Samarkand and Bukhara, Uzbekistan
Let’s just cut to the chase here — Samarkand and Bukhara are home to some of the most awe-inspiring sites of Central Asia and the Silk Road. No place epitomises and evokes the bygone era as much as Uzbekistan’s historical circuit.
At one point, this was pretty much the centre of Asia, if not the world. Founded in the 600s BC by the Sogdians, Samarkand was taken by Alexander the Great in the 300s BC, then a litany of other empires of Turkic, Mongol, and Persian origins until Genghis Khan crushed everyone in the 1200s. Most of the preserved buildings so celebrated now comes down from the Timurid empire of the 1300s-1500s, founded by Amir Timur, better known in the West as Tamerlane or Timur the Lame due to battle injuries. They fell into disrepair when the Uzbek Shaybanids moved their capital to Bukhara, but when Russia took over in the 1800s, the city began to see life again and eventual archaeological restoration.
Timur brought with him a wave of religion and culture, despite being a ruthless warlord. Sparing the lives of artists, architects, and craftspeople, he had the capital built up in a never-ending state of construction, doing so with Islamic symbols and a promotion of the religion to legitimise his own rule.