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November 4, 2002

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Alexander's Greeks called Samarqand "Marakanda" when they took it away from the Sogdians (yes, them again). Even then Samarqand was a famous city. From there it grew and changed hands like a hot tech stock: Arabs, Persians, Turks, and Mongolians. Genghis Khan redecorated in 1220. The city may have stayed in ruins after Genghis left if another famous dictator hadn't decided to make Samarqand his home. From 1386 until his death in 1405, Tamerlane flashed across history as a great conqueror. From a small village near Samarqand he grew an empire that included Central Asia, Iran, Iraq, Syria, and the Caucasus. He came back to Samarqand and poured his money into rebuilding the city. The architectural monuments date from his reign or that of his son, Ulughbek.
Kik-Gumbaz mosque in Shakhrisabz, 90 kilometers south of Samarqand. Shakhrisabz served as Tamerlane's family seat - he and his forbears were born in villages of this city. Today, many of Tamerlane's family members are buried here.
One of these two is in fashion here.
Samarqand's most famous site? The Registan, a collection of fancy medressas that in this case act like a town square. Medressas are Islamic colleges or religious schools. Most medressas start with a massive portal to make a good first impression. Inside is a courtyard with rows of rooms for students. What's in there today? Gift shops.
Each Uzbek city bakes its own style of bread. Samarqand's bakers use a heavy dough, polish it to a shine, and create decorative designs. For our tastes Bukhara turned out the best kind, light and tasty. Khiva's bread tastes worst, like a stale bisquit pressed into a flat, hard, shapeless pancake.