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Samarkand ( , , , ) is the second-largest city in Uzbekistanmarker and the capital of Samarqand Provincemarker. 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 Mosquemarker remains one of the city's most famous landmarks. The Registanmarker was the ancient centre of the city.In 2001, UNESCOmarker inscribed the 2,750-year-old city on the World Heritage List as Samarkand - Crossroads of Cultures.


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


In 1939 Samarkand had a population of 134,346, and in 2008 an urban population of 596,300. They are mostly Persian-speaking Tajiks. Along with Bukharamarker, Samarkand is one of the historical centers of the Tajik people in Central Asia.


Samarkand is one of the oldest inhabited cities in the world, prospering from its location on the trade route between Chinamarker and the Mediterranean (Silk Road). At times Samarkand has been one of the greatest cities of Central Asia.

Early history

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.

Downtown with Bibi Khanym mosque
View of the Registan at night
Bibi-Khanym Mausoleum

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.

Medieval history

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 Talasmarker 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 Samarkand and 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.
14th century
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 Indiamarker to Turkeymarker. 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.

15th century
Between 1424 and 1429, the great astronomer Ulugh Beg built the Samarkand Observatorymarker. The sextant was 11 metres long and once rose to the top of the surrounding three storey structure although it was kept underground to protect it from earthquakes. Calibrated along its length, it was the world’s largest 90 degree quadrant, at the time. However, the observatory was destroyed by religious fanatics in 1449.

Modern history

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

In the 16th century, the Shaybanids moved their capital to Bukharamarker 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 Bukharamarker.

The city came under Russianmarker 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 Emirmarker, and Bek of Shahrisabzmarker, 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 Zeravshanmarker, 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 Tashkentmarker in 1930.


The climate is sharp continental. Summers are dry and hot, whilst winters are cold. July and August are the hottest months of the year with temperatures reaching, and exceeding, . Most of the little annual precipitation is received from December through April.

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.

Cultural associations

In fiction

  • In The Arabian Nights (ca. AD 900), King Shah Zaman is king of Samarkand.
  • In Jinyong's wuxia novel The Legend of the Condor Heroes (1957), the Mongol conquest is mentioned in the story.
  • Samarcande (1988) is the title of a novel by Amin Maalouf, about Omar Khayyám's life.
  • Samarqand is the center of the Islamic Renaissance in Kim Stanley Robinson's The Years of Rice and Salt.
  • Angela Carter's short story The Kiss discusses the legend of Tamburlaine's mosque in Samarkand.
  • 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 Samarkand are referenced to more than once in the 1920 Edith Wharton novel The Age of Innocence.
  • "Thirty Days In The Samarkand Desert With The Duchess of Kent" by A. E. J. Elliot.
  • The Amulet of Samarkand is the first book in the Bartimaeus Trilogy written by Jonathan Stroud.
  • 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 Bokharamarker."
  • Robert E. Howard wrote a short story in 1932 for Oriental Stories titled "Lord of Samarkand".
  • 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 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 as America's Samarkand, a city well-known as a cultural center.
  • Samarkand (Maracanda) and its environs are central to the events in Stephen Pressfield's historical novel The Afghan Campaign.
  • 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 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 Maltese 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, Kyrgyzstan, 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 epistolary novel It's Getting Later All the Time, by Antonio Tabucchi, the letter/chapter entitled "Books Never Written, Journeys Never Made" begins with the line, "Do you remember when we didn't go to Samarkand?"
  • In JG Ballard's last novel, Kingdom Come (2006), the suburbs of Surrey are as remote as Atlantis and Samarkand to the inhabitants of Chelsea and Holland Park

In poetry, drama and film

  • Samarkand can appear as an archetype of romantic exoticism, notably in the work by James Elroy Flecker: The Golden Journey to Samarkand (1913).
  • Samarkand is one of the cities Audre Lorde describes visiting in her collection of essays and speeches, Sister Outsider.
  • 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.
  • 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.
  • Nigerian writer Wole Soyinka, winner of the 1986 Nobel Prize in Literature, explores the metaphysical significance of the marketplace in a volume of poetry entitled Samarkand and Other Markets I Have Known, 2002.
  • 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 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."
  • Samarkand has been cited as an inspiration for the fictional city of Zanarkand from Final Fantasy X
  • 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 2000 TV miniseries, Arabian Nights, starring Dougray Scott and Mili Avital, Samarkand serves as the setting for Scheherazade's telling of the Aladdin tale.
  • The city of Zanarkand in the 2001 console role-playing game, Final Fantasy X, was inspired by Samarkand.
  • In the 2008 action role-playing game, Fable 2, one of the main characters is said to have come from a place called Samarkand.
  • In the Battletech universe one of the key planets in the Draconis Combine is called New Samarkand.
  • In the novel "The Storyteller's Daughter", a retelling of the Arabian Nights / The 1000 Nights by Cameron Dokey, it is the home of a ruler.

In non-fiction

  • 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 Tajikistanmarker in the early 1990s.
  • Ibn Battuta the great traveler of the 14th century spent time in Samarkand in the 1330s (see Ross Dunn The Adventures of Ibn Battuta: A Muslim Traveler of the 14th century).
  • 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 Uzbekistanmarker, 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 The Travels of Marco Polo, where Polo records his journey along the Silk Road, Samarkand is described as a "a very large and splendid city..." Here also is related the story of a Christian church in Samarkand, which miraculously remained standing after a portion of its central supporting column was removed.


  • In 1977, the Italian singer and composer Roberto Vecchioni issued a LP titled 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.
  • Also in 1994, the Esperanto folk duo Nataŝa & Ĵomart released the album Samarkand.
  • In 2004, violinist Lucia Micarelli released the album Music from a Farther Room, which includes the song "Samarkand".
  • In 1972, Swedish composer Thorstein Bergman wrote "Om du någonsin kommer fram till Samarkand" ("If you ever reach Samarkand") made famous by Swedish singer Lill Lindfors in 1978

Sister cities

These cities were major cities of Greater Khorasan:

Other sister cities


Image:Man at Registan - Samarkand - 15-10-2005.jpg|A man seated before the RegistanmarkerImage:SamarkandBibiKhanym.jpg|Façade of the Bibi-Khanym MosquemarkerImage:SamarkandTillaKari.jpg|Decorations inside Tilla-Kari MedressaImage:SamarkandGuriAmir.jpg|Muqarnas decorations inside the Gur-e AmirmarkerImage:Storks samarkand.jpg|Colour photograph of a Madrasa taken in Samarkand ca. 1912 by Sergey Prokudin-Gorsky.Image:Gorskii_04439u.jpg|Fields near SamarkandImage:Prokudin-Gorskii-54.jpg|Jewish children with their teacher in Samarkand, before 1915Image:Minaret in Samarkand.jpg|A minaret in Samarkand

See also


  1. Columbia-Lippincott Gazeteer. p. 1657
  2. D.I. Kertzer/D. Arel, Census and identity, p. 187, Cambridge University Press, 2001
  3. Columbia-Lippincott Gazeteer (New York: Comubia University Press, 1972 reprint) p. 1657
  4. Encyclopedia Britannica (Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 1984) Vol. 16, p. 204
  5. Quraishi, S. "A survey of the development of papermaking in Islamic Countries", Bookbinder, 1989 (3): 29-36.
  6. Encyclopedia Britannica, 15th Ed., p. 204
  7. Columbia-Lippincott Gazeteer, p. 1657
  8. Britannica. 15th Ed., p. 204
  9. (2001) in Studio BentStuff: Final Fantasy X Ultimania Ω (in Japanese). DigiCube/Square Enix, 476. ISBN 4-88787-021-3.

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