World Heritage Samarkand – Crossroad of Cultures

The World Heritage historic town of Samarkand illustrates in its art, architecture and urban structure the most important stages of Central Asian cultural and political history from the 13th century to the present day. Ensembles such as the Bibi Khanum Mosque and Registan Square played a seminal role in the development of Islamic architecture over the entire region, from the Mediterranean to the Indian subcontinent. Samarkand is a crossroad and melting pot of the world's cultures. Founded in the 7th century BC as ancient Afrosiab, Samarkand had its most significant development in the Timurid period from the 14th to 15th centuries.

Samarkand – Crossroad of Cultures
Continent: Asia
Country: Uzbekistan
Category: Cultural
Criterion: (I) (II)(IV)
Date of Inscription: 2001

Samarkand the Crossroads of the Great Trade Routes

Samarkand is located on the crossroads of the great trade routes that traversed Central Asia, Samarkand has a multi-millennial history. Archaeological excavations have brought to light the remains of settlements from the first half of the 1st millennium BCE. Afrosiab had a strategic location at the time of the formation of the first large states in Central Asia, such as Khorezm, Bactria and Sogd, and it was the capital of Sogdiana. It was part of the Achaemenid Empire (6th-4th centuries BC) and that of Alexander the Great (4th century BC). The city became prosperous and an important centre of silk trade in the 2nd century AD.

The city was part of a Turkish kingdom in the 6th century, and was conquered by Kuteiba-ibn-Muslim in 712 CE, starting the penetration of Islamic culture into the region. The Arabs rulers turned the ancient temples into mosques, administrative centres, and places of learning, courts, and treasuries. The Samanids of Iran occupied the place from the 9th to 10th centuries and Turkic peoples from the 11th to 13th centuries; it was part of the Kingdom of Khwarezm in the 13th century, until it was devastated by the Mongol invasion of Genghis Khan in 1220.

World Heritage Samarkand – Crossroad of Cultures

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The city emerged as a major centre through the efforts of Timur the Lame (Tamerlane, c. 1336-1405). It was rebuilt on its present site, south-west of Afrosiab, and became the capital of Timur's powerful state and the repository of the material riches from conquered territories that extended from Central Asia to Persia, Afghanistan, and India. It remained a cultural capital of the Timurids until the reign of Ulugh Bek (1409-49) and his successors. Timur built a citadel, the Blue Palace (Kuk-Saray), and other important buildings. The period was characterized by a new synthesis of arts; local traditions were influenced from other regions of the empire (Persian Khorasan, Khorezm). The eastern gates of the town linked with the city centre, known as Registan Square, where Ulugh Bek started building a major complex in 1447

In the 16th century, during the Uzbek occupation (1500), Samarkand gradually lost its earlier importance, although some notable construction works were still undertaken in the 17th century. In 1868 the Russians conquered Samarkand, making it a provincial capital (1887) and thus reviving its economy. The Caspian Railway came to the town in 1888, linking European Russia and Central Asia and reinforcing the role of Samarkand as an important trade centre. Russia constructed schools, churches, and hospitals, and the western part of Samarkand was redeveloped according to current town planning ideas. The period, however, also led to the destruction of the city walls and gates, as well as of several monuments, such as Timur's citadel. At the beginning of the 20th century the city included three main sectors: the archaeological area of the ancient city (Afrosiab), the medieval Timurid city, and the modern city, which was the capital of the Uzbek SSR from 1924 to 1930 and later an administrative centre.

The World Heritage site consists of series of monuments, the most important of which are the Shakhi-Zinda ensemble, Hazrat-Hizr Mosque, and remains of the city walls in the Afrosiab archaeological area; the Bibi-Khanum ensemble; the Registan ensemble; the ensembles of Gur-Emir and Rukhabad; Ulugh-Bek's Observatory; the ensembles of Abdi-Darun and Ishrat-khona; and the City Garden ensemble in the 19th-century town.

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