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21 Incredible Landmarks in Uzbekistan You Don’t Want to Miss

Author: David Pettitt

Few countries on earth are blessed with the historic, cultural and architectural treasures of Uzbekistan. Home to three of the region’s most exceptional cities in Samarkand, Bukhara and Khiva, the quantity and quality of the Silk Road era mosques, mausoleums and madrasahs, bazaars, citadels and tombs are not only phenomenal but also astonishing. With so many different things to see and do, here are 21 of the most incredible landmarks to see in Uzbekistan.

1. Registan Square, Samarkand

Few places epitomise Uzbekistan more than Registan Square and it is unquestionably the country’s most recognisable landmark. Sitting at the ancient epicentre of the Silk Road city of Samarkand, this beautifully proportioned square is flanked by three historic madrasahs, the oldest of which dates to the early 15th century. For centuries Registan Square was the centre of Samarkand’s public life – it was here that announcements were made, executions took place, markets were held and festivals celebrated but a decline in trade saw the buildings deteriorate until 20th century renovations. UNESCO protected, today the structures are dazzling – the madrasahs intricately decorated with multi-coloured mosaics and the towering domes resplendent with vibrant azure tiles.

Towers and domes of Registan Square in Samarkand, Uzbekistan

2. Po-i-Kalyan and the Kalyan Minaret, Bukhara

The foremost Islamic religious complex in Bukhara, the Po-i-Kalyan lies at the heart of what is Central Asia’s holiest city. Best known for the towering Kalyan Minaret, which was spared destruction by the invading forces of Genghis Khan, the buildings here have changed little over the centuries. The compound also houses a 500 year old mosque and grand madrasah however the Kalyan Minaret is the highlight. Dating to 1127 AD, the minaret is nearly 50 metres in height and was most probably the tallest structure in the region at the time of its construction.

Po-i-Kalyan and the Kalyan Minaret in Bukhara, Uzbekistan

3. Kalta Minor Minaret, Khiva

The squat, highly decorative Kalta Minor Minaret is one of Khiva’s most distinctive sites. Its massive circumference but stunted height has fuelled many rumours since it was constructed with a popular legend being that the minaret’s foundations were originally intended to support a structure so tall that those at the top would be able to see the city of Bukhara over 400kms away. Whether there is any truth to this is unclear, however, what is certain is that the minaret was intended to be much taller than its final height but following the death of its sponsor soon after building started in 1851, construction was halted and the structure left unfinished.

Highly decorated Kalta Minor Minaret in Khiva, Uzbekistan

4. Khast-Imam Square, Tashkent

A series of major earthquakes, the most devastating of which occurred in 1966, deprived Tashkent of much of its ancient heritage. Under Soviet rule many of the traditional buildings lost were replaced by ones similar to those found throughout the rest of the USSR and recent development has further changed the city with more open areas, wide avenues and contemporary architecture. Khast-Imam Square, the centre of the old city, largely survived both natural disasters and redevelopment and remains the location of Tashkent’s most important religious and historic monuments. Places of interest include Tilla Sheikh Mosque, which houses a rare 7th century Koran, and the Mausoleum of Abu Bakr Kaffal Shashi.

Khast-Imam Square in the centre of Tashkent, Uzbekistan

5. Tomb of Daniel, Samarkand

A number of different locations in Central Asia and the Middle East claim to be the final resting place of the biblical prophet Daniel but one of the most compelling is set a short distance from the city of Samarkand. Occupying a commanding position atop a hill that overlooks the Siab River, the prophet’s actual physical tomb is unusually long with it said to represent his importance and holiness. Legends abound as to how the remains arrived here, some believe early Christians, others say Timur returned with them from the Near East, and there is also debate as to the exact contents of the large coffin. There is also a natural spring which is said to have healing properties.

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6. Chor Minor, Bukhara

Instantly recognisable, the pretty Chor Minor is one of Bukhara’s more unusual landmarks. Although small in stature, the building is beautiful proportioned and was once an entry gatehouse for a two hundred year old madrasah that is no longer standing. The name translates as ‘Four Minarets’, a literal description of the number of towers that stand at each corner of the structure. Although not strictly minarets, the towers feature religious decorations and are topped by turquoise-blue domes.

7. Kunya-ark Citadel, Khiva

Originally dating to the early 12th century, the Kunya-ark Citadel was the main fortress and residence of the rulers of Khiva. Expanded in the late 17th century, it is one of the best preserved military structures in Uzbekistan and has changed little over the years. Adjoining the historical inner city of Khiva, Kunya-Ark is close to the West Gate and has huge exterior walls that enclose a complex housing everything from palaces and mosques to an arsenal, mint, workshops, jail and warehouses. Highlights include the 19th century Summer Mosque, throne room, harem and royal mint.

Panoramic view of the ancient Kunya-ark Citadel in Khiva, Uzbekistan

8. Bibi-Khanym Mosque, Samarkand

With its turquoise-coloured domes and elaborate geometric tiled designs, Bibi-Khanym is one of the country’s most impressive mosques and a centrepiece to Timur’s vast empire. At the time of its completion in 1404 the mosque was said to have been one of the largest in the Islamic world and its minarets, monumental dome and grand entrance gateway required innovative engineering solutions that pushed the building techniques of the time to their limit. Over the following centuries the complex fell into disrepair, eventually succumbing to an earthquake at the end of the 19th century but has recently undergone a period of restoration.

9. Ark Fortress, Bukhara

The Ark Fortress, residence of the Bukhara khans, is the city’s oldest structure and believed to have been inhabited since the 4th century BC. Essentially a walled royal town within Bukhara’s old city, the Ark Fortress was once the epicentre of the Bukhara Khanate and contained homes, mosques, stables and markets, a treasury, the Emir’s apartments, an armoury and a prison. By the early 20th century, the Red Army had reached Bukhara and bombing caused substantial damage to the interior of the fortress. However, many of the royal chambers remain as does the Friday Mosque, prison, the emir’s personal mosque and a collection of museums.

10. Chorsu Bazaar, Tashkent

Standing in the centre of Tashkent’s old town, the huge blue-domed structure of Chorsu Bazaar dominates the surrounding city. This area has been a centre for trade and produce for centuries but the current marketplace is a modern construction. However, the cavernous interior is impressive and everything and anything can be found here from spices, fruit and vegetables to sweets, clothing and livestock. Outside, open-air food stalls selling shashlik kebabs, bread and plov are busy at all times of day. The remaining low-rise mud-brick homes of the old town are a short walk to the north and there is also a 400 year old madrasah and mosque nearby.

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11. Ulugh Beg Observatory, Samarkand

Located north of Samarkand, the Ulugh Beg Observatory provides compelling evidence of the scientific advancement of the medieval Islamic world. Although little remains today, in its heyday there was a three-storey observatory, however, its large curved track is all that can now be seen. Instigated by astronomer, mathematician and ruler of Samarkand Ulugh Beg, the complex was completed in the 1420s and built to his exact requirements. The results of the work carried out at the Ulugh Beg Observatory influenced astronomers as far afield as Europe, China and India. There is also a small museum to visit.

Ancient remains of the Uulugh Beg Observatory in Samarkand, Uzbekistan
Image Credit/Description Goes Here

12. Magok-i-Attari Mosque, Bukhara

Thought to be one of the oldest surviving mosques in Central Asia, Magok-i-Attari is set in the heart of ancient Bukhara and forms part of the UNESCO protected structures. Long thought to occupy a site of significant religious importance, excavations in the 1930s also uncovered a pre-Islamic Zoroastrian temple believed to date to the 5th century. The first mosque was erected some time in the 9th or 10th centuries, pre-dating the Mongol invasion, and saw further architectural embellishments during the 1500s. Interestingly, the mosque and adjoining square are lower than the surrounding lanes standing at, what is believed to be, the town’s original street level.

13. Shakhi-Zinda Necropolis, Samarkand

The most important place of pilgrimage in Uzbekistan, the Shakhi-Zinda Necropolis is an avenue of interconnected, exquisitely decorated mausoleums and graves close to the Bibi-Khanym Mosque. In all the complex is formed of religious buildings constructed over a period of eight hundred years – the earliest of which belongs to Qusam ibn-Abbas who is traditionally believed to have brought Islam to Samarkand during the 7th century. The finest of the buildings are those of the Timurid era and showcase elaborate tilework, intricate mosaics and delicate terracotta designs.

Ancient blue-domed buildings of the Shakhi Zinda Necropolis in Samarkand, Uzbekistan

14. Ismail Samani Mausoleum, Bukhara

Bukhara’s oldest surviving Muslim monument, the Ismail Samani Mausoleum is the final resting place of the founder of the Samanid Empire – a realm that, at its zenith, controlled a huge expanse of Central Asia stretching from Kazakhstan in the north to Iran and Pakistan in the south. Construction of the mausoleum was finished by the middle of the 10th century and the building has changed little since that time making it a significant monument both historically and architecturally. Decorated with a sophisticated and attractive terracotta brick design, the building’s shape is reminiscent of a Zoroastrian fire temple which indicates a link to ancient pre-Islamic influences.

Intricate terracotta designs of the Ismail Samani Mausoleum in Bukhara, Uzbekistan

15. Ak Saray Palace, Shakrisabz

The monumental edifice of Timur’s summer palace dominates the ancient remains of Shakrisabz. Directly ordered by Timur, Ak Saray Palace was to be the grandest building in his empire and a symbol of his power and wealth. A UNESCO World Heritage Site, the complex was completed at the beginning of the 1400s and, despite damage over the centuries, has been sensitively restored. Ak Saray is renowned for the quality of its workmanship and features a wide variety of designs and colours. The detailed mosaic and majolica work is particularly refined and features depictions of foliage and calligraphic inscriptions of both Koranic and secular content.

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16. Trading domes of Bukhara

Bukhara’s trading domes have welcomed explorers, travellers and traders for centuries. Dating back to the 1500s when the city, and wider region, was flourishing due to the money and produce that arrived via the Silk Road, at its zenith there were five domed bazaars in Bukhara each of which specialised in specific merchandise. Today only a few of these covered markets are left standing, however, they remain in everyday use selling everything from herbs, spices, jewellery and carpets to household items, clothing and local souvenirs.

17. Madrasah of Muhammad Amin-khan, Khiva

One of Khiva’s best preserved religious buildings, the Madrasah of Muhammad Amin-khan is a UNESCO World Heritage Site and located within the ancient walled city beside the Kalta Minor Minaret. Not as old as many of the other structures in the vicinity, the madrasah was completed in 1854 and commissioned, and named after, the ruler of Khiva at that time. Once one of the region’s most important educational institutions, the Madrasah of Muhammad Amin-khan has two-stories, is richly decorated and, under Soviet rule, was for a short period a prison.

18. Mausoleum of Imam al-Bukhari, Samarkand

Located outside of Samarkand, the Mausoleum of Imam al-Bukhari is the final resting place of one of Islam’s most respected theologians and scientists. Born in Bukhara in 810 AD, al-Bukhari travelled extensively throughout his life, studied under influential scholars and, ultimately, wrote a number of significant and authoritative works. After his death, the mausoleum became a revered pilgrimage site and a few hundred years later a mosque was built nearby. The whole complex was renovated at the turn of the last century by the Uzbek government.

19. Islam Khodja Complex, Khiva

A little over a hundred years old, the Islam Khodja complex is one of the more recent additions to Khiva’s historic centre. Formed of a large madrassah and massive minaret, the latter is the tallest structure in the city and is nearly 60 metres in height. The minaret is slender, tapering to a gilded point and is heavily decorated with concentric rings of blue tiling leading to an elaborate top from which the call to prayer is recited by the muezzin. It is a steep climb to the summit of the Islam Khodja minaret but the views of the city are spectacular.

20. Chashma-Ayub, Bukhara

One of the more distinctive buildings in Uzbekistan, the Chashma-Ayub mausoleum has a unique conical-shaped dome. Known as ‘Job’s well’, local legend has it that the holy spring which bubbles up at the site was created when the prophet Job struck the ground with his staff. The mausoleum was built in stages over a period of time between the 12th and 16th centuries and inside it is still possible to drink from the spring which is said to have healing properties.

21. Siyob Bazaar, Samarkand

A short walk to the north of Registan Square and next to the monumental remains of the Bibi-Khanym Mosque, Siyob Bazaar is Samarkand’s most important and largest market. Part covered and part open-air, the bazaar is largely modern in appearance but, in many ways, provides a direct link to the city’s ancient trading heritage. Covering a vast area, this is a true marketplace of the eastern tradition selling everything from fruit, vegetables, herbs and spices to dried fruits, sweets, local breads and nuts.

Woman in traditional clothing surrounded by her produce at the Siyob Bazaar in Samarkand, Uzbekistan

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