• Journey to the village of
Margilan to tour the Yodgarlik Silk Factory and meet the
silk weavers who work at the factory
• Stroll through the colorful “Chorsu” Bazaar and visit the Fine
Arts Museum in
Registan Square, a medieval center of trade, to see the
three beautiful madrasahs built in the 13th, 15th and 16th
• Learn about Uzbekistan’s ancient history of winemaking at the
• See the impressive Imperial Russian collection, political
gifts sent to the emir, and exhibit of traditional
Suzzane embroidery and needlepoint
• Visit the colorful and large Turabke Khanym Mausoleum, with
its brilliant campanile, grape blue and opal green tile
Uzbekistan boasts some of the finest architectural jewels
among the Silk Road countries, featuring intricate Islamic tile
work, turquoise domes, minarets and preserved relics from the
time when Central Asia was a centre of empire and learning. Good
examples of this architecture can be found in the ancient walled
city of Khiva in Urgench, the winding narrow streets of the old
town of Bukhara and Samarkand, known locally as the ‘Rome of the
The Ferghana Valley, surrounded by the Tian Shan and Pamir
mountains, still produces silk and is well worth visiting for
its friendly bazaars and landscape of cotton fields, mulberry
trees and fruit orchards. Uzbekistan's mountain ranges attract
hikers, cyclists and backcountry skiers, while experienced
mountaineers come to climb some of the world's highest peaks.
The territory of modern-day Uzbekistan and its close neighbours
have seen many empires rise and fall. The Sogdians, the
Macedonians, the Huns, the Mongolians, the Seljuks, the Timurids
and the Khanates of Samarkand, Bukhara Khiva and Khorezm all
held sway here at one time or another. Central Asia really came
of age with the development of the Silk Road from China to the
West. Samarkand and Bukhara lay astride this, the most valuable
trading route of its day. The riches that it brought were used
to build fabulous mosques and madrassars, most of which were
destroyed by the Mongol hordes in the 13th century. Much of the
damage was repaired and new cities were built by Timur the Lame
in the 14th century.
The Russians had had their eyes on the lands over their southern
border since Peter the Great sent his first military mission to
Khiva in 1717. It was to be another 150 years before they
started to make any considerable headway. In 1865, General
Kaufmann took Tashkent and signed agreements with the Khans.
There were Russian client Khans in Khiva until 1920. The
Bolsheviks were resisted in Central Asia by bands known as
Basmachi until the 1930s; they were finally suppressed and
Moscow took control. Uzbekistan declared independence from the
Soviet Union in 1991.
Today Uzbekistan is bordered by Afghanistan, Turkmenistan,
Kazakhstan, Kyrgyzstan and Tajikistan.
The territory of what is now
Turkmenistan provided the bedrock
for many of the most powerful empires of their age. The Parthians, the Seljuks and the Khans of Khoresm all based their
empires at various points on the edge of the Kara-Kum Desert,
while Alexander the Great conquered the region during his epic
campaign of the fourth century BC. The influence of Islam dates
from the seventh century AD, when the region was under Arab
control. Modern-day Turkmen are descended from tribes that
migrated to the area in the 10th century from the northeast.
Almost all the attractions lie around the fringes of the desert
and in ancient ruins such as Merv (now Mary). The capital,
Ashgabat, is a modern city. It replaced the one founded in 1881,
which was destroyed in an earthquake in 1948. The Sunday market
here is the best place to buy Turkmen carpets. Mary, due east of
Ashgabat, is Turkmenistan's second city and lies near the
remains of Merv, which was once the second city of Islam until
Ghengis Khan's son Toloi reduced it to rubble in 1221.
Turkmenistan's harsh desert conditions and terrain mean that
tourism has been relatively undeveloped. Another reason is that
since independence from the Soviet Union in 1991, the country
has remained largely closed to the outside world under the rule
of President Niyazov, who died in December 2006. It is
effectively a one-party state, governed by the Democratic Party
of Turkmenistan, which comprises mostly former communists.
Although the country benefits from from its oil and gas
deposits, its economy remains underdeveloped due to the low
presence of foreign investors. It remains to be seen whether
Niyazov's death will bring about the changes needed to encourage
foreign investment and tourism.
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