28 October 2005

The Pearl of the East

As you can tell by the name of this blog, I’ve long wanted to go to Samarqand (and also Bukhara and Khiva).

When Alexander the Great came through Central Asia, Samarqand was part of Sogdiana and was Persian. It was a famous city even then, but like any important ancient city, it’s had its ups and downs. Here is a brief history, or you can go to Silk Road Seattle's (as always) excellent site for more information.

The Sogdians were Zoroastrian until the Arab invasion brought Islam to the area. Samarqand was taken in 712 and much of the population was deported. The Arabs went on to win a battle with the Chinese in the Talas Valley (in what is Kyrgyzstan today) in 751 that effectively kept the Chinese from moving farther into Central Asia.

The Persian Samanids rebuilt Samarqand in the 9th century. Various Turkish groups rules Samarqand after the Samanids until the Mongols arrived. The population was almost depleted, the canal system destroyed, and the walls torn down. Despite this, ibn Battuta (a far more interesting traveler in my mind than Marco Polo; I’ll have to write about him sometime) in 1333 when the city was still largely ruined said it was "one of the largest and most perfectly beautiful cities in the world."

Timur arrived on the scene in the late 1300s and Samarqand is what it is today mostly because of him. Timur’s son Ulugh Beg also built some amazing buildings in Samarqand, and so did another descendent, Babur. The Uzbeks took control of Samarqand after Babur went to India and established the Moghul Empire. Various Turkic khans ruled Samarqand till the Russians came in.

Tajik is still widely spoken around Samarqand and Bukhara even though Turks have controlled the area for so long.

More on Bukhara sometime soon. If anything, Bukhara is even better than Samarqand. I can’t even begin to tell you how much I want to go to these places.


  1. I recently reread The Blue Castle by L.M. Montgomery. In my opinion it's her very best book. I love the Anne books, but Blue Castle is magical, one that I really get caught up in. And it always makes me laugh and cry. The reason I bring it up here is the protagonist mentions she'd like to visit Samarcand someday. And of course I thought of you. I never heard of the city until I met you. I'm excited to hear about the other cities.

  2. I must say it was quite impressive Monday evening last, when I showed your web page to my husband. (I think he thought my blogging was quite silly) We were watching 'No Reservations' and they went to the Silk Road mountain divide and talked a bit about Samarqand. They then went to the city proper and went to a wedding. The cultural aspects of this society were quiet interesting. Anthony Bourdain said "This is a great country if you're a male. If you're a female you're basically a pack mule for the whole of society". Quite a comment considering where he was at the time.

  3. I caught Bourdain's show too and thought of you when they went to Samarqand. There was an interesting segment on wedding gifts. Bourdain was to bring one, and was advised to bring a cradle with bedding for a male, a "pee" pot, and male/female catheters. I was astounded, confused at how those catheters might be used - I mean it's obvious, but is it really that much easier? are all those diaperless babies really leak free?

    The show also featured bread done in a tandoor oven. It looks so wonderful. I can only equate the taste/texture to local indian oven bread.

    You've shared so much on your blog - thank you for taking the time and effort to post.

    Despite the recent events that have made entry difficult, I hope that you are able to get to Samarqand.