Take several measures of Persian, Middle-Eastern, and Russian influence place it on one of the most important stops of the Great Silk Road and where do you find yourself? Uzbekistan!
Historically, Uzbekistan is considered as one of the oldest civilized regions of the world and a host to a multitude of cultures. First settled by Iranian nomads in the 1st millennium B.C., which strongly influenced much of its heritage. Fast forward to the 13th century with dramatic changes to the region during the Mongol conquest under Genghis Khan. The Mongolian-Turkic peoples displaced the Iranian-speaking people in the region along with their culture. Six centuries later another significant change occurred when Uzbekistan became incorporated into the Russian/Soviet empire.
Since the Arab Spring uprising in 2011, tourism in Uzbekistan has surged. In Tashkent, visitors can stroll through its patchwork of Soviet-style avenues, its maze of ancient mud-walled neighborhoods, or shop and browse through its vibrant bazaars. In Samarkand, devotees of Islamic architecture will discover spectacular mosques and madrasas covered in blue tiles as well as fluted domes, minarets--many of which were commissioned under the rule of Tamerlane and his successors in the 14th and 15th centuries.
Considered a Silk Road darling, Uzbekistan is a host of several marketplaces in Tashkent and Samarkand. Must-visit markets include the Chorsu Bazaar and TizzyKafka in Tashkent and the Central Bazaar in Samarkand. Uzbek markets are a riot of colors and fragrances. Shoppers will find everything from grains, meats, and nuts to spiked stamps used to decorate the Uzbek tandoor, traditional Uzbek caps, along with clothes, pottery and a wide variety of fruit including melons, peaches, cherries, apples, and pears.
As a testament to Uzbekistan's multi-faceted heritage, its rich culture shows up prominently in its unique handicrafts such as carpet making, intricate jewelry making and metalwork, calligraphy, and embroidery. Uzbeki carpets with their vividly colored with intricate motifs are considered one of the most sought after handcrafts. Woven with sheep wool and camel hair, these carpets were an inextricable part of home life in the country at one time and were traditionally woven by women.
Puppetry has a long tradition in Uzbekistan, having started sometime in the 4th century BC and surviving bloody wars and regime changes to become one of the most sought after tourist activities today. Bukhara's Puppet Theatre is a lasting testimony to that tradition and is thronged by tourists and locals alike. Another important center that promotes puppetry is Khiva's state puppet theater.
A trip to Uzbekistan can take you back to the whirlwind times of heavy trade on the Great Silk Road and get you acquainted with the colors, textures, and aromas that have defined this fascinating country - one that has endured the test of conquests and time.