Ceiling in Tash-Hauli's Harem 1

Uzbekistan and the Silk Road

Camel at Yurt camp between Nukus and Khiva.
Camel at Yurt camp between Nukus and Khiva.

The term ‘The Silk Road’ brings to mind images of a bygone world, a world of crumbling cities, remote trading outposts and unforgiving terrain. Our trip to the fairly remote and unknown republic of Uzbekistan brought some of these exotic images to life.

Lunch in Yurt on way to Khiva, Uzbekistan.
Lunch in Yurt on way to Khiva.
View from yurt camp to ancient Zoroastrian settlement, Uzbekistan.
View from yurt camp to ancient Zoroastrian settlement.

The Silk Road

The Silk Road was a network of trading routes that connected China with the West in ancient times.

The name ‘The Silk Road’ only came into use in the 19th century, yet it has existed for over 2,000 years, with some routes changing over time, its meandering trails following rivers, crossing, deserts and climbing mountain passes; transporting precious silk and other goods through the heart of Central Asia.

Silk road from Nukus to Khiva, Uzbekistan.
Silk road from Nukus to Khiva, Uzbekistan.

It became known as ‘The Silk Road’ because silk was one of the key goods traded along the route. The Chinese had learned how to manufacture this luxurious material from silkworms as early as the third millennium BC and for a long time, they were the only people who could produce it.

Ancient Zoroastrian settlement between Nukus and Khiva


Walled city of Khiva

It is said that in 138 BC, the Chinese emperor dispatched an envoy called Zhang Qian to make contact with a tribal group in central Asia. Zhang was captured and kept prisoner for several years, but he was eventually freed and returned to China where he described the magnificent Arabian horses he had encountered. The Chinese authorities were keen to acquire these horses and so began a system of long-distance trade with central Asia.

Muhammad Amin- Khan Minaret Minor, Khiva

Kunya-Ark,’Old Fortress’ Khiva.

Meanwhile, central Asia had come into contact with European civilisations from the west, initially through the conquests of the Greek king Alexander the Great. Later it was the growing Roman empire that was to dominate the region and so the emerging Silk Road acted as a bridge between the East and the West.

Vendors at the Harem, Kunya-Ark, Khiva, Uzbekistan.
Vendors at the Harem, Kunya-Ark, Khiva, Uzbekistan.

Silk was highly valued by other civilisations, especially Ancient Rome, so it became one of China’s main exports and the currency by which they paid for the goods that they required.

Orange ceiling at Tash-Hauli Harem, Uzbekistan.
Orange ceiling at Tash-Hauli Harem.
Ceiling at Tash-Hauli's Harem, Khiva.
Ceiling at Tash-Hauli’s Harem, Khiva.
Yellow ceiling at Tash-Hauli Harem, Uzbekistan.
Yellow ceiling at Tash-Hauli Harem.

Tash- Hauli Harem, Khiva.

Islam- Khadja minaret, Khiva

Ceramics with traditional decoration. Uzbekistan.
Ceramics with traditional decoration.

Silk was highly valued by other civilisations, especially Ancient Rome, so it became one of China’s main exports and the currency by which they paid for the goods that they required.


Ark Fortress, citadel Bukhara.Uzbekistan.
Ark Fortress, citadel Bukhara.

The Silk Road stretched for around 4,000 miles and few people would have travelled the entire length of it themselves. Generally goods were carried by a number of different traders, having been exchanged several times along the way. The traders themselves journeyed in groups called ‘caravans’, sometimes containing hundreds of people, riding on camels and horses or travelling by foot. It could be a treacherous and potentially dangerous journey, so being part of a caravan was also a protective factor. 

Silk was not the only valuable commodity traded along this route. For thousands of years cotton, wool, glass, jade, lapis lazuli, gold, silver, salt, spices, tea, herbal medicines, fruits, flowers, horses, musical instruments also travelled this route, as well as architectural, philosophical, and religious ideas.

Suzanis for sale in Ark Citadel, Bukhara, Uzbekistan.
Suzanis for sale in Ark Citadel, Bukhara.
Pomegranate Suzani, Bukhara Uzbekistan.
Pomegranate Suzani, Bukhara.
Ikat store, Bukhara, Uzbekistan.
Ikat store, Bukhara.

Uzbekistan history

The land that is now Uzbekistan was once at the heart of the ancient Silk trade route, connecting China with the Middle East and Rome. 

Uzbekistan was part of the ancient Persian Empire, one of the world’s oldest civilised regions. It was later conquered by Alexander the Great in the 4th century B.C.

During the 8th century, the nomadic Turkic tribes living there were converted to Islam by invading Arab forces who dominated the area.

Under Ghengis Khan the Mongols took over the region from the Seljuk Turks in the 13th century, and it later became part of Tamerlane the Great’s empire,  (historically known as Amir Timur) and that of his successors, until the 16th century.

Throughout these turbulent times, the Uzbek cities of Samarkand, Bukhara, and Tashkent, situated on major trade routes to China, India, Persia, and Europe, were centres of prosperity, culture, and fabulous luxury. In the early 16th century, the Uzbeks, formerly called Sarts, invaded the region from the northwest. A remnant of the empire of the Golden Horde, they took their name from Uzbeg Khan (d. 1340), from whom their dynasty claimed descent.

The Uzbeks invaded the territory and merged with the other inhabitants in the area, however their empire gradually broke up into separate Uzbek principalities; the Khanates of Khiva, Bukhara, and Kokand. These city-states resisted Russian expansion into the area but were eventually conquered by the Russian forces in the mid-19th century.

The territory was made into the Uzbek Republic in 1924 and became the independent Uzbekistan Soviet Socialist Republic in 1925.


Registan square, Samarkand, Uzbekistan.
Registan square, Samarkand.

Gur-Emir Mausoleum, Samarkand.

Tillya-Kari Madrasah, Samarkand

Sher-Dor Madrasah, Samarkand.

Ulugbek Madrasah, Registan Square, Samarkand.

Bibi- Khanym Mosque Samarkand

Women weaving naturally dyed silk carpets in Samarkand

Madrasah of Barak-Khan and Hast Iman, Tashkent


Map of Uzbekistan

Uzbekistan is situated in central Asia between the Amu Darya and Syr Darya Rivers, the Aral Sea, and the slopes of the Tien Shan Mountains. It is bounded by Kazakhstan in the north and northwest, Kyrgyzstan and Tajikistan in the east and southeast, Turkmenistan in the southwest, and Afghanistan in the south. The republic also includes the Karakalpakstan Autonomous Republic, with its capital, Nukus.

Aivan ceiling at Tash-Hauli Harem, Khiva, Uzbekistan.
Aivan ceiling at Tash-Hauli Harem, Khiva, Uzbekistan.










6 thoughts on “Uzbekistan and the Silk Road

  1. Amazing post! I’ve long known a lot about the history of Silk Road and all the cities that used to be part of it, just like Samarkand, are definitely on my bucket list. Thanks a lot for sharing this article with some of the most amazing pictures of Uzbekistan! I wish I can visit the country in the near future!


  2. Looking forward to the opportunity to enjoy the sights and experiences which you depict so well. Along with as group of my friends we will be visiting the places you mention in Uzbekistan later this year.


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