Samarkand (sămərkănd´, Rus. səmərkänt´), city (1991 pop. 395,000), capital of Samarkand region, in Uzbekistan, on the Trans-Caspian RR. It is one of the oldest existing cities in the world and the oldest of Central Asia. At the time of its greatest splendor medieval Samarkand was a fabulous city of palaces and gardens, with paved and tree-lined streets and a water system that supplied most of the individual houses. It had great silk and iron industries and was the meeting point of merchants' caravans from India, Persia, and China.
Modern Samarkand still is a major cotton and silk center. Wine and tea are produced, grain is processed, and there are industries producing metal products, tractor parts, leather goods, clothing, and footwear. The irrigated surrounding region has orchards and gardens and wheat and cotton fields. Samarkand is the seat of the Uzbekistan state university and of medical, agricultural, and teachers' institutes and the site of a regional museum.
Points of Interest
The old quarter of Samarkand with its maze of narrow, winding streets occupies the eastern part of the city and centers on the Registan, a great square. It contains some of the most remarkable monuments of central Asia, built during the reign of Timur and his successors. The most famous of these is Timur's mausoleum, surmounted by a ribbed dome and faced with multicolored tiles; the conqueror's tomb was opened in 1941. Other buildings include the Bibi Khan Mosque, with its turquoise cupola, erected by Timur to the memory of his favorite wife; several other magnificent mosques; the mausoleums of the Timurid cemetery (Shah-i-Zinda); and the ruins of the observatory built by Ulugh-Beg, a grandson of Timur.
Built on the site of Afrosiab, which dated from the 3d or 4th millennium BC, Samarkand was known to the ancient Greeks as Marakanda; ruins of the old settlement remain north of the present city. The chief city of Sogdiana, on the ancient trade route between the Middle East and China, Samarkand was conquered (329 BC) by Alexander the Great and became a meeting point of Western and Chinese culture. The first paper mill outside China was established there in 751.
The Arabs took Samarkand in the 8th cent. AD, and under the Umayyad empire it flourished as a trade center on the route between Baghdad and China. In the 9th and 10th cent., as capital of the Abbasid dynasty in central Asia, Samarkand emerged as a center of Islamic civilization. The tomb of Bukhari (d. 870), near Samarkand, is a major Muslim shrine. Samarkand continued to prosper under the Samanid dynasty of Khorasan (874–999) and under the subsequent rule of the Seljuks and of the shahs of Khwarazm.
In 1220, Jenghiz Khan captured and devastated the city, but it revived in the 14th cent. when Timur (or Tamerlane) made it the capital of his empire. Under his rule the city reached its greatest splendor; sumptuous palaces were erected, and mosques and gardens laid out. Under Timur's successors, the Timurids, the empire soon was much reduced; it broke up in the late 15th cent. and was ruled by the Uzbeks for the following four centuries. Samarkand eventually became part of the emirate of Bukhara (see Bukhara, emirate of) and fell to Russian troops in 1868, when the emirate passed under Russian suzerainty. In 1925, Samarkand became the capital of the Uzbek SSR, but in 1930 it was replaced by Tashkent.