Samarkand is famous for being one of the most important sites on the Silk Road and the city has been at the crossroads of world cultures for more than two millennia.
It’s one of the oldest cities in the world. It was founded around the 7th century BC, making it even older than Rome! Later it became the capital of the Timurid Empire in the 14th century AD. For history buffs and architecture lovers, Samarkand is a true paradise.
One of the main reasons to visit Samarkand is to marvel at the stunning Islamic architecture of its mosques and mausoleums. Poets and historians described the city as “The Pearl of the Eastern Muslim World”. This city is a real gem along the Silk Road. With numerous things to do in Samarkand it’s easy to see why it's a favorite place for many travelers to Uzbekistan.
If you love UNESCO World Heritage sites, unique masterpieces of ancient architecture, glittering minarets, dazzling turquoise domes and hypnotic mosaics, then you’ll love Samarkand!
Gur Emir Mausoleum
In 1403, after the military campaign against the Ottoman Empire, Muhammad Sultan - the crown prince and the grandson of Timur, died. Returning to Samarkand in the autumn of 1404, Timur ordered his grandson to build a mausoleum, which became the family tomb of Gur-Emir. This architectural complex consists of the graves of Amir Timur himself, his sons Shahrukh and Miranshakh, the grandchildren Ulugbek and Mohammed Sultan, as well as the spiritual mentor of Timur Sayyid Baraka.
Gur Emir, meaning “Tomb of the King” in Persian, is a beautiful architectural complex with a ribbed turquoise dome. In the mausoleum, built for one of Tamerlane’s grandchildren, you can see outstanding examples of decorative and applied art of the 14th and 15th centuries.
The exterior decoration of the mausoleum consists of blue, turquoise and white tiles organized into geometrical and epigraphic ornaments against a background of terracotta bricks. The interior of the mausoleum is even more spectacular!  Geometric panels shine with radiating stars, beside niches hung with stalactites molded from papier-mâché painted blue and gold. The inner dome drips an intricate gilded coating around high lattice windows. 
In the middle of the room, you will see ornately carved headstones, indicating the location of actual tombs in a crypt directly underneath the main chamber. 
Registan Ensemble
The Registan is about 10 minutes walking from Gur-e-Amir.  This central square the most iconic sight of Samarkand and Uzbekistan. 
All the main roads of Samarkand lead to Registan as it was the heart of the Timurid dynasty.  It was used as a public square for royal proclamations, celebrations, and public executions. 
The three buildings surrounding Samarkand’s Registan Square comprise one of the world’s most spectacular architectural ensembles: The Registan. Within the fifteenth century, Ulugbek, grandson of the Uzbek conqueror Timur, constructed a bunch of mosques, caravanserais (retailers’ inns), and the Ulugbek madrassah (Koranic school), across the city’s sandy market square. Except for the Ulugbek, the other buildings had been later destroyed and changed within the seventeenth century by two extra medresas, the Sher Dor and Tilla Kari.
There are 3 stunning madrasahs framing the square. Madrassah is the Arabic word for an Islamic school, college or university: Ulugbek Madrassah (1417—1420), Sherdor Madrassah (1619—1636) and Tilla Kari Madrassah (1646—1660).
These three madrassas had been constructed over an interval of 230 years. The first was the Ulugbek, begun in 1417. Straight opposite, the Sherdor (“Lion Bearer”), modeled on the Ulug Beg, was added two centuries later. Its unconventional façade depicts live animals and human faces (an interpretation of the Koran forbids this). The mixed mosque and madrassah of Tilla Kari (“Gold Embellished”) was added within the mid-seventeenth century. Its ceiling seems domed, but is, in reality, flat – an effect created by the reducing pattern dimension towards the center. The 2 later buildings have been inspired by the earlier Timurid style.
Registan is a beautiful location for sunrise photography.  
We also recommend visiting the Registan at night. The lights come on after sunset and illuminate all three of the stunning buildings. It’s a great time to enjoy the square as most tourists are gone by then. 
Ulugbek Observatory
For nearly half a millennium, the remains of one of the greatest observatories ever built lay hidden in Central Asia. A product of one Muslim prince’s devotion to science, the observatory was the site of the world’s most advanced astronomical studies for three decades.
Ulugbek and there are many variations on the name (Turkish for “great prince”) was a Timurid astronomer who made some of the best astronomical observations of his time. He is mostly remembered as a patron of mathematics and astronomy.
In 1420, he established his own observatory on a rocky hill outside the city of Samarkand. Its circular main building, was beautifully decorated with glazed tiles and marble plates, had a diameter of about 46m and three stories reaching a height of approximately 30m above ground level and was one of the largest in the pre-modern era.
The main instrument in Ulugbek observatory was a huge sextant called the Fakhrī sextant. The radius was 40.04 meters, which made it the largest astronomical instrument in the world of that type.
The difference between Ulugbek’s data and that of modern times relating to the first four planets falls within the limits of two to five seconds! His results are impressively close to those obtained by modern means.


Meros Craft Center
Just outside Samarkand, in the village of Konigil, is a traditional paper factory that has revived the paper making techniques used in Samarkand since ancient times. The park like atmosphere of the mill, babbling brook, and fresh pots of tea made for a relaxing and memorable experience normally reserved for larger group tours.  The ancient methods still utilized at the Meros Paper Mill make this a truly unique experience.
The technique is completely manual, with only the assistance of water providing the energy to turn the factory’s mill wheel.  The thinnest sprouts of Central Asian mulberry bark is used as the raw material, which is cleaned, boiled for several hours, and then mechanically mashed by log plungers connected to the wheel.  Once the pulp reaches the required consistency, it is filtered, and then spread out onto mesh screens, pressed, and allowed to dry.  The process takes about a day thanks to the dry climate of Uzbekistan, where craftsmen are able to crank out large quantities of custom made paper according to demand.  In order to give the paper its polished silky look and feel, the factory polishes each sheet of handmade paper with granite and bone on a large granite slab countertop.  This finishing touch makes the paper exceptionally smooth to the touch, and perfect for taking ink when writing without bleeding into the grain.
The process used at the Meros Paper Mill is totally natural and organic.  The paper is not treated with any special chemicals or bleached, and as a result maintains the natural yellowish color of the mulberry tree bark.  The factory also uses traditional dyes to offer paper in several different colors.  Because the paper is not treated by caustic chemicals like bleach which over time cause mass produced white paper to degrade and decompose, Samarkand paper made using these traditional techniques can last as long as 400 years, making it ideal for heirloom letters, certificates, deeds, and other important archival documents.
In addition to making paper for writing, stationary, and archival purposes, local artisans also use the paper for a variety of other products.  Paper wallets, woven placemats, picture frames, hats, purses, and even dolls can be purchased from the shop which of course can be found at the end of the guided tour.
Because the factory is located on the outskirts of Samarkand, it makes an ideal excursion late in the day, or on the way back into town from further afield.  When arranged through a tour company, the mill we be more lively, but obviously might feel more touristy.  It is worth remembering that despite its appeal as a tourist attraction, the Meros Paper Mill is preserving traditional production methods that would otherwise be lost, thus preserving an important piece of Uzbekistan’s unique cultural heritage.
Shakhi Zinda necropolis
It is going to be your favorite location in Samarkand. In other words, there are many dazzling minarets, colorful buildings and shiny turquoise domes to be found in the city and across the country but this complex just has that little something extra. It’s not just only eye candy if you love colorful mosaics but there’s something magical and mysterious about this blue-tiled maze.
It was established with a single religious monument over 1,000 years ago.  Various temples, mausoleums, and buildings were continually added throughout the ensuing centuries, from approximately the 11th century to the 19th. The result is a fascinating cross-reference of various architectural styles, methods, and decorative craftsmanship as they have changed throughout a millennium of work.
Shakhi Zinda is a necropolis that consists of rows of blue tombs and various mausoleums grouped along a narrow avenue. It is the burial place of many royals and nobles, including a number of Amir Timur’s relatives. The legend goes that the Prophet Muhammad’s cousin, Kusam ibn Abbas, was buried here. He preached Islam in this region and Shah-i-Zinda, which means “the Living King” in Persian, is now an important and sacred pilgrimage center.
Be aware that Shah-i-Zinda is a sacred place where many pilgrims come to pray and pay their respects. Be respectful during your visit and don’t go all Instagram-crazy by twirling around in dresses. Make sure to dress modestly as well. 
You’re also not allowed to take photos next to the tombstones and/or sit on them, you can’t put money on the graves and you’re not allowed to sacrifice animals on the tombs (in case you were planning to bring a sheep or a goat on your trip).
Khudjum Carpet Factory
Near the Shah-i-Zinda necropolis in Samarkand we highly recommend paying a visit to the “Samarkand-Bukhara Silk Carpet” factory.  It was established immediately after independence in 1992 as a joint venture with the stated goal of reviving the ancient tradition of carpet weaving in Central Asia.  With more than 400 skilled artisans, this workshop cranks out top quality carpets at the rate of thirty to forty every month.  This might not sound like much, but when you consider that each carpet can take up to 6 to 12 months to complete with upwards of a million hand-tied knots per square meter, from silk and natural dyes which are also produced in house, each and every carpet is an epic undertaking.
If you want to clearly understand why manual work is so expensive - welcome to the Khujum carpet factory Samarkand. The carpet factory, which is an important tourist attraction of Samarkand and Uzbekistan as a whole, provides an opportunity to get acquainted with the work of girls who weave carpets by hand, and choose your favorite silk product and buy yourself a unique carpet directly from the factory.
The main thing in the manufacture of carpets is the reconstruction of ancient patterns, the creation of new samples of good quality carpet products, and, above all, the reconstruction of technology for the restoration of natural fabrics. The patterns of typical carpets that are produced at the factory are diverse, but various variations of national ornaments are used, which makes them special.
Tourists aren’t the only ones who visit the factory.  The high standards for working conditions combined with the quality of the product have attracted the attention of diplomats, dignitaries, and heads of state.  The previous President of Uzbekistan was a frequent visitor.  Among the photos of VIP visitors proudly displayed in the halls of the factory are Russian President Vladimir Putin, U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry, UN Secretary General Kofi Annan, South Korean President Park Geun-Hye, and Chinese President Xi Jinping.
When the factory tour is complete, visitors are given the royal treatment in the showroom.  Tea is served, snacks are laid out, and carpets are presented one after another until one piques your interest.  There are no tricks or pressure tactics.  It’s perfectly okay if you just want to examine the merchandise up close with no intention of buying.  But if you do choose to buy, Uzbekistan is a great place to splurge.  Prices are clearly marked on every carpet so there’s no mystery.  This isn’t the Grand Bazaar in Istanbul, this is the “Samarkand-Bukhara Silk Carpet” factory.
Bibi Khanum Mosque
Just a short walk from the Registan is the majestic Bibi Khanym Mosque. The mosque was erected by order of Tamerlane after his victorious campaign in India. Construction began in May 1399. The location of the future mosque was chosen by Timur himself. In the construction were involved masters from various countries: India, Iran, Khorezm, the Golden Horde. By September 1404, the main part of the complex was already built. In the courtyard of the mosque, 10 thousand people could pray at the same time.
According to legend, the mosque got its name in honor of Tamerlan’s beloved wife [1]. Returning from a victorious Indian campaign, Timur in 1399 undertook the construction of a cathedral mosque to perform Friday prayers, which the rumor named after Bibi Khanum. She was buried in a tomb located in a madrasa complex just across the main road which leads from the old city of Afrasiab to the center of the Timurid city at the Registan. (The tomb is currently being restored.)  
Suffering damage due to earthquakes and the ravages of time, it has now been partially restored and stands as a magnificent example of Central Asian Islamic architecture.


Siab Market
Samarkand’s largest and oldest bazaar, one of the largest and oldest bazaars in Uzbekistan and Central Asia. The area of the bazaar exceeds seven hectares. Siab Market is one of the most visited places in the city.
The name of the bazaar comes from the name of one of the historical and geographical areas of the city - Siab, and flowing near the bazaar of the Siab river. The word "Siab" from Persian and Tajik is translated as black water/river.
Siab Market is a heaven for shoppers looking to take a bit of Uzbekistan back home. This bazaar is a true delight for those who prefer buying something extremely local such as a handicraft. Siab Bazaar is located right next to the Bibi Khanym mosque and is the largest market in Samarkand. It’s a great way to see and experience locals going about their daily lives.
The main centre of the Siab Market is dotted with sellers selling dry fruits, spices, condiments, fruits, vegetables and the famous Samarkand bread. Towards the edges of the bazaar, you will see several souvenir shops where you can help yourself to a quick photo-op!
St. Daniel Mausoleum
The tomb of Khoja Daniyar, as Muslims call it, or the biblical prophet Daniel, as Christians call it, is located next to the Siab river, between picturesque hills.
According to one legend, the early Christians brought the remains of the prophet to Samarkand, according to another - they were brought here supposedly to the city, from Persia, by order of Tamerlane.
The uniqueness of the tomb - includes its size. The length of the monument is 18 meters. Why did the tomb be made so massive? There are several opinions on this subject.
According to ancient legend, the tomb was made large, as they believed: from year to year, the holy relics increase. And another legend says that the mausoleum was built too spacious so that no one could accurately determine the location of the remains.
The tomb is an obligatory place for every tourist and pilgrim who comes to Samarkand. Water from a local source is considered sacred, charges with health. Religious leaders point out that this is one of the rare places where Muslims, Christians, and Jews come to pray.
Imam al-Bukhari Mausoleum 
Located about 30 km outside Samarkand in the village of Hartang, the Mausoleum of Imam al-Bukhari is a major pilgrimage site in Uzbekistan, but is not usually on the typical tourist trail. 
To visit this complex as a foreigner is a unique experience.  As the site is a new memorial complex architecturally speaking, there is not the same amount of interest from western tourists.  The vast majority of visitors are religious pilgrims and locals who come to pay their respects to the great Muslim scholar.  As a foreigner you will need to pay extra to gain access, but the caretakers are very welcoming to visitors.
Born in the year 810, Imam al-Bukhari is a particularly well renowned Muslim scholar, having authored the hadith collection of Sahih al-Bukhari which is regarded as one the most authentic and complete systems of Islamic legal theory, especially among Sunni Muslims, and consists of over 7,275 tested traditions arranged in chapters.  Many Sunni scholars consider this work of al-Bukhari. 
As one of the major pilgrimage sites in Uzbekistan, and together with the Shakhi-Zinda and Rukhabad mausoleums visited within a single day is said to qualify as a “mini-Hajj” among the devout.  The complex of al-Bukhari is spread out over a vast area of about 10 hectares (25 acres), but is not particularly historic.  Today’s memorial complex was completed only in 1998 on the occasion of the 1225th anniversary of Bukhari’s birth (according to the lunar calendar). 
The new memorial shrine is today one of the finest examples of modern Central Asian architecture featuring a mosque for 1500 people, an administrative building, library, museum, and the new mausoleum with its impressive 17 meter ribbed blue-tile dome.  Among the interesting items on display are the only surviving examples of original Bukhari texts, and a ceremonial Quran from the Kingdom of Bahrain.  The only vestiges of the original complex are a grove of 16th century trees that once shaded Bukhari’s modest grave.
International Archeological Mission
The Uzbek-Italian Archaeological Project “Samarkand and Its Territory” started in 2001 with the main goal of understanding the human-environmental interaction in such an important historical region of the ancient world. The major efforts were devoted to the creation of the archaeological map of the Middle Zeravshan Valley, i.e. the five administrative districts south of the Zeravshan River: Samarkand, Taylak, Urgut, Pasdargom and Nurabad. 
Later on, the activities were expanded to the study of specific topics, such as the reconstruction of the irrigation systems; the distribution of the burial mounds (kurgan) connected to the pastoral societies; the excavation of targeted sites. The latte works concerned the investigation of sites that were considered as important in providing new outcomes in relation to the above mentioned targets and, more generally, in the history of Samarkand. The archaeological map was addressed to the comprehensive survey of the southern region of Samarkand with the geolocalization of all the archaeological and historical features.
This work was conceived not only to improve the knowledge on the historical development of Samarkand, but also as a means to provide the local authorities with a tool to preserve and manage their cultural heritage. The exploration covered ca. 2,500 sq km and different ecological zones: the urban area of Samarkand; the irrigated and cultivated plain around the city; the foothill of the Karatyube Mountains; the abandoned steppe.

Get in Touch