Due to its position in Central Asia, Tashkent came under Sogdian and Turkic influence early in its history, before Islam in the 8th century AD. After its destruction by Genghis Khan in 1219, the city was rebuilt and profited from the Silk Road. In 1865 it was conquered by the Russian Empire, and in Soviet times witnessed major growth and demographic changes due to forced deportations from throughout the Soviet Union. Today, as the capital of an independent Uzbekistan, Tashkent retains a multi-ethnic population with ethnic Uzbeks as the majority.
Nukus is the capital of Karakalpakstan, an ill-defined autonomous republic inside Uzbekistan and thus the regional centre and transport hub of the republic. It is a grim and impoverished city of Soviet concrete and desperation, visited by few foreigners. Nukus is best used as a base for visits to the Aral Sea and Kunya Urgench.
Andijon – the Fergana Valley’s largest city of over 350,000 people and its spiritual mecca. Both culturally and linguistically Andijon is probably the country’s purest Uzbek city, and the best place to observe Uzbeks in their element. Andijan has a rich past and vibrant Uzbek culture but a troubled recent history, and consequently few foreign tourists come hero unless they're passing quickly through en route to Kyrgyzstan.
As the regional centre of tsarist and Soviet rule, the town of Fergana has grown into the valley's third-largest city, with a population of 220,000-230,000. In fact, Fergana is the valley’s least ancient and least Uzbek city. Founded in 1876, 20 kilometres from the ancient town of Margilan, it was christened New Margilan, then in 1907 became Skobelov, after the first military governor, and in 1924 assumed the valley's name.Fergana's wide avenues spread fan-like from the old military fortress, recalling the St Petersburg design of Tashkent. Tree-lined avenues and pastel-plastered tsarist buildings indeed give Fergana the feel of a mini-Tashkent. Parks, fountains, Russian architecture and industrial zones strengthen the similarity, and the contrast, with Uzbek, Islamic Margilan.
The vast province of Navoi covers almost a quarter of Uzbekistan's territory but includes just a fraction of the country's population, as much of the region is covered by the inhospitable Kyzylkum Desert. Despite the arid climate, cotton is still grown here, though Navoi's real income comes from what lies beneath the ground: natural gas, oil and precious metals.
Central Asia’s holiest city, Bukhara has buildings spanning a thousand years of history, and a thoroughly lived-in old centre that probably hasn’t changed much in two centuries. It is one of the best places in Central Asia for a glimpse of pre-Russian Turkestan. Most of the centre is an architectural preserve, full of medressas, minarets, a massive royal fortress and the remnants of a once-vast market complex. Government restoration efforts have been more subtle and less indiscriminate than in flashier Samarkand, and the city’s accommodation options go from strength to strength.
Lying in the river valley of the Zerafshan (gold-strewer) and flanked by Pamir-Alai mountain spurs, this fabled oasis at the fringes of the Kyzyl Kum desert has never lacked breathless admirers. Another name, City of Famous Shadows, reveals Samarkand as witness to the full sweep of Central Asian history. Up to 40,000 years ago, natural bounty drew Palaeolithic man to the area.
Uzbek Urgench is a flat, grey Soviet city with all of Tashkent's faults and few of its saving graces. It is however the entry point and the home of most group travelling to visit Khorezm. For those with time to kill the city offers a bustling modern market and mushrooming modern statuary, where Soviet giants once held sway. Lenin disappeared overnight in 1992, replaced in the huge central square by Abu Mohammed Ibn Musa Al Khorezmi (783-840).
Muynak (Moynoq, in Uzbek Latin, Mojnak in Karakalpak) was once the largest port on the Aral, a finger of coast where a significant part of the Aral catch was processed and canned. In 1921 as the Volga region suffered a terrible famine, Lenin appealed to the Aral fleet for help and within days 21,000 tonnes of fish had been dispatched, saving thousands of Russian lives. Today it is a nightmarish town of stagnant, corrosive pools and deserted factories, the victim of a Soviet crusade to overcome nature.
Zarafshan is a city of over 68,000 inhabitants (2009) in the center of Uzbekistan's Navoiy Region. Located in the Kyzylkum desert, it receives water from the Amudarya by a 220-km pipeline.
Zarafshan is called "the gold capital of Uzbekistan". It is home of the Navoi Mining & Metallurgy Combinat's Central Mining Administration, charged with mining and processing gold from the nearby Muruntau open-pit mine.
The small town Nurata is located in the foothills of Nuratau Mountains. There are a lot of legends related with the origin of the city and its name. People refer the origin of the city to the fortress Nur, which was founded by Alexander the Great in 4th century BC.
This small town became known these days due to the Shurtan natural gas field (one of the largest in Central Asia) and to the military airport Khanabad, being used in military operation of NATO on the territory of Afghanistan. But only few people know that the age of Karshi is over 2700 years.
The city of Termez is the final frontier. Few foreigners venture this far south, save those heading across the border into Afghanistan, and so making the journey seems like quite an adventure regardless of whether you are continuing across the border or not. From ancient Buddhist monasteries to medieval mausoleums, there is plenty to see, all nestled in the sweeping curve of the mighty Amu Darya.
Locked in the heart of Central Asia, Uzbekistan is both a museum to the ancient Silk Road and a country shaking off its Soviet past while striving to develop its place within the modern world. This concoction of old and new is what makes it so special – go for the history and you’ll undoubtedly fall for the distinctive culture and friendly people.
With everything from Unesco World Heritage Sites and ruined desert fortresses to mega meat kebabs, artistic tile work, and buzzing neighbourhoods, Uzbekistan is ripe for exploring now.
Officially, there are four UNESCO sites (with many more on the tentative list) but as each is an old town, you get plenty of things to see for your som (Uzbekistani currency). These are the historic centres of Bukhara and Shakhrisabz, Khiva’s Itchan Kala, and Samarkand.
Highlights include the endlessly beautiful Shah-i-Zinda, a street of striking tiled mausoleums, and Ulugh Beg’s fifteenth-century observatory in Samarkand. Elsewhere, the albeit incomplete vase-like Kalta Minor and rounded walls of Khiva, and Bukhara’s mighty Kalyan Minaret beg to be admired – among many other attractions.
Uzbekistan has more mosques, madrasahs, mausoleums, and minarets than you can shake a stick at – even the hardiest of sight-seekers would be pushed to see them all.
There’s no one-style-fits all approach here – the variety in the architecture represents the diversity of the different periods and rulers across the centuries.
n Khiva, you can wander among more than 200 intricately carved elm wood columns inside the cool, dark Juma Mosque, while the distinctive Chor Minor Mosque in Bukhara is curious for its four-minarets and almost sandcastle-like design.
The same applies to the mausoleums: the mysteriously understated stone ‘tomb of Timur’ in Shakhrisabz is, in fact, no such thing, as Timur is actually entombed in the contrastingly elaborate Gur-i-Amir Mausoleum in Samarkand, complete with slabs of onyx and jade, marble stalactites and gilded domes. Then there’s the Samanid Mausoleum in Bukhara which is different still: a cube of baked brick with both Zoroastrian and Islamic motifs.
Adorning many of the four Ms, inside and out, is some serious tilework with a mix of geometric patterns and calligraphy, delicate flowers, and mosaics offering a kaleidoscope of blue, white, green and turquoise. What sets Uzbekistan’s tile art apart is the occasional depiction of animals and birds, as the use of such creatures is generally forbidden in Islam. Look out for the playful tigers in Samarkand’s Registan, and the phoenix above the gate at the Nadir Divan-Beghi Madrasah in Bukhara.
The Khorezm area stretches into both the Karakum and Kyzylkum deserts and is said to be home to around 50 ruined fortresses – many still hidden beneath the sand. Eight of these have enough on show for you to get a good idea of their once imposing scale and impressive location, and the sun-baked ruins of Ayaz Kala, dating back to the fourth century BC, are the star attraction. Make the most of your trip with a camel trek to this ancient monument or spend the night in its shadow at the local yurt camp.
Uzbekistan’s popularity is, without a doubt, on the up – and it should be easy to see why. The trick is to enjoy the countless historic, natural, and cultural attractions on offer while the country is still relatively crowd-free – now really is the time to go.
Uzbekistan is one of only two countries in the world to be ‘double landlocked’ (landlocked and totally surrounded by other landlocked countries). Liechtenstein is double landlocked by 2 countries whilst Uzbekistan is surrounded by 5!
Did you know that Uzbekistan lies in the very heart of Eurasia, the coordinates for Uzbekistan are 41.0000° N, 69.0000°
Uzbekistan is home to the Muruntan gold mine, one of the largest open pit gold mines in the world! The country has 4th largest reserves of gold in the world after South Africa, USA and Russia
Uzbekistan is the world capital of melons. They have in excess of 150 different varieties, which form a staple part of the local diet, served fresh in the summer and eaten dried through the winter.
It is Uzbek tradition that the most respected guest be seated farthest from the house’s entrance.
Tashkent’s metro features chandeliers, marble pillars and ceilings, granite, and engraved metal. It has been called one of the most beautiful train stations in the world.
The Uzbek master chef is able to cook in just one caldron enough plov to serve a thousand men.
When you are a host to someone, it is your duty to fill their cups with for the whole time they are with you. What you must not do, however, is to fill their cup more than half-full. If you do that as a mistake, say it is a mistake immediately. Doing it means you want them to leave. Wow! Amazing, right?
To Uzbeks, respect means a whole lot. For this reason they love it if, even as foreigners, you endeavour to add the respectful suffix opa after a woman's name; and aka after a man's. Example: Linda-opa and David-aka. You could also use hon and jon respectively.
Having been an historic crossroads for centuries as part of various ancient empires, Uzbekistan’s food is very eclectic. It has its roots in Iranian, Arab, Indian, Russian and Chinese cuisine.
Though identified with the Persia, the Zoroastrism probably originated in Bactria or Sogdiana. Many distinguished scholars share an opinion that Zoroastrianism had originated in the ancient Khorezm. Indeed, today in the world there were found 63 Zoroastrian monuments, including those in Iran, India, Afghanistan and Pakistan. Thirty-eight of them are in Uzbekistan, whereas 17 of these monuments are located in Khorezm.
One of Islam's most sacred relics - the world's oldest Koran that was compiled in Medina by Othman, the third caliph or Muslim leader, is kept in Tashkent. It was completed in the year 651, only 19 years after Muhammad's death.
Tashkent is the only megapolis in the world where public transport is totally comprised of Mercedes buses. And due to low urban air polution it is one of the few cities where one can still see the stars in the sky.
You would be surprised to know that modern TV was born in Tashkent. No joke! The picture of moving objects was transmitted by radio first time in the world in Tashkent on 26 of July 1928 by inventors B.P. Grabovsky and I.F. Belansky.
Uzbekistan is the only country in the world all of whose neighbours have their names ending in STAN. This is also the only country in Central Asia that borders all of the countries of this region
Uzbeks are the third populous Turkik ethnicity in the world after Turks and Azeris (leaving both in Azerbaijan and Iran)
Did you know that there was silk money in Khiva? Super interesting right? Of course, but the best part of having silk money was that it could be sewn into your clothing.
Famous Islamic physician Ibn Sina (Avicenna in the Latin world) who was born near Bukhara was the one of the first people to advocate using women’s hair as suture material – about 1400 years ago.
Uzbekistan has a long and bloody history. The most notorious leader of Uzbekistan was Timur (or Tamerlane) who claimed descent from Genghis Khan. His military campaigns have been credited for wiping out some 5% of the world’s population at the time.
If you have thought that some of the Islamic architecture in Uzbekistan resembles that from Northern India, then that is because Timur’s great great great Grandson, Babur Beg, was the founder of the Moghul Empire that ruled much of India for almost four centuries! Babur’s great great Grandson was Shah Jahan, who built the Taj Mahal.
Uzbekistan was once a rum producig country. There is still a real arboretum in Denau (city near Termez on the border with Afghanistan), grown from a selection station that studied the prospects of plant growing in the unusual for the Soviet Union subtropical climate of Surkhandarya region: only here in the whole of the USSR sugar cane was grown and even rum was produced!