3 Cities in Uzbekistan: One of the World’s Ancient Civilizations

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3 Cities in Uzbekistan

3 Cities in Uzbekistan: One of the World’s Ancient Civilizations

26 JUNE 2019
Uzbekistan is a country that holds a very special place in my heart. I grew up in Uzbekistan but left due to political issues in 2006, so returning to Uzbekistan was like coming home. It was wonderful to be able to cross the border without a visa – since the death of former president Karimov, the Uzbek government has been making big changes to promote tourism, including unilaterally declaring liberalizations in visa policy. UK citizens (that’s me!) can now enter Uzbekistan for 30 days visa-free. Americans can enter for five days if they enter and leave the country via Uzbek Airlines and otherwise qualify for simple e-visas that are good for 30 days.
The following resource combines short histories of four of Uzbekistan’s major cities, written by SRAS Assistant Director Josh Wilson, with my experience traveling to three of those great and ancient Uzbek cities as part of SRAS’ Central Asian Studies program.
A Brief History of Bukhara

Bukhara is estimated to be about 2300 years old. It was conquered by Alexander the Great and was also once ruled by the Kushan Empire. However, when the Samanids later came into power, they created a large feudal state, with Bukhara as its capital. It was part of what came to be called the Golden Road, the meeting point of the northern and southern branches of the Great Silk Road, and hence a great center for commerce, religion, and culture.
In Sanskrit, Bukhara means “Monastery,” and was revered the Medieval Muslim East as a stronghold of the faith. In the 10th century, Bukhara became a scientific and cultural center, home to famous poets like Rudaki and Dakiki, and Avicenna, the great scientist and physician.
By the mid 19th century, Russia and Britain were both trying to gain control of Central Asia: Russia from the north and Britain from India in the south. Isolated since the time of the Silk Routes, Central Asia had not seen Western visitors for hundreds of years. Although Russia gained control of much of the region by 1868, Bukhara managed to keep its Emir as the master of the city. Inside the high walls, a strong anti-westerner sentiment was always present, fanned by the Emir himself. In 1918 the Russian revolution spread to Uzbekistan, but Bukhara never really fell into the fold until the city was almost destroyed and thousands of people were massacred by the Red Army on September 6, 1920.
Although Soviet rule lasted until 1991, the city never lost its Eastern culture and atmosphere, or its independent spirit. With more than 140 architectural monuments dating back to the Middle Ages, Bukhara is today a “museum town” with lots of history to see.
The tour started when I crossed the border from Turkmenistan. Having finished my time there, my tour guide escorted me to the border for the crossing. On the other side, a tour-arranged driver picked me up and drove me to Bukhara.
I was relieved that he waited, as it took 50 minutes to get through! Interestingly, I didn’t actually need to wait in lines as I was the only tourist so they bumped me to the front of all the queues. The reason it took so long was because the border was so wide and required two bus rides to get across.
Hotel Siyavush in Bukhara was lovely; the rooms were decorated with Uzbek textiles, and everything was clean, with all the modern conveniences. The breakfast was also excellent, offering a selection of cereals, breads, salads, and fresh pastries. My one criticism is that the Internet was temperamental and when it did work, it wasn’t very fast. Uzbekistan, which was a much more closed country under the previous president, never prioritized developing its Internet and connections to the outside world. It currently ranks very low in world rankings for speed and quality of Internet overall. Hopefully they will work on this along with the visa policy. Besides this, I was very happy with my stay.
On the first day, I relaxed at the hotel, went for a walk in the surrounding area, and took some time to recover from my trip to Turkmenistan. The next morning, we began the group tours. We saw beautiful madrasahs, haggled our way through the bazaar, and lunched at an old caravan rest stop. For all this, Bukhara was my favorite city that we visited – ancient buildings, colorful bazaars, and friendly people made it a wonderful trip. The next morning we traveled on to Samarkand by train, arriving in the afternoon.

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