As a part of the celebration of its 20th anniversary, APTLD invites you to join its members in a networking tour to Samarkand.

The second largest city of Uzbekistan, the magnificent Samarkand is as old as Babylon and Rome.

The 2,750 year-old "Rome of the East, The Beauty of Sublunary Countries, The Pearl of the Eastern Muslim World" as it was labeled by poets, thinkers and artists through its rich history, it saw phalanxes of Alexander the Great, the Arabic Conquest, Genghis-Khan ‘s hordes and lastly Tamerlane's, yet another Shaker of the Universe. Small wonder its culture is a blend of Iranian, Arabic, Indian, and Mongolian influences.

A major spot on the ancient Silk Road, it has survived devastation, invasions of foreign forces and their merciless rule, but would revive in full glory. Today, is on the UNESCO World Heritage List because of its ancient scientific legacy, highly acclaimed artisans and on top of that the breathtaking architecture.

The last ancient conqueror of the city –Timur -  initiated the building of the world famous structures, such as Bibi Khanum of 14th century. Before its reconstruction after an earthquake in 1897, Bibi Khanum had around 450 marble columns that were established with the help of 95 elephants that Timur had brought back from his military campaign in Hindustan. Also from India, artisans and stonemasons designed the mosque's dome, giving it its distinctiveness amongst the other buildings.

Another best-known structure in Samarkand is the mausoleum known as Gur-i Amir. It exhibits many cultures and influences from past civilizations, neighboring peoples, and especially those of Islam. Despite how much devastation the Mongols caused in the past to all of the Islamic architecture that had existed in the city prior to Timur's succession, much of the destroyed Islamic influences were revived, recreated, and restored under Timur. The blueprint and layout of the mosque itself follows the Islamic passion of geometry and other elements of the structure had been precisely measured. The entrance to the Gur-i Amir is decorated with Arabic calligraphy and inscriptions, the latter being a common feature in Islamic architecture. The attention to detail and meticulous nature of Timur is especially obvious when looking inside the building. Inside, the walls have been covered in tiles through a technique, originally developed in Iran, called "mosaic faience," a process where each tile is cut, colored, and fit into place individually. The tiles were also arranged in a specific way that would engrave words relating to the city's religiosity; words like "Muhammad" and "Allah" have been spelled out on the walls using the tiles.

The ornaments and decorations of the walls include floral and vegetal symbols which are used to signify gardens. Gardens are commonly interpreted as paradise in the Islamic religion and they were both inscribed in tomb walls and grown in the city itself.

In the city of Samarkand, there were two major gardens, the New Garden and the Garden of Heart's Delight, and these became the central areas of entertainment for ambassadors and important guests. A friend of Genghis Khan in 1218 named Yelü Chucai, reported that Samarkand was the most beautiful city of all where "it was surrounded by numerous gardens. Every household had a garden, and all the gardens were well designed, with canals and water fountains that supplied water to round or square-shaped ponds. The landscape included rows of willows and cypress trees, and peach and plum orchards were shoulder to shoulder." The floors of the mausoleum are entirely covered with uninterrupted patterns of tiles of flowers, emphasizing the presence of Islam and Islamic art in the city. In addition, Persian carpets with floral printings have been found in some of the Timurid buildings.

Turko-Mongol influence is also apparent in the architecture of the buildings in Samarkand. For instance, nomads previously used yurts, traditional Mongol tents, to display the bodies of the dead before they were to engage in proper burial procedures. Similarly, it is believed that the melon-shaped domes of the tomb chambers are imitations of those yurts. Timur, naturally, used stronger materials, like bricks and wood, to establish these tents, but their purposes remain largely unchanged.

The color of the buildings in Samarkand also has significant meaning behind it. For instance, blue is the most common and dominant color that will be found on the buildings, which was used by Timur in order to symbolize a large range of ideas. For one, the blue shades seen in the Gur-i Amir are colors of mourning. Blue was the color of mourning in Central Asia at the time, as it is in many cultures even today, so its dominance in the city's mausoleum appears only logical. In addition, blue was also seen as the color that would ward off "the evil eye" in Central Asia and the notion is evident in the number of doors in and around the city that were colored blue during this time. Furthermore, blue was representative of water, which was a particularly rare resource around the Middle East and Central Asia; coloring the walls blue symbolized the wealth of the city.

Gold also has a strong presence in the city. Timur's fascination with vaulting explains the excessive use of gold in the Gur-i Amir as well as the use of embroidered gold fabric in both the city and his buildings. The Mongols had great interests in Chinese- and Persian-style golden silk textiles as well as nasij woven in Iran.

Come join us for an APTLD-sponsored full-day bus tour on 22 September. For more details please contact GM at: l.todorov@aptld.org

If you have decided to stay on in Samarkand, please check online hotel booking resources for best options. However, may we remind you again that September is a high tourist season for Samarkand, so do not waste your time.
As to food, the most recommended restaurants can be found here and here, but either way, we strongly recommend you try local pilav, which is heavenly mouthwatering and more than affordable.


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