Nadezhda Dukhovny
Nadezhda Dukhovny

Ancient and Unique Uzbekistan: Samarkand region I

Samarkand region is located in the heart of Uzbekistan, and the center of the region is the city of Samarkand, which is included in the UNESCO World Heritage List.

Samarkand. This photo is courtesy of the Press Service of the Samarkand Region Tourism and Sports Department.

The geography of the region is very diverse: in the south there are highlands, and in the north there are steppes. On the flat terrain, there is a loess plain Mirzachul, popularly called the Hungry Steppe.

In the local area, there are amazing valleys of untouched nature, the healing properties of which are priceless. Pure nature heals better than any doctor. What mountain springs and dense juniper forests, coastal thickets, and transparent lakes are here! Such places need to be protected like the apple of an eye, creating national parks and reserves. One of the few such parks is the Zarafshan National Natural Park. It is famous for its pristine forests and foothill tugai vegetation, biological diversity, and natural conditions.

The Zarafshan National Natural Park. This photo is courtesy of the Press Service of the Samarkand Region Tourism and Sports Department.

The Park was opened in 1975 in the southeast of the Samarkand region, along the right bank of the Zarafshan River. Its area covers more than two thousand hectares of land. The territory of the park stretches in a narrow strip along the river, 46 km long.

The main goal of creating the park was to preserve the unique flora in its intact form. Despite the small territory, in addition to tugai, fruit trees, willow, poplar, tamarisk, sea buckthorn, reed, glycyrrhiza, sorghum, silverberry and much more grow here. Zarafshan Nature Reserve is the only place where sea buckthorn grows not in the mountainous area, but on the plain.

The Zarafshan National Natural Park. This photo is courtesy of the Press Service of the Samarkand Region Tourism and Sports Department.

The fauna of the park is also diverse. More than 80 species of insects, more than 20 species of mollusks, more than 240 species of vertebrates have been recorded here.

The permanent inhabitants of the Park are the steppe turtle, the sand boa, the marsh frog, and the arrow snake. There are also 207 species of birds and 24 species of mammals, including porcupines, foxes, corsacs, muskrats, African wildcats, and weasels. In 2000, an attempt was made to settle the Bukhara deer on the territory of the reserve.

The Zarafshan National Natural Park. This photo is courtesy of the Press Service of the Samarkand Region Tourism and Sports Department.

Zarafshan Park is beautiful at any time of the year. In spring it is filled with aromas of flowers and abundant greenery, in September-October, the forests are plunged into autumn colors. In winter, turanga groves and large white willow trees are especially impressive under the snow.

Approaching Samarkand from the north, you can see the ancient settlement Afrasiab of the 7th-2nd centuries BC located on high hills, which was once the Sogdian capital – the legendary Markanda.

The ancient city got its name in honor of the king of Turan Afrasiab, one of the legendary heroes of the poem of the great Persian poet Ferdowsi “Shahnameh” (“Book of Kings”).

Samarkand region is rich in the most beautiful monuments of architecture and culture, such as Registan Square, Shahi Zinda architectural complex, Gur-Emir mausoleum, Bibi Khanum Mosque, and many others.

Samarkand. This photo is courtesy of the Press Service of the Samarkand Region Tourism and Sports Department.

You can visit these places all year round, as there are always interesting holidays and festivals. The climate here is quite mild, the heat is stable in summer, and the winter is mostly snowless. And in February, trees are already beginning to bloom here.

Samarkand is a crossroads of cultures. What names the greatest poets and philosophers of the world did not try to find for it – the garden of the soul, the pearl of the east, the mirror of the world, and even the face of the earth – they could not describe all the beauty of this city.

Gur Emir mausoleum in Samarkand. This photo is courtesy of the Press Service of the Samarkand Region Tourism and Sports Department.

You can only see Samarkand and remain forever captivated by the interweaving of time and different cultures that are characteristic of its territory.

The city appeared about 2 750 years ago, which gives it the right to be called one of the most ancient cities not only in Central Asia but also in the world. The peak of the city’s prosperity falls on the reign of Amir Timur (Tamerlane) and his descendants.

When entering Samarkand, one cannot fail to notice the ancient settlement of Afrosiab, located in the northern part of the city and being one of the most important archaeological monuments of Central Asia.

Afrosiab. This photo is courtesy of the Press Service of the Samarkand Region Tourism and Sports Department.

Walking through this amazing place, you can feel the immersion in the ancient world and touch the history.

The city ruins date back to the 8th century BC.

Afrosiab. This photo is courtesy of the Press Service of the Samarkand Region Tourism and Sports Department.

In Afrasiab, palaces decorated with ganch carvings, houses of noble dekhkans-landowners, mosques and madrasahs, baths and water structures, as well as cobbled streets of the Samanid era were found. Ancient Samarkand was originally called “Hisori Kukhna” (Ancient Hisar), “Kal’ai Hisor” (Hisar fortress). Then, from the 17th century, the city received the name “Fortress Afrasiab” or “Afrasiab”.

Just 40 kilometers from Samarkand, in the village of Aksai, there is an amazing archaeological monument, a shrine, and just a miracle of nature – the cave of Hazrat Daud or St. David.

It is known that this saint is venerated in three world religions at once. Muslims call him Hazrat Daud, and Orthodox Christians and Jews call him David or Davide.

His life story is shrouded in secrets and legends. It is believed that he had the gift of prophecy and healing.

Saint David at the age of 33 became the ruler of the united kingdom of Israel and Judah and reigned for forty years.

According to the Muslim version, after his reign, David was sent by God to the lands of Asia to preach.

On the territory of Central Asia, David caused anger and persecution from the Zoroastrian fire worshipers. He was pursued for a long time until he disappeared into the mountains. Fleeing, David raised his hands to heaven and turned to the Almighty. Having received remarkable strength and the ability to melt iron with his hands, he pushed the stones of the cave and took refuge inside. So, Daud became the patron saint of all blacksmiths.

The ruler of Samarkand learned about him and his abilities. He captured the missionary and Saint Daoud worked for the governor for a long time.

The Hazrat Daoud cave. This photo is courtesy of the Press Service of the Samarkand Region Tourism and Sports Department.

There is another legend about the Hazrat Daoud cave. Once King David decided to fight a huge warrior – Goliath. The jinn magically transported the king to a cave near Samarkand so that David could gather his strength before the battle. But the supernatural beings of the efreet found out where Daud was and brought Goliath on their backs. Saint Daud was not ready for battle and was forced to flee, but Goliath overtook him. And then the saint turned to God with a request for protection. The Lord threw stones and huge boulders on the way. Daud threw stones with his hands, clearing his way. He did not immediately notice that stones were literally melting in his hands. Running to the cave, Daoud melted the entrance and took refuge inside, leaving behind an enraged Goliath.

The Hazrat Daoud cave. This photo is courtesy of the Press Service of the Samarkand Region Tourism and Sports Department.

Hazrat Daud’s cave turned into a shrine. Dozens of pilgrims visit it every day. It is believed that all made wishes come true inside, and requests addressed to the Almighty will be heard faster. To get to it, you need to go upstairs, passing 1303 steps. There is an ancient mosque at the very peak of the mountain. If you go down 200 steps, you can get into the very cave of the saint.

The Hazrat Daoud cave. This photo is courtesy of the Press Service of the Samarkand Region Tourism and Sports Department.

The cave looks like a long tunnel, at the end of which, according to legend, the prints of the hands and feet of Hazrat Daud are preserved. If you touch them, then even the most incredible desire will certainly come true.

The Hazrat Daoud cave. This photo is courtesy of the Press Service of the Samarkand Region Tourism and Sports Department.

Not everyone may be able to overcome more than 1500 steps. Therefore, camels and horses are on duty near the shrine. All along the staircase, there are shops where you can buy commemorative water, snacks, medicinal herbs, souvenirs, and much more.

This photo is courtesy of the Press Service of the Samarkand Region Tourism and Sports Department.

“Everything I’ve heard about Samarkand – everything is true, absolutely everything! Except for one thing: he turned out to be more beautiful than I could have imagined!” said Alexander the Great.

Samarkand has always been distinguished by the fact that it was a real example of oriental hospitality. Representatives of many nationalities have always got along easily here. Samarkand is often called “Eastern Babylon”.

In this video, the Ambassador of Tourism of Uzbekistan to Israel Hai Davydov invites everyone in Hebrew to visit Uzbekistan.

In it, as if in a huge mirror, the path traveled by numerous generations was reflected.

Valuable finds and ancient monuments suggest that the first people began to live in this area many millennia ago.

According to an ancient legend, when the city of Samarkand (VIII century BC) was founded, a leopard descended from the Zarafshan mountains and approved the construction of the city. Since then, Samarkand people associate themselves with the leopard – they are just as proud, just as resolutely brave, and just as generous.

Samarkand. This photo is courtesy of the Press Service of the Samarkand Region Tourism and Sports Department.

The name Samarkand comes from the Sogdian language and means “Stone Fort” or “Stone City”. In ancient times, Samarkand was the capital of the most ancient state of Sogdiana and was called Afrosiab. Among the ancient Greeks and in Rome, the city was known under the name of Maracanda. During the campaign of Alexander the Great, even then Samarkand was a well-equipped and well-developed city. In the early Middle Ages, Samarkand was part of the Turkic Khaganate. In 712, the city was captured by the Arabs led by Kuteiba ibn Muslim and became the center of Maverannahr and Greater Khorasan.

In the 9th century, Samarkand was part of the Samanid State, and at the end of the 10th century, it became part of the Karakhanid State. During that period, grandiose architectural structures were built in Samarkand, most of which, unfortunately, was destroyed by Genghis Khan. Then Samarkand became part of the Khorezmshah state, which was crushed as a result of the Mongol invasion.

When Amir Temur came to power, Samarkand was greatly transformed. The city again became the capital, the restoration of destroyed buildings began, and Samarkand again returned to its former greatness. During the reign of the Timurids, Samarkand actively settled down, scientists and artists from all over the world tried to get here. All conditions were created in the city for the development of science, education, and culture.

In the XVI century. after the Timurids, the Sheibanid dynasty came and the city entered the Bukhara Khanate. Since the 18th century, Samarkand was ruled by the Ashtarkhanids, and the Bukhara Khanate was transformed into the Bukhara Emirate. Due to prolonged civil strife, Samarkand fell into an economic crisis. The first attempts to revive the city were undertaken by the Mangyt dynasty in the middle of the 18th century.

In 1868 the city was conquered by Russian troops. A year later, Samarkand became the administrative center of the formed Samarkand region. An interesting fact is that for a short period Samarkand was again the capital in 1925-1930.

Today Samarkand remains the most beautiful and culturally rich city.

Samarkand. This photo is courtesy of the Press Service of the Samarkand Region Tourism and Sports Department.

 

About the Author
Nadezhda Dukhovny was born and raised in Uzbekistan and made aliya in 2005. She holds an MA in Linguistics from Tel Aviv University and works in translation. She has a true interest about her motherland and would like to tell more about that fascinating country to make Israeli readers familiar with another culture from other part of the globe.
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