Samarqand lies at the silky crossroads of Asia. From the east came truly exotic and unknown products and several warlike or peaceful trades, while more western groups from the Persians and Greeks onward contributed small gems of culture and/or religions to the mix. Essentially now, the great Uzbek city is Tajik and Uzbek with a more recent history of Persian-speakers. Personally, I find it modern and ancient, dusty but neat, with delightful touches. The plants and animals at first took second place to more human interest, including the fascinating and somewhat lengthy archaeology and of course the great tomb of Amir Timur and the fantastical Registan.
Inhabited long before most other cities in Central Asia, the much-feted and feared Amir Tamerlane (Timur the Lame) probably represents to most people who the
first huge white-bearded kings were (this, The Golden Journey to Samarkand, was written in the early 20th century, but Golden Samarkand was ancient before Marco Polo directed his feet here from Venice.) I found the Russian and Uzbek archaeologists can trace Palaeolithic remains, which implies the stone fort may have existed as long as 40,000years ago. The Sogdian name, Maracanda, in use when an Alexander in a hurry called in around 329BC, has been current since the 6th century BC.
With such a prolonged history, made even more furious and famous for religious and warlike changes in the last 1500 years, I imagine people forgetting the true beauty of Samarqand. From here came paper and fruits, as well as the merchants of silk and spices. The flow was largely western, but here must have been a collection of Turkish, Greek and even more Middle Eastern influences before Islamic cultures also prospered. In 1220, Mongol influence abruptly replaced the Tang Dynasty’s persuasive invasion. Genghis always had a heavy hand, and he seems to have taught his descendants well. Despite the destructive nature of those times, his Turkic-Mongol descendant, Amir Timur was a great administrator (as well as one of the great destroyers) to bring to his capital a series of large constructions and infrastructures. His legacy was evident in the 1429 Observatory, many later scholars, mathematicians, scientists and poets, and many advanced religious and other institutions. Even the unmatchable Omar Khayyám lived here, and in nearby Bukhara. Uzbek tribes have occupied the city since 1500 with Bukhara becoming more dominant.
Ecologically, the presently dusty city has been known for greenery and great gardens. While mantids, bees and butterflies will enjoy this, the small rivers are the only place where mammals and a variety of birds can be conserved in natural habitats. Riparian (riverine) habitats in Uzbekistan are in need of conservation, with little water, the long hot summer and the other extreme of cold winters. Global warming seems to be decimating the habitats, as they dry up completely. The ancient records tell of a much gentler condition possibly related to a slightly cooler climate (and a lot more water.) Several of the bats and the Eurasian otter, Lutra lutra are probably more than simply vulnerable, although a secretive nature has kept them alive in the face of human encroachment. The warming may move them north, but without more water, there seems little hope of their ultimate survival in this region. I intend to delve further into the polluted environments in the south and the nature reserves and countryside that remain green, at least in the Spring.
For a more modern take on the ancient Amirs and their World Heritage Site including this, the Registan, look at a modern version of power politics!