Below are some of the major travel highlights for Silk Road. For more in-depth attractions of each country on this route, click on the country names below or select a route to see the highlights on this section of the journey. Click on the icons below to focus on specific types of features (click again to return to all).
|In-depth highlights: Azerbaijan, China, Georgia, Iran, Kyrgyzstan, Turkey, Turkmenistan, Uzbekistan|
Highlights of Tashkent - Ashgabat
Tashkent is the capital of Uzbekistan and the base for exploring the country. Much of the historic old town was destroyed in an earthquake in 1966 with much of the city now an example of 1960s Soviet architecture. It is nevertheless a modern, spacious and green city with a mix of Russian and Uzbek influences. Its attractions include the central tree-lined Timur Square, the lively spice and food market at Chorsu Bazaar, Alisher Navoi Theatre, the History and Applied Arts Museums and the mosques and madrassas of the old town.
Samarkand is perhaps the most famous of the Silk Road cities, one of the oldest cities in the world and one of the great destinations in world travel. From its founding in the 7th century BC, Samarkand has been as the crossroads of great trade routes, cultures and peoples and was conquered by Alexander the Great and Genghis Khan. In the 14th century, Tamerlane made Samarkand the capital of his empire and transformed the city into one of the finest in Central Asia. Its most famous feature is Registan Square, bordered on three sides by the three huge and stunning blue tiles madrassas Ulugbek, Sher Dor and Tillya Kari, perhaps the defining image of Central Asia and the Silk Road. Bibi Khanum Mosque has been compared to the Taj Mahal as Tamerlane constructed it for his wife. Other notable features include Ulug Beg's Observatory, where the great medieval astronomer calculated the length of the year to within 10 seconds, the Shakhi-Zinda Mausoleum complex and the gold-lined Gur Amir, the mausoleum of Tamerlane and his sons and grandsons.
UNESCO World Heritage Site: Samarkand – Crossroads of Cultures
Shakhrisyabz is located southwest of Samarkand in a valley surrounded by the Pamir Mountains. The birthplace of Tamerlane, it contains a number of historic monuments dating back to the 14th century. These include the remains of the Ak-Sarai Palace with its 50 metre high gate towers, the Dorus Saodat Complex of religious buildings and the intended royal mausoleum and the Kuk Gumbaz Mosque.
UNESCO World Heritage Site: Historic Centre of Shakhrisyabz
Nurata, formerly known as Nur, was founded in the 3rd century BC by Alexander the Great as a frontier outpost - the ruins of his hilltop Karazy Fortress still exist and offer great views. Nurata was also a place of Muslim pilgrimage with devotees flocking to the Chasma complex of religious buildings, memorials and graves.
Bukhara is considered the best preserved example of a medieval city in Central Asia, with its overall design and many monuments having changed little in centuries. With over 100 officially preserved buildings, it rewards extensive exploration. Highlights include the Ark Citadel, heart of the city and residence of Bukhara's Emirs and the Kalyan mosque and minaret from which prisoners were thrown to their deaths. The Ismael Samani mausoleum dates to the 9th century and is the resting place of the founder of the Samanid Persian dynasty. The Lyabi Hauz Square is a pool of water surrounded by mulberry trees and madrassas and the perfect place to visit a traditional teahouse. Aside from the historic monuments, Bukhara's charm lies in exploring the narrow and twisting alleyways and seeking out jewellery, spices, cloths and other goods in the bazaars.
UNESCO World Heritage Site: Historic Centre of Bukhara
The ancient city of Khiva in north-western Uzbekistan is one of the most atmospheric and evocative of the Silk Road cities. Strategically located on the Volga branch of the Silk Road, Khiva has been fought over for centuries by Arabs, Mongols, Persians and Russians. The inner town of Itchan Kala is enclosed by unbroken 10 metre high walls with 40 bastions. The town is beautifully preserved and perfect for exploration amidst the madrassas and minarets. The notable buildings include the Kunya Ark fortress, Pakhlavan Makhmud complex, Toza Bog Palace, Muhammed Amin Khan Madrassah and Djuma Mosque, whose minaret offers great views of the city below.
UNESCO World Heritage Site: Itchan Kala
The origins of Kunya-Urgench go back to the 5th century as part of the Persian Empire. As capital of the Khorezm region in the 12th century, it rivalled Bukhara in wealth and importance as a Silk Road city. Destroyed by the Mongols in 1221, the city recovered but 150 years later the inhabitants were forced by Tamerlane to move to the new town of Urgench in present day Uzbekistan. They left a series of very impressive monuments behind though, which influenced architecture in Iran, Afghanistan and the Mogul Empire in India. These include the 11th century 60 metre high Kutlug-Timur minaret, the 14th century Turabek-Khanum Mausoleum, the monument of Ibn Khajib, the Ak Kala Fortress and the Tash Kala Caravanserai.
UNESCO World Heritage Site: Kunya-Urgench
The five ancient cities of the Merv oasis, covering over 100 km², have been important in this region for millennia. Merv reached its peak in the 11th and 12th centuries as part of the Great Seljuk Empire as key city along the Silk Road and famous for its libraries that attracted scholars from all over the Islamic world. The city and its million strong population were destroyed by the Mongols in 1221. Today, Merv is the oldest and best-preserved of the oasis cities of the Silk Road with notable monuments including the Beni Makhan mosque, Sultan Sanjar's Mausoleum and the windowless castle of Kyz Kala. The Museum of History in the nearby town of Mary contains an excellent collection of relics rescued from Merv.
UNESCO World Heritage Site: State Historical and Cultural Park "Ancient Merv"
The capital of Turkmenistan was completely destroyed by an earthquake in 1948. Since independence in 1991, it has been extensively renovated by President Niyazov with many futuristic, controversial and bizarre buildings. In particular the huge Arch of Neutrality is topped by a 12 metre golden statue of Niyazov which revolves with the sun. Other attractions in the city include the Presidential Palace, Independence Square, the Mosque of Khezert Omar, the Turkmenistan National Museum of History and the Earthquake Monument. The Tolkucha Bazaar is famous for its sea of traditional Turkmen carpets.