Thursday, January 15, 2009
The country 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 Orient'. 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.