Reading list | Samarkand
“The Silk Road, Samarkand, the River Oxus – what words to set the pulse racing…” so began Minn Hogg’s feature on Samarkand in Cornucopia 33. In the end, however, she found herself lost for words. Which is not too surprising as Central Asia’s most fabled city is a byword for exotic travel. Founded by the Sogdians around 700BC, the city lies midway between Istanbul and the ancient Chinese capital of Xi’an, where the Silk Route began. “Everything I ever heard about Samarkand is true, except it is even more beautiful than I imagined,” reported Alexander the Great in 329BC. But it was Tamerlane, the Turcised Mongul, who made it the capital of his empire and left the greatest mark, bringing artisans from across his empire, from Anatolia to India, while scholars made it a centre of learning.
Today, the second city of landlocked Uzbekistan has a population of just under 400,000, spreading out in Soviet-style architecture from its historic heart. Tadjik is the main language, and a Mediterranean climate is good for growing its famous golden peaches – “No other fruit has so many symbolic and material associations with sensual beauty,” writes Berrin Torolsan in Cornucopia 23.