Historical Sites in Uzbekistan

When you learn about the history of Uzbekistan, you quickly realise that it is impossible to count all the historical sites. Archeologists are still discovering forgotten fortresses and lost cities beneath Uzbekistan’s desert sands and tucked away in remote valleys. In ancient cities such as Bukhara, Samarkand, and Termez, the more you dig, the more you find, as each new generation built their own monuments upon the ruins of the past. Uzbekistan is a dream for history lovers, and when you explore the historical sites of Uzbekistan, especially the archeological sites, you will frequently have them to yourself.

On this page we are going to feature some of the most fascinating, beautiful, and historically important sites in Uzbekistan. They are listed thematically, with the older historical sites in Uzbekistan first. You can find out more about some of the places by clicking on the hyperlinks.

 

PETROGLYPHS IN UZBEKISTAN More than 10,000 years ago, ancient artists carved their artworks into the rocks. They depicted the world around them: the animals they hunted, the jobs they did, and the symbols which had ritual importance. There are more than 150 petroglyph sites in Uzbekistan, many of them with thousands of unique images in good condition. The best places to see petroglyphs in Uzbekistan are at Sarmishsoy and Sentob in Navoi Region, and at Beldersoy, Hodjikent, and Karakiyasay in Tashkent Region.

RUINED CITIES IN UZBEKISTAN The first city on the site of modern Samarkand was Afrosiab, which was occupied from 500 BC to around 1,200 AD. Afrosiab was the centre of Sogdian culture, and a hugely important Silk Road trading hub. Fantastic murals of Silk Road travellers, including from China, India, and Persia, decorated the palace walls and are now on display in the Afrosiab Museum of Samarkand.

When Alexander the Great invaded Central Asia in the 4th century BC, he built multiple cities, many of which were named after him. He built Alexandria on the Oxus by the Amu Darya River (the River Oxus of antiquity). When the river changed its course, the city was abandoned and forgotten, reclaimed by the earth. Archeologists rediscovered the site, which they called Kampir Tepe, near TermezSurxondaryo in the 20th century. It was only in 2019 that they finally amassed enough evidence to prove that Kampir Tepe was indeed the lost city of Alexander. The Telegraph describes the site as the “Pompeii of Uzbekistan“.

BUDDHIST SITES IN UZBEKISTAN Buddhism thrived in Uzbekistan in the Graeco-Bactrian and Kushan periods, and Termez was a regionally important centre of Buddhism in Central Asia. The two most significant Buddhist sites in Uzbekistan which survive to the present day are the Kara Tepe Stupa and cave complex, and the Fayaz Tepe Buddhist Monastery. Fayaz Tepa was built in the 1st to 3rd centuries AD and has been restored with the help of the Japanese government. Many of the finds, including beautiful Buddhist sculptures, are on display in Termez Archeological Museum, one of the best museums in Uzbekistan.

ANCIENT FORTRESSES IN UZBEKISTAN In Karakalpakstan you will find Elliq Qala, which means “50 Fortresses”. In fact, there are rather more than 50 desert castles in this part of Uzbekistan, as new sites keep being discovered. The fortresses are on UNESCO’s Tentative List for World Heritage Site status, and are part of the Golden Ring of Ancient Khorezm. Amongst the most impressive Khorezm fortresses are Ayaz Qala (4th century BC), Topraq Qala (1st century BC), and Big Guldursun (7-8th century AD).

There are ancient fortresses all across Uzbekistan, however, so you can easily find one which is conveniently located for your itinerary. Varakhsha in Bukhara Region was founded in the 4th century BC; Nurata Fortress in Navoi Region is thought to have been built by Alexander the Great; Ahsiket in Namangan Region was built in the 3rd century BC but destroyed by the Mongols; Kyr Kyz near Termez is associated with a popular local legend of 40 female warriors; and the Ark Fortress in Bukhara is part of the UNESCO Historic Centre of Bukhara.

SILK ROAD SITES IN UZBEKISTAN Bukhara, Khiva, and Samarkand are often described as Uzbekistan’s SilkRoad cities, and indeed they contain dozens of dazzling monuments paid for with the profits of Silk Road trade. But in Uzbekistan you can also find monuments directly connected with the Silk Road merchants, the goods they traded, and the journeys they made. 

In Navoi Region, two Silk Road sites lie right on the main highway, which follows the same route as the ancient Silk Road. You can enter the 11th century Rabati Malik caravanserai, which is on UNESCO’s Tentative List for World Heritage Site status, then cross the road to admire Sardoba Malik, the attractive domed cistern which supplied the caravanserai’s drinking water. Tourists visiting Bukhara can still shop in the original trading domes. These include Taki Telpal Furushon (the hat makers’ dome), Taki Sarrafon (money changers’ dome), and Taki Zargaron (jewellers’ dome).

SHRINES IN UZBEKISTAN The BBC calls Uzbekistan “Land of a thousand shrines“. Islam arrived in Central Asia with the Arabs in the 8th century. It was missionaries, saints, and poets who popularised the faith amongst the people of Uzbekistan, however, and the places where they performed miracles or are buried are often marked with shrines. As places of pilgrimage in Uzbekistan these shrines are still considered as holy sites, but respectful tourists can visit them, too. 

The most important shrine in Uzbekistan is probably the Mausoleum of Imam Bukhari in Samarkand Region. Imam Bukhari collected the Hadiths (sayings of the Prophet Muhammad), and Muslims still come here from around the world to pay their respects. Followers of the Naqshbandi order of Sufis come on pilgrimage to the Memorial Complex of Sheikh Bahauddin Naqshband in Bukhara. Those tourists with an interest in Ziyarah tourism (pilgrimage) may also want to visit the Zangiota Complex in Tashkent Region, Nurata Chashma in Navoi Region, and the shrine of Saint Khodzar Chinar in Urgut, Samarkand Region.

Not all of Uzbekistan’s shrines are Islamic shrines, however. The Saint David’s Cave and the Tomb of Prophet Daniel in Samarkand, and the Ayub Chashma (Job’s spring) in Bukhara are sacred to Christians, Jews, and Muslims alike. 

MEDIEVAL MONUMENTS IN UZBEKISTAN Many of the most spectacular medieval monuments in Uzbekistan are UNESCO World Heritage Sites. These include the Historic Centre of Bukhara, Historic Centre of Shakhrisabz, Samarkand: Crossroad of Cultures, and the Itchan Qala in Khiva.

There are medieval monuments all across Uzbekistan, though. You may also be interested to visit the Kosim Sheikh Mausoleum and Mir Sayid Bakrom Mausoleum in Navoi, the Hazrati Imam Ensemble in Tashkent, the Al Hakim Termezi Complex and Sultan Saodat Complex in Termez, and the Sheikh Mukhtor-Vali Complex in Khorezm Region.

PALACES IN UZBEKISTAN There were ancient palaces in Uzbekistan at Afrosiab, Varakhsha, and in the Khorezm Fortresses, but time has reduced them to archeological sites. Later palaces in Uzbekistan survive, thankfully, and when you visit them you have a chance to see how royalty in Uzbekistan lived. 

The Palace of Khudayar Khan is known as the Pearl of Kokand. 80 master craftsmen and 16,000 workmen built a palace covering four acres, with more than 100 rooms. The palace was finished in 1871, just five years before the Khanate of Kokand was abolished. 19 rooms of the palace survive and are open to the public.

In Bukhara, the Sitorai Mokhi Khosa (Palace of Moon-like Stars) was the emir’s summer palace. It was built by Alim Khan, the last emir, in a fusion of Uzbek and Russian styles. With its mirrors, chandeliers, Chinese porcelains, and oriental carpets, this palace is the epitome of decadence, and it gives a poignant insight into the final days of the Emirate of Bukhara, before the Red Army swept it away.

Khiva has spectacular palaces, too, both inside and outside the Itchan Qala. Tash Khauli (Stone Palace) is within the UNESCO walled city and has fantastic tiles and painted ceilings. You should also visit the recently restored Nurillabay Palace, which was inspired by Muhammad Rakhimkhan II’s visit to Saint Petersburg. The cost of construction nearby bankrupted the state!

SOVIET SITES IN UZBEKISTAN The USSR had a transformative effect on Uzbekistan, in almost every sphere of life. The Soviet history of Uzbekistan is visible in its buildings and monuments, many of which are still in use today. The jewel of Soviet architecture in Uzbekistan is Tashkent Metro, a dazzling subterranean art gallery where every station was designed by a different architect or artist. Tashkent also boasts the Tashkent TV Tower (which was once the fourth highest structure in the world), and the iconic Hotel Uzbekistan, a masterpiece of Soviet modernism.  Other notable Soviet buildings in Uzbekistan include Tashkent Circus, the famous blue mosaic domes of Chorsu Bazaar, the Exhibition Hall of the Uzbek Union of Artists, and the Drilling Tool Plant in Samarkand.