Registan, Samarkand

Sogdians and Spices in Samarkand

26th September 2017


Samarkand is famous for its magnificent madrassas and mausoleums from the age of Timur.

While tourists flock to these, they rarely visit the fascinating ruins of Aphrosiab, the capital of the Sogdians. Masters of trading and craftsmen, the Sogdians occupied this crossroad of the Silk Road from the fifth century BC all the way to the Mongol invasion. We visited the archeological museum by the ruins and viewed fascinating frescoes depicting ambassadors from China and Turkey seeking audience with the Sogdian ruler. Elephants, camels, princesses and swans are all part of the parade.

It’s great to have the flexibility for impromptu stops like this – a big advantage of travelling in small groups.

Next stop to the spices at the huge market, where endless counters of nuts, sweetmeats and spices assault the senses. We stopped​ to chat a friendly local trader, who mixed a potion of nine spices for us and debated the advantages and disadvantages of the disintegration of the Soviet Union for local people. Housing and jobs are no longer provided by the state and can be hard to come by. Compared with my first visit back in 1985 however, there is a general air of well being and people seem far more prosperous.

A much needed tea stop in the backstreets of Samarkand kept us off the main tourist routes. The aroma of lamb kebabs was tempting but we had a rendezvous at the Registan, where golden sunset rays bathed the blue and turquoise facades in a soft glowing light. Soon night enveloped the madrassas in inky blue.

A magical finale to a fabulous day.

Spices in Samarkand market
Tomb of Timur

Hilary Napier

Hilary has been mad for travel since hitchhiking to India in the late 1970s (via Iran, Afghanistan and Pakistan). She currently works freelance on sci…

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