Exploring the Registan in Samarkand

The Registan Square is a real gem located in the very heart of the ancient city of Samarkand. It has gained its worldwide fame thanks to the great architectural ensemble that has become a monument of oriental architecture. From three sides, the square is surrounded with 3 grand madrassah (special Islamic schools), each with their own unique décor. It is by virtue of these buildings that Samarkand was added to the UNESCO World Heritage List.

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Translated from Uzbek, “Registan” simply means “a sand place”. In the ancient times, this central square was covered by sand. The territory was not initially surrounded by madrassah; those great erections appeared rather later. In that period, authorities of the city were gathering people on the square to announce orders, hold celebrations, and to view public executions! All main roads of Samarkand led to Registan where it was always noisy and lively. Various rulers during their reign would change the main significance of the square, but since those times and up to now, Registan has always been the centre of the city social life.

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Being my first time in Samarkand, and in Uzbekistan in general, I was eager to get a glimpse of these magnificent buildings after the journey from Tashkent. The first thing that struck me was the beautiful colouring. I am told that in central Asia, blue is the colour of mourning. Yet a closer inspection sees literally hundreds and thousands of golden tiles that indicate prosperity. Inside the madrassah buildings, you will find ornate designs that need to be seen to be believed!

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The key attractions within the Registan are the 3 madrassah, namely Ulugbek, Tilla-Kari, and Sher Dor. The Ulugbek madrassah was the original madrassah here, while Tilla-Kari is famed for its golden dome. I also like Tilla-Kari madrassah for its wonderful and spacious courtyard. Sher Dor madrassah has many statues of lions and tigers on its façade and this depicts Muslim beliefs about cruelty to animals. Each madrassah is worth a good long look, and a day ticket to the Registan will cost only 14,000 Uzbek Som (around £3.50), with the option to return to the complex at dusk to take photos in a different light.

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As far as central Asia is concerned, it seems the Registan in Uzbekistan is simply without equal. There are not many other countries in the region (except Kyrgyzstan and possibly Tajikistan) that are worth backpacking, and some of these countries are not even safe (Afghanistan). Yet a trip to Uzbekistan should be on every traveller’s bucket list, and Samarkand should be the main focus when here.

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