We travel not for trafficking alone:
By hotter winds our fiery hearts are fanned:
For lust of knowing what should not be known
We make the Golden Journey to Samarkand.
(From Hassan by James Flecker, 1913)
The city was old when Alexander visited it in 329BC. Maracanda, the capital of the Sogdian people who were the great merchants of the Silk Road was captured by the Arabs in 712AD and destroyed by (you guessed it) Genghis Khan.
All that remains of that city is a vast expanse of slumped mud walls on the hill top outside the new town.
The new city was built by local boy Timur (Tamerlane) as a trophy cabinet for his conquests from Syria to India. A ruthless warrior it is estimated that he caused the deaths of 17 million people as he built pyramids of skulls outside captured cities.
He and his Timurid successors built some of the finest madrassas and mosques in the world. The blue tiling and soaring minarets have all been restored in recent times and create a stunning if slightly antiseptic scene.