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View of the Registan
View of the Registan
Country  Uzbekistan
Province Samarqand Province
Elevation 702 m (2,303 ft)
Population (2008)
 - City 596,300
 - Urban 643,970
 - Metro 708,000

Samarkand (Uzbek: Samarqand, Самарқанд, Persian: سمرقند, UniPers: "Samarqand"), is the second-largest city in Uzbekistan and the capital of Samarqand Province.The city is most noted for its central position on the Silk Road between China and the West, and for being an Islamic centre for scholarly study. The Bibi-Khanym Mosque remains one of the city's most famous landmarks. The Registan was the ancient centre of the city. In 2001, UNESCO inscribed the 2750-year-old city on the World Heritage List as Samarkand - Crossroads of Cultures.


Samarkand derives its name from the Old Persian asmara, Tajik Самарқанд, "stone", "rock", and Sogdian kand, "fort", "town".


Samarkand is one of the oldest inhabited cities in the world, prospering from its location on the trade route between China and the Mediterranean (Silk Road). At times Samarkand has been one of the greatest cities of Central Asia. Founded circa 700 BC by the Persians it was already the capital of the Sogdian satrapy under the Achaemenid dynasty of Persia when Alexander the Great conquered it in 329 BC (see Afrasiab, Sogdiana). Samarkand has been one of the main centres of Persian civilization from its early days.

Samarkand – Crossroads of Culture*
UNESCO World Heritage Site
State Party  Uzbekistan
Type Cultural
Criteria i, ii, iv
Reference 603
Region** Asia-Pacific
Inscription history
Inscription 2001  (25th Session)
* Name as inscribed on World Heritage List.
** Region as classified by UNESCO.

Although a Persian-speaking region, it was not united politically with Iran between the times of Alexander and the Arab conquest. The Greeks referred to Samarkand as Maracanda.In the 6th Century it was within the domains of a Turkish kingdom.

At the start of the 8th century Samarkand came under Arab control. Under Abbasid rule, the legend goes, the secret of papermaking was obtained from two Chinese prisoners from the Battle of Talas in 751, which led to the first paper mill in the Islamic world to be founded in Samarkand. The invention then spread to the rest of the Islamic world, and from there to Europe.

From the 6th to the 13th century it grew larger and more populous than modern Samarkandand was controlled by the Western Turks, Arabs (who converted the area to Islam), Persian Samanids, Kara-Khanid Turks, Seljuk Turks, Kara-Khitan, and Khorezmshah before being sacked by the Mongols under Genghis Khan in 1220 . A small part of the population survived, but Samarkand suffered at least another Mongol sack by Khan Baraq to get treasure he needed to pay an army with. The town took many decades to recover from these disasters.

In 1365 a revolt against Mongol control occurred in Samarkand.

In 1370, Timur the Lame, or Tamerlane, decided to make Samarkand the capital of his empire, which extended from India to Turkey. During the next 35 years he built a new city and populated it with artisans and craftsmen from all of the places he had conquered. Timur gained a reputation as a patron of the arts and Samarkand grew to become the centre of the region of Transoxiana. During this time the city had a population of about 150,000.

In 1499 the Uzbek Turks took control of Samarkand.The Shaybanids emerged as the Uzbek leaders at or about this time.

Downtown Samarkand with Bibi Khanym mosque.

In the 16th century, the Shaybanids moved their capital to Bukhara and Samarkand went into decline. After an assault by the Persian king, Nadir Shah, the city was abandoned in the 18th century, about 1720 or a few years later.

From 1784 Samarkand was ruled by the emirs of Bukhara.

The city came under Russian rule after the citadel had been taken by a force under Colonel Alexander Abramov in 1868. Shortly thereafter the small Russian garrison of 500 men were themselves besieged. The assault, which was led by Abdul Malik Tura, the rebellious elder son of the Bukharan Emir, and Bek of Shahrisabz, 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, with Samarkand as the administrative centre. The Russian section of the city was built after this point, largely to the west of the old city.

The city later became the capital of the Samarkand Oblast of Russian Turkestan and grew in importance still further when the Trans-Caspian railway reached the city in 1888 . It became the capital of the Uzbek SSR in 1925 before being replaced by Tashkent in 1930.

In 1939 Samarkand had a population of 134,346.

Notable People born in Samarkand

  • Amoghavajra, an 8th century Buddhist monk who translated Vajrayana scripture, became a powerful figure in the Tang court, and is remembered one of the three founders of Chinese esoteric Buddhism.
  • Babur Al-Sultan al-'Azam wal Khaqan al-Mukarram Zahir ud-din Muhammad Jalal ud-din Babur Padshah Ghazi, founder of the Mughal Empire.
  • Qulich Khan Siddiqi (Nawab Khwaja Abid Siddiqi) and Ghazi Uddin Khan Siddiqi, father and grand father of Qamar-ud-din Khan, Asaf Jah I (Nizam I). Nizam I founded the dynasty that ruled Hyderabad (India) for over 200 years.
  • Islom Karimov, President of Uzbekistan.

In fiction

  • In Jinyong's wuxia novel The Legend of the Condor Heroes (1957), the Mongol conquest is mentioned in the story.
  • In the popular role playing game Fable, created by Lionhead Studios as well as its sequel [[Fable 2}]] many references are made to a far of land called Samarkand which is said to contain uninhibited people by some and absolutly nothing like that at all by others.
  • In The Arabian Nights (ca. AD 900) King Shah Zaman is king of Samarkand.
  • Samarkand can appear as an archetype of romantic exoticism, notably in the work by James Elroy Flecker: The Golden Journey to Samarkand (1913).
  • Samarcande (1988) is the title of a novel by Amin Maalouf, about Omar Khayyám's life.
  • Samarkand is the name of a planet in the 2001 novel Gridlinked by Neal Asher. The protagonist travels there to investigate after its teleporter explodes with enough force to destroy most of the colony.
  • 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.
  • In the science fiction setting of BattleTech, there is a human-populated world named New Samarkand.
  • The flowers of Samarkand are mentioned in the Douglas Fairbanks Jr. movie, "Sinbad the Sailor"
  • The Nightingale of Samarkand is a character in the Broadway musical Once Upon a Mattress.
  • Angela Carter's short story The Kiss discusses the legend of Tamburlaine's mosque in Samarkand.
  • In Islamic literature and discussions, Samarkand has taken on a semi-mythological status and is often cited as an ideal of Islamic philosophy and society, a place of justice, fairness, and righteous moderation.
  • For part of the history espoused in Clive Barker's Galilee, the city of Samarkand is held as a shining light of humanity, and one of the characters longs to go there.
  • The markets of Samrkand are referenced to more than once in the 1920 Edith Wharton novel The Age of Innocence.
  • The Amulet of Samarkand is the first book in the Bartimaeus Trilogy written by Jonathan Stroud.
  • Nigerian writer Wole Soyinka, winner of the 1986 Nobel Prize in Literature, explores the metaphysical significance of the marketplace in a volume of poetry entitle, Samarkand and Other Markets I Have Known, 2002.
  • From W. Somerset Maugham's classic novel Of Human Bondage: "O, my uncle, this cloth knew not the weavers of Samarkand, and those colours were never made in the vats of Bokhara."
  • Robert E. Howard wrote a short story in 1932 for Oriental Stories titled "Lord of Samarkand".
  • In the novel Fitzpatrick's War, by Theodore Judson, Samarkand is the site of the new capital of a new global empire modeled after that of Alexander the Great.
  • In the American film classic It's a Wonderful Life, the character George Bailey (played by James Stewart) shops for a suitcase, saying, "I want something for a thousand and one nights, with plenty of room for labels from Italy and Baghdad, Samarkand... a great big one."
  • In Iris Murdoch's The Nice and The Good, Kate Gray wants to go to Samarkand for holiday but knows nothing about it.
  • In the Technicolor movie The Golden Horde, the main character, played by David Farrar, defends Samarkand against the Horde. He utters the memorable line, "He who comes to destroy Samarkand shall himself be destroyed."
  • In the Jonas Wergeland Trilogy by Jan Kjærstad Samarkand plays a significant role in the first volume The Seducer (Forføreren)
  • The second novel in author Janeen Webb's young adult series, the Sinbad Chronicles, is called "The Silken Road to Samarkand".
  • In Leon Uris' novel QB VII, San Francisco is referred to America's Samarkand, a city well-known as a cultural center.
  • Samarkand (Maracanda) and its environs are central to the events in Stephen Pressfields historical novel "The Afghan Campaign."
  • Samarkand has been cited as an inspiration for the fictional city of Zanarkand from Squaresoft's Final Fantasy X
  • The Road to Samarcand is one of Patrick O'Brian's early novels (1954) about an American teenage boy, the son of recently deceased missionary parents, who travels from China with a small party on the Silk Road en route to the West.
  • In the song "Sheherazade," on his 1988 album One More Story, Peter Cetera refers to the "Sultan of Samarkand" as the enchanted king of the One Thousand and One Nights tale.
  • In the video game series Fable and Fable 2 made by Peter Molyneux of Lionhead, Samarkand is a place outside Albion (The land in which the games take place). It seems to be similar to the Middle East and Africa in that it is described as a desert land, from where the Negro population of Albion originated. Literature from both games describes Samarkand in greater detail.
  • In Dnevnoy dozor aka Daywatch (2006), Timur Bekmambetov's epic tale of Good versus Evil, one of the main characters, Anton, sets himself on a mission to find the Chalk of Destiny which he believes is hidden in Timerlane's grave at the city of Samarkand.
  • In Corto Maltes graphical novels by Hugo Pratt one episode is titled The Golden House of Samarkand.
  • In The Venetian Betrayal suspense novel by Steve Berry, the much of the plot involves a fictional Central Asian Federation composed of a united Kazakhstan, Kyrgystan, Tajikstan, Turkmenistan and the threat its despotic ruler poses to the area fueled by biological weapons and the mysterious final resting place of Alexander the Great.


  • In The Travels of Marco Polo, where Polo records his journey along the Silk Roads, Samarkand is described as a "a very large and splendid city..." Here also is related the story of Christian church in Samarkand, which miraculously remained standing after a portion of its central supporting column was removed.
  • See No Evil by Robert Baer is an autobiography about the author's experiences working for the CIA, at one point visiting Samarkand while serving in Tajikistan in the early 1990s.
  • Robert D. Kaplan's 1996 political travelogue The Ends Of The Earth has him traversing through a number of places in Africa, Europe, and Asia. In that book, one of the countries is Uzbekistan, and Samarkand is one of the places in Uzbekistan he visits, along with a young translator whose namesake is Ulug Beg.
  • Murder in Samarkand by Craig Murray is a book about the UK Ambassador to Uzbekistan's experiences in this role, until he resigned over human rights abuses in the country in October 2004.


  • In 1977, the Italian singer and composer Roberto Vecchioni issued a LP titled after Samarcanda. It contains the eponymous song, which tells the story of a soldier riding to Samarkand to escape the image of death.
  • In 1987, dance music group The Beyond, signed to Midnight Music Records, released the album Episcense which includes the song Samarkand Sunrise.
  • In 1994, the Spanish rock band La Frontera released the album La rueda de las armas afiladas which includes the song Arenas de Samarkanda. It was released as a single.

Sister cities

These cities were major cities of Greater Khorasan:

  • Flag of Iran Nishapur, Iran
  • Flag of Uzbekistan Bukhara, Uzbekistan
  • Flag of Afghanistan Balkh, Afghanistan
  • Flag of Turkmenistan Merv, Turkmenistan

Other sister cities

  • Flag of Peru Cuzco, Peru
  • Flag of Pakistan Lahore, Pakistan
  • Flag of Ukraine Lviv, Ukraine
  • Flag of Turkey Istanbul, Turkey
  • Flag of Turkey İzmir, Turkey
  • Flag of Tunisia Kairouan, Tunisia

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