What to see in Uzbekistan: cities and attractions not to be missed

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Joel Fulleda

wikipedia.org, lonelyplanet.com

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A country since millennial charm and at the same time lively and dynamic. In the heart of Central Asia, Uzbekistan is located in the center of the legendary Silk Road. From there, merchants and adventurers have passed, but also men of great cultural depth.

But Uzbekistan is also a young state, it is one autonomous nation only since 1991, the year in which it broke away from the former Soviet Union. On the one hand, historic cities such as Khiva and Samarkand, full of imposing madrasas and finely decorated mosques, mausoleums, bazaars where the atmosphere of the ancient caravanserais echoes. On the other hand, a newly born state that wants to change a past that has kept it caged for too long.

Based on this, the country is investing a lot in the tourism sector. Here's one guide on Uzbekistan: cities and attractions not to be missed!


  1. Samarkand
  2. Khiva
  3. Bukhara
  4. Tashkent
  5. Fergana Valley
  6. The Desert Castles in the Karakalpastan region
  7. Nurata
  8. Shakhrisabz
  9. Aral Sea
  10. Andijan
  11. User questions and comments

1 - Samarkand

A trip to Uzbekistan cannot ignore Samarkand, a myth, a legend, a literary city that evokes environments and atmospheres from great journeys, fairy tales, legends and great adventures.

Do not miss the scenic and majestic Registan Square, the flagship of the city, where 3 madrasahs dialogue with each other in a refined harmony of lines and decorations. The complex deserves at least half a day to be visited and you pay a single ticket of about € 6,00.
The oldest building is the Ulug Begh Madrasa, one of the most important and impressive Koranic schools in Central Asia with a 16 meter high entrance portal and star decorations. Opposite stands the Shir Dor Madrasa whose characteristic lies in having broken the Islamic prohibition that does not allow the depiction of living beings. The tympanum is in fact decorated with 2 mirror images representing a feline chasing a deer, under the inscrutable gaze of a sun with a human face.

But Samarkand offers many other attractions: the Bibi-Khanum Mosque (cost € 0,90), built by Tamerlane in honor of his favorite wife and whose architectural structure was taken as a model for the Taj Mahal in India; the Shah-i-Zinda mausoleums complex (€ 1,00), a necropolis with stupendous and wonderfully decorated structures where the women of Tamerlano's family are buried; the Mausoleum of Gur-i Amir (€ 0,90) from the gigantic turquoise dome, where the body of the brave leader lies in a jade cenotaph; the Archaeological Museum of Afrasiab (€ 2,30) e the Ulug Begh Observatory (€ 2,30) to deepen the historical and cultural knowledge of the country.

2 - Khiva

Small caravan city and pearl of Islamic architecture, Khiva was the capital in the 1990th century during the Timurid reign. In Khiva gained site recognition World Heritage Site by UNESCO as the only city in Central Asia to have maintained such a level of integrity and perfection of the architectural ensemble.

Khiva is divided between the ancient and the modern.
The citadel, the so-called Ichan Qala, is enclosed by mighty walls in pisè and raw brick and houses about 50 monuments including mosques, madrasas, palaces and minarets with refined decorations. The historic center of Khiva can be visited entirely on foot. Strolling through the narrow cobbled alleys you can admire: the Amin Kahn Madrasa, today a hotel where you can enter for free to take a look at the courtyard; the Kalta Minor Minaret, 26 meters high, totally covered with majolica; the Kunya Ark Fortress (€ 5,00), former residence of the rulers; the Juma Mosque (€ 0,90) with over 200 wooden columns, the Pakhlavan Mahmood Mausoleum (€ 2,30) with its very refined blue decorations; the caravanserai (now a bazaar) and the harem of Palazzo Tash Kaul, a riot of high-level decorations.

3 - Bukhara

Nicknamed "the sacred" and "the noble", Bukhara surpasses Samarkand for the quantity of architectural monuments. The over 140 buildings of inestimable artistic and cultural value, all UNESCO World Heritage Sites, make Bukhara a very interesting stop during a trip to Uzbekistan.

Capital in the th century during the Samanid Persian kingdom, Bukhara you can easily walk around. Absolutely to see: Lyabi-Hauz Square, a place always crowded by both locals and tourists with many shops and outdoor cafes, on the sides of which the Madrasa Nadir Divan-Begi and the Khanaka Nadir Divan-Begi overlook.

We continue with a walk in the former Jewish quarter and in the Toks, the ancient bazaars that have kept the structure covered by domes. Don't miss the square where the Ulug Beg Madrasa and the Aziz Khan Madrasa face each other. Even more spectacular is the Kalon complex with a madrasa (not open to visitors because it is still in operation), a mosque (€ 1,20) and a very high minaret (the highest in the country). On the outskirts of the city, which can be reached by taxi (costs around € 4,00), the walls of the Ark, the Bolo Hauz Mosque, the Mausoleum of Ismail Samani and the particular Chor Minor stand out.

4 - Tashkent

The capital of Uzbekistan has little to do with the legendary cities seen so far. Destroyed by an earthquake in 1966, Tashkent came totally rebuilt in Soviet times. The result is a great city from typical physiognomy of an Eastern European city: large tree-lined avenues, monumental administrative buildings, immense parks, mammoth commemorative statues and huge apartment buildings that clearly refer to the years of the Stalinist regime.

I main historical and cultural sites are the Sheikhan-taur complex (in the university area): what remains of mosques, madrasas and mausoleums from the 0,80th-th century; the Barak Khan Madrasa, today the seat of the Islamic religious body, the Tellya Sheik Mosque (not open to visitors because it was used for Friday prayers) and the Moye Mubarek museum-library (€ ), where guarded the largest Koran in the world. Very special and interesting are the Tashkent metro stations which, like those in Moscow, are decorated as if they were halls of noble palaces. It is sufficient to buy a ticket (€ 0,40) for a tour. To get around the city, buses and metro are convenient and cheap, but the fastest and always cheapest way is the taxi.

5 - Fergana Valley

The Fergana Valley is actually an extensive flat basin surrounded by the Tina Shan ranges to the north and the Pamir ranges to the south. It's about a very fertile area and one of the most populous and industrialized in Uzbekistan. Craftsmanship is the undisputed master of this area. The Fergana Valley is not only a very important center of cotton production but it is also known all over the world for the rich production of ceramics and silk. The handcrafted creations from this area are among the most beautiful and colorful in the world!

At the gates of the region there is Kokand, which was the capital of the Kokand Khanate between the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries, a time when it had more than 30 madrasas and about a hundred mosques. Today Koknad is a modern city which has kept, interestingly, the Khan's palace, the tombs of the Kings and the Friday mosque. In the Fergana Valley it is at least one stop at a ceramic workshop is mandatory where to watch the manufacturing processes.

6 - The Desert Castles in the Karakalpastan region

In the extreme north-west of Uzbekistan there is the desert region of Karakalpastan, reachable in about 1 hour and a half by car / bus from Khiva. The area is interesting in that there are the remains of ancient fortresses dating back to the st century BC. and abandoned in the eighth century AD

After such a monotonous but extremely suggestive journey, in the middle of the desert and cotton fields, one of the main attractions can be glimpsed on the horizon: theFrosty -Qala ,the most famous and imposing fortress which, in practice, is reduced to the remains of three fortresses built in mud. With a slightly tiring but very feasible hike, you reach the top, swept by the wind, to distinguish from above what was the original plan of the fort and to enjoy an infinite panorama over the desert steppe where, scattered here and there, there are only yurts and camels.

La second fortress is the Toprak-Qala, better preserved. Being built in mud, these forts are deteriorating visibly. Based on the time spent in this area, we recommend theexperience in yurt, typical Mongolian-derived tents: one night or even just a lunch.

7 - Nurata

The small town of Nurata is located in the north-west of the country, at the foot of the Nuratau mountains; and the administrative and cultural center of the mountain area in the Navoi region and is located about 200 km from Samarkand.

There are many legends related to the origin of the city and its name. People report theorigin of the city to the Nur fortress, which was founded by Alexander the Great in the 40th century BC Archaeological excavations reveal that the cultural layer in this area reaches thousand years. Another legend has it that, many millennia ago, a rock of fire (probably meteorite) fell from the sky and a spring of healing water appeared right where it hit the ground. The term Nurata itself can be translated as "Ray of Father" or as "Ray-father".

The local specialty is Suzani, a rounded pattern that is found on the traditional carpets of the region. Worth seeing are the ruins of Alexander the Great's fortress, there is a th century mausoleum and a th century mosque.

8 - Shakhrisabz

About 80 kilometers from Samarkand is Shakhrisabz, the hometown of Tamerlane and which he himself renamed "green city", a reference to the gardens that surround it.

Shakrishabz looks like a complex of buildings surrounded by a large garden in the center of which stands a huge statue of Tamerlane. The most comfortable way to move around the area is to use the comfortable electric trains (less than € 1,00 per ride).

The main attraction of Shakhrisabz is the ruins of the Ak-Aaray Palace (White Palace), so called to emphasize its noble origins. Construction began in 1380 and continued for nearly 25 years. Unfortunately, not much remains of the building, but the surviving elements (the central entrance tower and its enamelled decorations) are sufficient to make us understand the mammoth size with which the building must have appeared as well as the extreme refinement of the ornaments. Also worth a stop are the Kok Gumbaz Mosque, with its gigantic blue dome, completed by Tamerlane's nephew, Ulug Beg between 1435 and 1437, and the Dorus Siadaad Complex consisting of the remains of the Jehangir Mausoleum and the Khazreti-Iman Mosque.

9 - Aral Sea

On the border between Kazakhstan in the north and Uzbekistan in the south, it is located what remains of the Aral Sea, once a saltwater lake which, in the first half of 1960 was the fourth largest lake in the world with an area of ​​approximately 68.000 sq km.

Today the immense Aral bed it is partially dried up, especially on the Uzbek side. To save it, the government of Kazakhstan has in fact launched a recovery project with the support of the World Bank, which financed the construction of a 12-kilometer dam along the narrow canal that connects the northern lake with the southern basin.

The issue is quite different in Uzbekistan, where measures similar to those in neighboring Kazakhstan have been adopted, but have not had the same success. On the other hand, the economy here is essentially based on the cultivation of cotton (Uzbekistan is one of the largest exporters in the world), a cultivation that requires a large amount of water. Stopping irrigation would therefore mean condemn many farmers to unemployment.

10 - Andijan

Last but not least Andijan, the fourth largest city in Uzbekistan and capital of the homonymous region. Located not far from the border with Kyrgyzstan, it is also a excellent starting point for exploring the Fergana Valley. Its strategic position meant that in the past this city was one of the most important in the famous Silk Road.

In a visit to this city, whether it is for one or more days, you absolutely cannot miss the beautiful and colorful local bazaar, the Garden of the Wind (perfect place to reconnect with nature) and the Joma Mosque. The Babur Museum and Babur Memorial Park are also worth a visit.

Where it is

Uzbekistan, officially the Republic of Uzbekistan, is one state of Central Asia, which became autonomous from the Soviet Union in 1991. It borders on the north and west with Kazakhstan, on the east with Kyrgyzstan and Tajikistan, on the south with Afghanistan and Turkmenistan. Together with Liechtenstein it is thethe only country in the world doubly landlocked, that is, that has no access to the sea and borders only with states that are also landlocked. Extending for 1.500 km from north-west to south-east, with an average width that does not exceed 300 km, Uzbekistan stretches from the western slopes of the Alaj massif (to the east), which frame the Fergana Valley, up on the shores of the vast Aral Sea.

Travel informed: useful information and necessary documents

  • Inhabitants: 27.444.702
  • Capital: Tashkent
  • Languages: Uzbek, Russian, Tajik and English
  • Local currency: sum (UZS) / € 1,00 = UZS 10.524,17
  • Weather: continental, with severe winters and hot summers
  • Time zone: +4 hours compared to Italy; +3 when daylight saving time is in force in Italy
  • vaccinations: no vaccination required; those against typhus, paratyphus, tetanus, hepatitis A and B, diphtheria, rabies and meningitis are recommended
  • Entry requirements: valid passport; from 1 February 2019 a visa is no longer required for tourist stays of up to 30 days
  • Safety info: visit the Uzbekistan section on the Farnesina website
  • Travel / health insurance: recommended.

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