The most famous Uzbek cities are the Silk Road outposts of Samarkand, Bukhara, and Khiva; the very names conjure up images of camels crossing deserts, of caravanserai swarming with silks, spices, and slaves. But what of the Uzbek capital, Tashkent? Is it worth a visit?
Tashkent was once, in fact, a thriving Silk Road city.
And it would still be thought of as such if it weren’t for a devastating earthquake in 1966 that destroyed much of the city’s historic quarter.
Founding of Tashkent
The city came into being in the 1st Century BCE, or possibly several centuries earlier, as the capital of the Kangju people – a group of Indo-European nomads related to the Sogdians (who migrated into Central Asia from Persia).
Khast Imam Square, Tashkent
By the 8th Century CE much of Uzbekistan had been converted to Islam.
A library in Khast Imam Square, in central Tashkent, contains a Quran that is purported to date to 655 CE, which, if true, would make it the oldest extant copy of the Quran in the world.
Timur is alleged to have brought this copy of the Quran to Uzbekistan as a trophy.
Recent efforts to date the 655 CE Quran, however, have found that it is more likely to be from the 8th or 9th Century CE.
Roll forward another half millennia and Genghis Khan is paying a visit. He breezed into Tashkent in 1219 CE and razed the city to the ground, as he was so fond of doing.
It took almost two hundred years for the region to return to its former strength, but it did that and then some under Timur, the notorious empire-builder (read more on Timur in my post Gur-e-Amir – Tomb of Timur).
Barak Khan Madrasah, Tashkent
Barak Khan Madrasah (a madrasah is an educational institution) was completed in 1532.
It was commissioned by Nauruz Ahmad Khan, a nephew of the astronomer Ulugh Beg.
In the mid 1800s the Russians began sweeping across Central Asia, conquering the Central Asian Khanates one-by-one.
Tashkent fell in 1865; the city went on to become the capital of Russian Turkestan. In 1918 it became the capital of the Turkestan Autonomous Soviet Socialist Republic. In 1930 it became the capital of the Uzbek Soviet Socialist Republic.
Chorsu Bazaar, Tashkent
Tashkent rapidly industrialised under the Soviets, and grew to become the largest city in Central Asia (it remains the largest city in the region today, with a population of 2.4 million).
In 1966 a devastating earthquake hit and levelled the city.
A new city was planned. It was to be a model Soviet city, full of wide, tree-lined boulevards and concrete-heavy public parks.
And that is the Tashkent we have today.
Is Tashkent worth a visit?
The destruction of the old city in the 1966 earthquake means Tashkent can’t compete with the likes of Samarkand, Bukhara, and Khiva for historical atmosphere and Silk Road tourism. But you are unlike to come to Uzbekistan without passing through the capital, and there are enough sights in town to keep you busy for at least a day.
Practical information and how to reach the Tashkent:
Tashkent has an international airport with frequent flights to Istanbul, Moscow, and several Central Asian cities, and less frequent flights to European and Asian destinations. The capital is connected by train to Samarkand (trip time = 3 hours), and Bukhara (trip time = 12 hours). More transport info here.
Or visit my crappy capital cities page.