Uzbekistan has well preserved relics from the time when Central Asia was a center of empire, learning, and trade. Uzbekistan cities including Samarkand , Bukhara , Khiva, Shakhrisabz and Tashkent live on in the imagination of the West as symbols of oriental beauty and mystery.
Ancient cities of Uzbekistan were located on the ancient Silk Road, the trading route between China and the West. The route took its name from silk, the commodity most in demand in Europe from China during the Roman period. Some of the most influential and savage conquerors came and ruled these lands. Alexander the Great set up at least 8 cities in Central Asia between 334 - 323 BC before the caravans began traveling through the Silk Road after around 138 BC China opened its border to trade. Between 484 - 1150 Huns and Turks came from the west and brought with them a new religion of Islam. Many mosques and Madrassahs were built in Uzbekistan cities of Samarkand , Bukhara and Khiva during this period, including remaining structures of the Samanids. Most of the cities were destroyed during the invasion of the Genghis Khan in 1220. His descendant Timur, known also as Tamerlane, resurrected once famous cities by using the labor of slaves and artists captured during successful crusades. Timur conquered Persia , captured Baghdad , and lead expeditions to Anatolia and India . Most of the architecture that is found in Samarkand was build by Timur and his grandson Ulugbek.
Administratively Uzbekistan divided into 12 Provinces (Viloyat) and 1 Autonomous Republic.
Some of the world's most audacious and beautiful examples of Islamic religious buildings are to be found in Uzbekistan 's Bukhara , Khiva and, especially, Samarkand . Most of the monumental mosques, minarets, mausolea and monasteries date from the time of the Timurids, great appreciators of glitzy, glazed goth-ish glories. Uzbekistan 's folk art has tended towards the portable - clothes, arms, jewellery, weaving, embroidery and rugs - in tune with semi-nomadic living. Islam prohibits the depiction of the living, so traditional arts developed in the form of calligraphy, combining Islamic script with arabesques, and the carving of doors and screens. Painting was revived under the Soviets and became a curious hybrid of socialist realism and mock traditionalism - try smiling Ukbeks at a teahouse with futuristic chimneys thrusting skywards in the background.
Uzbek men usually wear sombre colours, except for the bright-coloured sash which older men use to close their long quilted coats. Nearly all wear the dopy , a black, four-sided skullcap embroidered in white. Uzbek women are fond of dresses in sparkly cloth, often worn as a knee-length gown with trousers of the same material underneath. One or two braids indicate a married woman; more braids signify a single woman. Eyebrows that grow together over the bridge of the nose are considered attractive and are often supplemented with pencil for the right effect. Uzbek is the official language of Uzbekistan , though Russian is still the language of government and academia and Tajik is spoken in Samarkand and Bukhara .
Central Asian food resembles that of the Middle East or the Mediterranean in its use of rice, savoury seasonings, vegetables and legumes, yoghurt and grilled meats. In northern Uzbekistan meals often consist of pilafs, kebabs, noodles and pasta, stews, elaborate breads and pastries. Subtle seasonings and fancy sweets distinguish the cuisine of southern Uzbekistan . Tea is ubiquitous, usually served without milk. Despite their Muslim heritage, most Uzbekis drink alcohol, at least with guests. If you don't enjoy hard booze (commonly vodka), make your excuses early.