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.
These final lines of James Elroy Flecker’s poem, “The Golden Journey to Samarkand” evoke the romance of Uzbekistan’s most glorious city. No name is so evocative of the Silk Road as Samarkand. For most people it has the mythical resonance of Atlantis, fixed in the Western popular imagination by playwrights and poets of bygone eras, few of whom saw the city in the flesh. When Alexander the Great took the city in 329 BC, he said “Everything I heard about Samarkand is true, except that it’s more beautiful than I ever imagined.”
I agree with Alexander up to a point but perhaps in his day when this city was at the peak of its existence-it was the most beautiful city in the world. Today it is a bustling city that stands at the crossroads of Persia, Asia and Russia and Samarkand much like most old great cities has a lot to be proud of but it is just getting old. However, it still manages to maintain its beauty and charm but knowing the history behind the city and buildings is so important in being able to really appreciate sights like Samarkand.
I won’t bore you with long descriptions of the history of many of the Medressas and Mosques but the must see of Samarkand is the Registan. Still in great shape and for sure the center of Uzbek culture. It’s grand edifices shine in the searing heat and produce photographic magic while still causing you to realize where you are and how lucky you are to be able to see this grand spectacle.
Other top sights in Samarkand are the Guri Amir, Bibi-Khanym Mosque and Shah-i-Zinda and each are worth a visit. The rest of Samarkand radiates from the heat and there seem to be so many different directions the city is going in. It is not sure whether it wants to be try to be modern or stay true to its Silk Road lore. It’s kind of a microcosm of modern day Uzbekistan: where do we go from here. With the most history in Central Asia and the top tourist sights, which way will they go?
Will it continue to be a police state where they stop you for checkpoints every ten minutes as they did to us today on the way from Tashkent, the capital of Uzbekistan. Or will it become more tolerable of outsiders and allow for easier entry and for better tourist facilities and infrastructure, especially the main roads and highways. We shall see.