur-e Amir Mausoleum (1404)
- Observatory of Ulugh Beg (1428–1429)
- Shah-i-Zinda necropolis
- Historical site of Afrasiyab (7th century BC – 13th century)
- Siyob Bazaar
- Afrasiab Museum of Samarkand
Timur initiated the building of Bibi Khanum after his campaign in India in 1398-1399. Before its reconstruction after an earthquake in 1897, Bibi Khanum had around 450 marble columns that were established with the help of 95 elephants that Timur had brought back from Hindustan. Also from India, artisans and stonemasons designed the mosque's dome, giving it its distinctiveness amongst the other buildings.
The best-known structure in Samarkand is the mausoleum known as Gur-i Amir. It exhibits many cultures and influences from past civilizations, neighboring peoples, and especially those of Islam. Despite how much devastation the Mongols caused in the past to all of the Islamic architecture that had existed in the city prior to Timur's succession, much of the destroyed Islamic influences were revived, recreated, and restored under Timur. The blueprint and layout of the mosque itself follows the Islamic passion of geometry and other elements of the structure had been precisely measured. The entrance to the Gur-i Amir is decorated with Arabic calligraphy and inscriptions, the latter being a common feature in Islamic architecture. The attention to detail and meticulous nature of Timur is especially obvious when looking inside the building. Inside, the walls have been covered in tiles through a technique, originally developed in Iran, called "mosaic faience," a process where each tile is cut, colored, and fit into place individually. The tiles were also arranged in a specific way that would engrave words relating to the city's religiosity; words like "Muhammad" and "Allah" have been spelled out on the walls using the tiles.
The ornaments and decorations of the walls include floral and vegetal symbols which are used to signify gardens. Gardens are commonly interpreted as paradise in the Islamic religion and they were both inscribed in tomb walls and grown in the city itself. In the city of Samarkand, there were two major gardens, the New Garden and the Garden of Heart's Delight, and these became the central areas of entertainment for ambassadors and important guests. A friend of Genghis Khan in 1218 named Yelü Chucai, reported that Samarkand was the most beautiful city of all where "it was surrounded by numerous gardens. Every household had a garden, and all the gardens were well designed, with canals and water fountains that supplied water to round or square-shaped ponds. The landscape included rows of willows and cypress trees, and peach and plum orchards were shoulder to shoulder." The floors of the mausoleum is entirely covered with uninterrupted patterns of tiles of flowers, emphasizing the presence of Islam and Islamic art in the city. In addition, Persian carpets with floral printings have been found in some of the Timurid buildings.
Turko-Mongol influence is also apparent in the architecture of the buildings in Samarkand. For instance, nomads previously used tents, or yurts, to display the bodies of the dead before they were to engage in proper burial procedures. Similarly, it is believed that the melon-shaped domes of the tomb chambers are imitations of those very yurts. Timur, naturally, used stronger materials, like bricks and wood, to establish these tents, but their purposes remain largely unchanged.
The color of the buildings in Samarkand also has significant meaning behind it. For instance, blue is the most common and dominant color that will be found on the buildings, which was used by Timur in order to symbolize a large range of ideas. For one, the blue shades seen in the Gur-i Amir are colors of mourning. Blue was the color of mourning in Central Asia at the time, as it is in many cultures even today, and its dominance in the city's mausoleum appears to be a very rational idea. In addition, blue was also seen as the color that would ward off "the evil eye" in Central Asia and the notion is evident in the number of doors in and around the city that were colored blue during this time. Furthermore, blue was representative of water, which was a particularly rare resource around the Middle East and Central Asia; coloring the walls blue symbolized the wealth of the city.
Gold also has a strong presence in the city. Timur's fascination with vaulting explains the excessive use of gold in the Gur-i Amir as well as the use of embroidered gold fabric in both the city and his buildings. The Mongols had great interests in Chinese- and Persian-style golden silk textiles as well as nasij woven in Iran and Transoxiana. Past Mongol leaders, like Ogodei, built textile workshops in their cities in order to be able to produce gold fabrics themselves.
There is evidence that Timur tried to preserve his Mongol roots. In the chamber in which his body was laid, "tuqs" were found. "Tuqs" are poles with horses' tails hanging at the top, which was symbolic of an ancient Turkic tradition where horses, which were valuable commodities, were sacrificed in order to honor the dead.