Samarkand (meaning "stone fort" or "rock town") is one of the oldest inhabited cities in Central Asia. Today it is Uzbekistan’s second largest city. Strategically positioned along the old Silk Road it is believed to be as old as Babylon or Rome. Following invasion by Alexander the Great in 329 BC, a succession of Iranian and Turkic rulers held the city until the Mongols under Genghis Khan, conquered Samarkand in 1220 and almost destroyed the whole city.
In medieval times Samarkand rose again under the rule of Tamerlane who made it capital of his empire in 1369; a grand city of palaces and gardens, with paved, tree-lined streets and a water system that supplied most houses. The city was ruled by his grandson Ulugbek in the 14th and 15th centuries. It had great silk and iron industries and was the meeting point of merchants' caravans from India, Persia, and China. Today the city is a major producer of cotton and silk.
Samarkand is also renowned as an Islamic centre for scholarly study. At the heart of the old town is Registan Square, site of Tamerlane’s mausoleum (the Gur e Amir: Tomb of the King). With imposing azure fluted dome and multi coloured tile façade it was a model for later great Mughal tombs. The Bibi-Khanym Mosque (a modern replica) remains one of the city's most notable landmarks with its turquoise cupola. It was built on the orders of Timur in memory of his favourite wife.
No visit to Samarkand would be complete without a stop at Siab Bazaar. The oriental market buzzes with atmosphere and was once a key strategic point on the Silk Road.