|The Registan main square.|
The mystique and impressiveness of the Silk Road cannot be captured any better than in Samarqand. Hot desert, snowy winters, an Islamic religious center, a pilgrimage site, the riches of kings, a center for learning, astronomical discoveries by Ulughbek, capital of the infamous Tamerlane (Timur the lame) and one of the world's oldest continuously inhabited cities.
Some might have called it the center of the world during Timur's reign of the 14th C, and in fact, from the 6th to the 13th C it was bigger that it is today. It's name means simply, 'rock town' or 'stone fort' in Turkic or perhaps it could, if it hadn't already been called Marakanda when Alexander the Great sacked it in 332 BC, part of Transoxiana (an area encompassing the Oxus and Jaxartes Rivers, a.k.a. Amu Darya and Syr Darya).
As is true of all Silk Road cities, it was held by many groups over the years, from Arabs to Turks, Perisans, and others before the Mongols arrived in 1220. Later of course, there were Uzbeks, Tajiks and Russians/Soviets. It was visited by Marco Polo and Ibn Battuta and has several important historical areas, from the Registan central square, including Ulugh Beg's Madrasa, and the Lion's Gate. There's also the Bibi-Khanym Mosque, Gur-e Amir Mausoleum, Ulugh Beg's Observatory, the Shah-i-Zina necropolis and other important sites.