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Silk Road Tours offer tailor made holidays through Central Asia, The Caucasus, Middle East and North Africa
The very name Samarkand, or Jewel of the East, is synonymous with the Silk Road – conjuring up images of merchants with long camel trains crossing the desert to vast emporiums filled with exotic goods. Today much of that magic can still be found in the many monuments that litter the city and perhaps the single most iconic image of the Silk Road – the magnificent Registan Square surrounded on three side by the Ulug Beg, Shir Dor and Tillya Kari madrassahs. It was Tamarlane who chose Samarkand to be the capital of his mighty empire and the Bibi Khanum mosque shows the grandeur of the designs he had for the city whilst the nearby necropolis of Shah-i-Zinda, or Street of the Dead, located on the slopes of the ancient Afriosab contains some of the finest ceramic art in all of Central Asia. Also from the period of Gur Emir – Tamarlane’s majestic mausoleum whose sky blue dome towers to a height of 32 metres. Tamarlanes grandson, Ulug Beg turned Samarkand into a centre of culture and learning and the remains of his observatory, in its time the largest and most accurate in the world, stands testimony to how scientifically advanced the city became under his rule. After Ulug Beg’s death Sheikh Khodja Akrar became the dominant figure and four kilometres south of Registan Square stands the Khodja Akrar complex of mosque and madrassah adorned with heretical Persian art depicting lion-tigers chasing does. The Sheikhs burial platform lies in the south of this complex. Beyond its monuments Samarkand offers some fine museums, the State Museum of the Cultural History of Uzbekistan contains replicas of murals from ancient Bactria, Tamarlanes wooden coffin and immense Koran that once adorned the lectern in the Bibi Khanum mosque. The fascinating Museum of Regional Studies located in the mansion of Abraham Kolontarov who was evicted by the Soviets in 1917 has a range of archaeological exhibits from the Palaeolithic to Timurid periods. All said Samarkand must stand as a highlight of any trip along the Silk Road.