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The highlight of the city is the Rajistan, described by Lord Curzon as “The Noblest Market square in the world.” This was where all road leading to the city met in a sandy market square flanked by three exquisitely tiled madrassas. The earliest, Ulug Beg, dates from 1420. Opposite, on the east side, is Shir Dor Madrassa (1639) named after the lions (shir) on its portal with sun faces painted on their backs. Completing the trio is Tillya Kari Madrassa (1660) with an enormous turqupoise dome and gilded interior. Tamerlane’s main contribution to the city’s monumental architecture was the Bibi Khanum Mosque on the northeast side of the Rajistan, which was built too quickly and soon crumbled, though its three domes have been restored. A little further to the northeast is Shah-i-Zinda, a street of wonderfully ornate tombs from 1372 to 1470 that include the Timurid nobility. Timerlane’s own mausoleum is in the turquoise-domed Gur-i-Mir (Tomb of the Emir) to the southwest of the Ragistan, which set the pattern for later Mongul architecture. His tomb is topped with an enormous slab of jade.
Samarkan international airport is 11km from the city centre, and has regular flights from Tashkent, Moscow, St. Petersburg, Simferopol and Kazan, with charter flights from European countries, including Istanbul.