As Seen in…
Places to visit in Uzbekistan and on our Silk Road tours
Why visit Uzbekistan?
Uzbekistan is a land of change, yet one where the mark of a myriad of successive cultures has remained indelibly seared into the cultural and archaeological landscape. In contrast to its south-eastern neighbours, settlement and inspirational building projects, rather than nomadic lifestyles characterise the region.
The first are evident from the 6th century B.C. and the rise of Persian states such as the Bactrians, Khorezm and Sogdanians were symptomatic of the establishment of the lucrative Silk Road that linked Europe to China. This in turn attracted empire builders: Alexander the Great famously triumphed here in the 4th Century B.C., marrying Roxana, daughter of a Sogdian chieftain.
The subsequent Seleucid Empire brought Greek influences that trickled on, despite falling in turn to Turkic raiders from Mongolia. Perhaps the greatest impact on what we view today began with the arrival of the Arabs in 649 A.D. who, in little over 7 years, conquered the entire region. Having defeated the might Chinese army in 751 the Arab culture blossomed: Persian languages gave way to Arabic and Islam replaced Zoroastrianism.
Bukhara flourished as capital and we can marvel today at the old quarter of the Holy City, rebuilt throughout the ages, but bursting with bazaars, the ruler’s sumptuous Ark fortress and the elegant Kalan minaret, all of which recapture the glory of this city which rivalled even Baghdad as a centre of culture, medicine, architecture and intellect. The turbulent periods which followed – the Samanid empire, invasions by Turkic Khorezmshahs and the savage 13th century Genghis Khan-led conquest eventually gave way to a peaceful period in which the chieftain Timur rebuilt the magnificent city of Samarkand which still draws gasps of admiration at its beautiful Registan Square, blue-tiled mosques and madrassas, an astoundingly advanced astronomical observatory and mausoleums which claim to house great rulers such as Mohammed’s own cousin.
It was in this 15th century period that the Uzbeks (or ‘followers of Ozbeg’) moved south and established the celebrated Khanates. By the 19th century the Silk Road had lapsed, and the 3 historic cities were feuding dictatorships: the ruler of Khiva having invited in and then slaughtered a force of 4,000 Russians, ushered in a long period of Tsarist and then Soviet control, beginning with an attempt to reach the British Empire in India, during what historian refer to as ‘The Great Game’, and ending with establishment of a soviet republic of Uzbekistan in 1924 and then independence in 1991.