We awoke to yet another beautiful day in Uzbekistan – the weather was stunning for 99% of the trip, with only 1 day of rain I was a very happy bunny!! Which was good as today was an action packed day visiting 6 more sights of Samarkand!
After breakfast we hopped back onto the bus and drove over to the Afrosiyab museum in the older area of Samarkand.
Afrosiyab is the site of the ancient city of Samarkand, it was located on a hill near a river for defensive reasons. The area began to be occupied in the 6th-7th century BC and was the centre of Sogdian culture.
The museum was recently renovated and was beautifully laid out. The area around the museum was mainly unexcavated but the museum did have some fresco’s which were in the process of being restored.
We were led to a small room by the director of the museum and watched a short video explaining the site and the excavations they have done. He then led us round the museum and explained the key exhibits to us – translated by our guide.
We went in to the see the fresco’s they had recovered which were on 3 walls of a square room. Some of them had been restored better than the others but we understand that this was an ongoing process. They depicted several different scenes. The central fresco showed many scenes of dignitaries and members of the King’s entourage with inscription in the Sogdian language.
The second fresco depicts the arrival of a royal bride and the third a Chinese princess being rowed across a river. This third fresco was the one which had been restored. What we could see was only half of the height that they would have been when they were painted.
When we had finished with the museum we took a stroll up a small hill into a meadow which covered the unexcavated site. It was a large area totally covered in grass. You could see where some of the excavations had been done and where the river used to run. We had a walk round and our guide pointed out the unexcavated site of Alexander the Greats palace in the distance.
We also bumped into a shepherd and his herd of sheep who happily posed for photos.
We then headed off to the Ulug Beg Observatory which we were all quite excited to see. Ulug Beg was the grandson of Amir Timur and built the observatory in the 1420’s. Ulug Beg seemed to be more focused on science and the stars than ruling the empire. Scholars have said the observatory was one of the finest in the Islamic world.
We wandered round the fairly new visitor centre which luckily had most of the signs in English so we were able to go at our own pace. Next to was over to the last remaining part of the observatory, we peaked over the top of a glass fence and looked down onto the trench. It was quite amazing to think how old this was and how accurate the readings where that he took.
It was a shame not more of it remained for such an important site.
We were all getting rather hungry by this point and with a promise of Plov for lunch we headed to a local silk paper factory. It was another ingenious family business set up in someone’s home. The location was beautiful, we walked round and looked the process from start to finish. There was an Uzbek TV crew filming while we were there, we aren’t sure what they were filming or whether we had been filmed.
Next we headed into their wonderful little shop which sold an array of silk paper crafts, from notebooks, postcards to full items of clothing! We purchased a small picture as a memento – knowing full well our bags were already very packed!!!
Lunch was as good as expected. Sat in the courtyard of someone’s home while he brought out large plates of Plov and salad for us all to tuck into!
We even had the chance to taste the orange lemon’s we had seen at the market in Tashkent! Stuart got slightly addicted to them and along with another member of our group ordered a plate more of slices!! I thought they would make a good G&T garnish!
Perhaps my favourite site of the whole trip was our next stop – the Shah-i-Zinda complex, 11 mausoleums along a passageway towering over each other. Some were tiled in the familiar blue tiles we have seen and some where left as the bare brick, all were as beautiful as each other.
The complex is made up of mausoleums and ritual buildings. You had to walk a steep flight of stairs which elevated the site above everything else and worked our way through the site. I will let the pictures do the talking.
As we reached the last tomb we could see the modern graveyard behind filled with headstones. Most of them had engraved pictures of the people who were buried, which to a western head is a little odd but seemed normal for the Uzbek’s.
I really enjoyed the Shah-i-Zinda and it’s definitely somewhere I would like to go back and spend some more time, if even just to get some more pictures of those blue tiles.
Our penultimate stop was at the Bibi Khanum Mosque. The Mosque was built for Amir Timur and named after his wife Bibi Khanum. Over the years the Mosque fell into disrepair and it was left to ruin. There has been some restoration work on the site but some of the buildings are still crumbling, the Mosque was empty and shut. We took a peek inside which is now just a home for birds.
The last of our 6 sights was the Samarkand Bazaar – time for some more shopping for dried fruits. We had a little wander round and then took a pew on a nearby wall, exhausted from all the sights. We sat and watched the Uzbek people go by.
More from Uzbekistan
Other things we have been up to