Uzbekistan is a country where you can spend your time just eating, just hiking in the desert, just exploring medieval architecture, and still have to come back again and again to see more!
Welcome to Uzbekistan, where the sun shines all year round! To the country with the most ancient history and unique culture, which has been preserved for centuries. Take for example the famous Gur-Emir!
Gur-Emir with aquamarine dome
When Soviet troops discovered and opened Amir Timur's tomb in 1941, archaeologists found the inscription "When I rise from the dead, the world will shudder" carved in stone.
Muslim clergy and locals tried to prevent the Russians from opening the tomb - they feared that a curse would fall on the neighborhood. After all, Timur was one of the world's greatest warriors, his own Genghis Khan, feared and loved throughout the medieval world. The opening of his tomb in the midst of World War II seemed very fortunate. Two days after his tombstone was removed from the Gur Emir Mausoleum in Samarkand, the Nazis invaded Russia in Operation Barbarossa. Stalin, nervous and superstitious, ordered Timur's remains reburied with honors. A month later, the Nazis were defeated in the Battle of Stalingrad. Today, looking at the aquamarine-domed Gur-Emir Mausoleum, one can realize that the dome-shaped building might have frightened locals and visitors. It towers above fragrant walnut trees and provides islands of welcome shade under the strong sun. Visitors no longer tremble, eager to go inside. Instead, the interior shimmers with cool blue and green tiles, and you are immediately overwhelmed by the vast space.
This is a fitting compliment to a man who once rode a horse across Central Asia, conquering cities and uniting tribes. The Timurid Empire, though somewhat overshadowed in the West by the Italian Renaissance, spawned a Timurid Renaissance in which the sciences and arts flourished. Under Timur, investment in art, architecture, and mathematics began, remnants of which can still be seen today throughout Central Asia.
Statues of these Renaissance heroes adorn the squares of the capital Tashkent and the streets of Samarkand. One of them, Mirzo Ulugbek, a 15th-century astronomer and mathematician, changed our view of the stars through his dream of improving the accuracy of telescopes. He built one of the world's largest observatories - you can still see its foundations and understand the scale and importance of knowledge in the Timurid era.
At times, traveling through Uzbekistan, the country seems like a living museum. Mausoleums and tombs in bright colors and decorated with unusual geometric patterns. Many of them have stood the test of time, surviving the hot desert winds, while others fell into disrepair but were rebuilt during the Soviet era.
Samarkand is one of the pearls of Central Asia
Its name literally means "stone fortress," and walking through the sturdy, squat, square buildings with courtyards and roof terraces, one gets the impression that the city was built with fortification in mind. Samarkand was one of the ancient trading capitals of the Silk Road, where caravans rested and traded during the long journeys between Turkey in the West and China in the East. This influence is evident in the architecture - minarets and domed roofs - but is most pronounced in the food.
Food is one of the country's main attractions. Dinners in Uzbekistan are always better under the stars, and dishes such as eggplant and pomegranate salad and the ubiquitous achichuk (tomato and onion salad) grace every table - served to set off the hearty lamb kebab and piles of pilaf.
Pilaf is the national dish of Uzbekistan - on paper it's just rice, carrots and meat. But it's the hospitality that accompanies plov, which is cooked in huge cauldrons and served at plov centers throughout the cities and towns, that makes it special. Choose your plov, top it with salad, egg or kazy (horse sausage) and sit down at a large communal table to eat with the locals. In second place is lagman - bowls of steaming thick noodles (as a sign of respect to Chinese traders) in meat broth, with bell peppers, eggplant and potatoes.
If pilaf is ubiquitous, bread is sacred in Uzbekistan. Wheels of nekhleb - stretched dough baked in tandyr ovens - are sold on almost every corner. In the Fergana Valley, bakers sell bread smeared with sour cream left over from the Soviet Union. In Samarkand, it is eaten hot from the oven and torn by hand. It is never cut with a knife or put upside down - it is disrespectful.
Other street snacks include sаmsa - crispy triangular flatbreads filled with hot pumpkin or lamb mince. These are the perfect snacks for exploring Registan, the heart of the ancient city!
Registan - the heart of the ancient city
Imagine a Roman forum where people once gathered to listen to the king's announcements of wars or famines, and you get the Registan. Three huge madrasas, or religious schools, now line the square: inside they are filled with stalls selling Samarkand silk paper and beautiful dyed fabrics. These are living, breathing buildings, but they are also some of the most beautiful places you can visit on our planet.
The sheer scale of them is mind-boggling! A short walk from the Registan is Shah-i-Zindi, a hill dotted with a maze of turquoise and gold mausoleums, where you can wade through arched doorways and brightly colored tiled structures.
Today Samarkand is a modern city with significant historical sites, but if you want to see one of Asia's best-preserved cities on your way to the Tien Shan and the Kyzylkum Desert, a UNESCO World Heritage Site, Bukhara is a good place to stop. Ancient traders thought so too, and the city abounds with the lodges and resting places of caravanserais. At sunset, the stone glows warm gold, and swallows fly down from the towers and swoop over the heads of visitors drinking mint tea in the courtyards.
As dusk falls from the desert, the muezzin's call to prayer from every mosque echoes through the empty streets and the city center empties out, leaving the few visitors who make it here feeling like a kid who got the keys to the museum after dark.
Not everything in Uzbekistan is ancient. Travel back a few centuries by taking the Afrosaib, a train linking Samarkand in the southwest of the country with the capital, Tashkent. There are corners of real beauty in Tashkent, and one of them is underground.
Tashkent's subway is like a living art gallery, and until 2018 it was forbidden to take photos here because it was used as a bomb shelter. Now you can take photos of the amazing vaulted ceilings, historic murals and quirky light sculptures. At Birunyi station, the ceiling looks like it was mosaicked out of eggshells, and at Garfur Galom station, green columns that would have been out of place in Gaudi's Barcelona support a ceiling mottled with cylindrical holes.
It's a land of dusty red and green colors, thick layers of history and culture, influencing not only the architecture and cuisine, but the entire world.
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