The Online Encyclopedia and Dictionary







Samarkand (Samarqand or Самарқанд in Uzbek, in Persian سمرقند) (population 400,000) is the second-largest city in Uzbekistan, capital of the Samarkand region (Samarqand Wiloyati ). The majority of the city's inhabitants are Tajik.



The city of Samarkand was founded prior to the 3rd millennium BC. During most of its history it was a part of the Persian Empire.

Lying on the trade routes (silk road) between China and the Middle East, Samarkand prospered. At times in its history Samarkand has been the greatest city of Central Asia. Alexander the Great captured the town in 329 BC (see Afrasiab, Sogdiana).

Under Arab rule (from the 7th century AD), the city flourished as a trade center until the devastation of the city by the Mongols led by Genghis Khan (1220).

Timur (Tamerlane) (1336 - 1405) was born at Kesh , situated some 50 miles south of Samarkand. Upon taking power as a chieftain, Timur rebuilt the city to its former glory. Samarkand became the capital of his empire, which extended from India to Turkey. In 1404 Timur ordered the mausoleum called Guri-Emir ("Tomb of the Emir") for his beloved grandson, Mukhammad Sultan. The mausoleum became the burial site of the Timurid dynasty

Ulugh Beg, grandson of Timur, became the shah's governor in Samarkand in 1409 and ruled the country for 40 years. In Samarkand Ulugbek created a scientific school, which united outstanding astronomers and mathematicians. At Ulugbek's observatory (built 1428 1429) there was a gigantic but precisely made marble sextant there, with a radius of 40.212 meters. The length of the arc is 63 meters.

In 1868, the city came under Russian rule, when the citadel was stormed by a force under Colonel A.K.Abramov (1836-1886). Shortly thereafter the small Russian garrison of 500 men were themselves besieged by forces led by the Bek of Shahr-e Sabz (Kesh), and the attack was beaten off with heavy losses. Abramov (now a general), became the first Governor of the Military Okrug which the Russians established along the course of the River Zeravshan, of which Samarkand was the administrative centre. It later became the capital of the Samarkand Oblast of Russian Turkestan, and grew in importance still further when the Transcaspian Railway reached the city in 1888. It became the capital of the Uzbek SSR in 1925 before being replaced by Tashkent. Samarkand is one of the largest Persian-speaking cities of Central Asia and an important center of the Iranian architecture.


  • The vast central Registan (area of sand) forms perhaps the most magnificent sight in Samarkand. The Registan is bounded on three sides by spectacular buildings, the Madrassa Ulugbek (1417 - 1420), Sher Dor (1619 - 1636) (lion-possessor), Tilla Kari (1647 - 1660) (gilding).
  • Shah-i-Zinda (meaning the living king in Persian), a series of tombs mostly belonging to Timur and Ulughbek's family and to a cousin of the prophet Muhammad.
  • According to legend, the Biblical prophet Daniel's tomb lies in the city, with remains carried there from his original burial place. The tomb has a length of roughly 70 feet, because the scientists who had measured the body length before and after the journey found that the body had grown; they assumed that this process would continue.
  • The main bazaar around the Bibi-Khanym Mosque.
  • The city also contains numerous former mosques and madrassas.

Samarkand in literature

Samarkand can appear as an archetype of romantic exoticism, notably in the work by James Elroy Flecker: The Golden Journey to Samarkand.

Samarcande is the title of a novel by Amin Maalouf.

Samarkand is one of the cities Audre Lorde describes visiting in her collection of essays and speeches, Sister Outsider .

Samarqand is the center of the Islamic Renaissance in Kim Stanley Robinson's The Years of Rice and Salt.

External links

Last updated: 08-17-2005 12:36:47