Tashkent (‘a stone city’; also spelled Toshkent), Uzbekistan’s capital, is in all respects a Central Asian regional hub; it is the fourth largest CIS city with a population of around 3 million. Today it has all the features of a modern metropolis and a capital, with a lot of attractive Central Asian-style newly-built structures and sites, as well as Soviet-era buildings. Tashkent is rich in museums, theaters and concert halls; there are a lot of traditional Central Asian and European-like restaurants and clubs, and several very nice parks, including a zoo and a huge botanical garden. Tashkent is the only Central Asian city which has an underground railway system (Tashkent Metro). It is probably one of the world’s most beautiful: its stations are real works of art, each featuring unique designs covering various themes, such as famous people, events, valued notions, terms or just common nouns. Tashkent is a city of wide streets and numerous avenues, and is abundant in trees; although it is located in Central Asia, it has recently had a lot of evergreens planted, in addition to its traditional planes, poplars, oaks, willows, etc. Tashkent looks modern - it grew to its present size mainly during the Soviet times - but it is over 2,000 years old, and there is still some of its old part surviving, called Old City or Old Town. Tashkent Old city features a huge traditional Central Asian bazaar (there are many large and small bazaars in the city; most farmer products in the city are sold through them, not through stores), as well as several Islamic architectural monuments and quaint adobe mahalla neighborhoods, quite worth visiting for their charm.
Samarkand (also spelled Samarqand) is probably the most famous Uzbekistan’s historic city. Over 2,750 years of age, it boasts very impressive architectural monuments and a rich history.
Samarkand originated from a settlement called Afrosiab (or Afrasiab), the ruins of which can be seen on the northern outskirts of the city. Later, still before the Common Era, it was the capital of Sogdiana (or Sogdia, Suguda, Sogdiane, Sogd, Sugd), named Marakanda (or Maracanda) then. When the city became the capital of the huge empire of Tamerlane (Timur) in the 14th century, it had enjoyed substantial growth and construction of splendorous edifices, some of which we can stll see today. The Registan Square, with the three grand madrasahs (Islamic colleges) on its sides, is the top Samarkand attraction. Among the others stand out Gur-e Amir Mausoleum (also spelled Gur-e Amir, Gur Emir, Guri Amir) where Tamerlane rests under a jade tombstone; Bibi-Khanym Mosque (also spelled Bibi-Khanom, Bibi-Khanum) - one of the largest mosques in the Islamic world; Khazrat-Khyzr Mosque, one of the oldest Samarkand monuments where you can have an impressive view of Shah-i-Zinda Necropolis (also spelled Shakh-i Zinda, Shahi-Zinda, Shohizinda), Siab Bazaar and distant mountains; and the surviving part of the legendary Ulugbek Observatory (also spelled Ulugh Beg, Ulughbeg, Ulugh-Beg) where Ulugbek compiled his world-famous star catalogue, the best between Ptolemy’s and Brahe’s.
Bukhara (also spelled Bukhoro, Buxoro, Buchara, Bokhara, Buhara) is over 2,500 years old and seems to be emanating the breath of history. According to the Iranian Encyclopedia, the name of the city came from the Sogdian for ‘lucky place’; it is also said to derive from the Sanskrit for ‘temple’. Bukhara is one of the world’s seven holy cities of Islam. It was a large religious center in the Middle Ages, with over 350 mosques and 80 madrasahs (Islamic colleges), many of which survive. All the streets in Bukhara lead to the central historic complex Lyab-i Hauz (also spelled Lyab-i Khauz, Lyabi Khauz, Lyabi Hauz), where besides magnificent architectural monuments by a hauz pond a number of cozy restaurants and teahouses are located. Among the numerous attractions in Bukhara stand out the famous Kalyan Minaret (also Minorai Kalon, Minara-i Kalan), the impressive ancient Ark Fortress, functioning medieval bathhouses and domed shopping arcades. There over 140 architectural monuments in the city
Khiva was one of the major cities of ancient Khorezm and is the only city in Uzbekistan with an almost intact medieval old town area. It is Ichan-Kala (‘inner town’) in Khiva. Encircled by a strong wall, Ichan-Kala is a surviving traditional Oriental town with all the structures in it being architectural monuments. Although Ichan-Kala is like an architectural museum under the open sky, it is populated: you can occasionally smell frying meat and onion there, for example, or see children running from the doors. It is real pleasure to stroll along its cobbled streets, visiting Djuma Mosque with its 112 wooden pillars covered with beautiful carvings, Kunya-Ark Fortress with convenient viewing deck, or Islam Khodja Minaret where you can climb narrow spiral stairs to get to point of terrific panoramic view of this old Oriental town next to the huge Kyzyl-Kum Desert.
Shakhrisabz (‘green city’; also spelled Shahrisabz, Shahr-i Sabz), the home town of Tamerlane (Timur), features a number of architectural monuments built in his and his dynasty times. They are the grand remains of the summer palace Ak Saray (‘white palace’; also spelled Aq Sarai, Aksaray, Aqsaray, Aksarai, Aqsaray) dating from 1380, the memorial complex Dorus Saodat (‘seat of power and might’; 14th c. - 15th c.; also spelled Dorussaodat, Dorus Siadat, Dorussiadat, Dar al-Sayadah; also known as Hazrat-i Imam Complex) where two Tamerlane’s sons were buried and where a crypt intended for him was built, the memorial complex Dorut Tillavat (‘contemplation place’; 14th c. - 15th c.; also spelled Doruttillavat, Dorut Tillyavat, Doruttillyavat, Dar al-Tilavah) where Tamerlane’s father rests, and the Friday communal prayer mosque Kok Gumbaz (‘blue dome’) built by order of Ulugbek, Tamerlane’s grandson, in 1437. Thoroughly restored and reconstructed, these architectural monuments are perfect examples of Central Asian Islamic architecture of the Timurid times. They were meant to contribute to making Tamerlane’s home town and the second capital of his huge empire as beautiful as Samarkand.