Shakhrisabz is a small, un-Russified town south of Samarkand, across the hills in the Kashka-Darya province. The town is a pleasant Uzbek backwater and seems to be nothing special – until you start bumping into the ruins dotted around its backstreets, and the megalomaniac ghosts of a wholly different place materialise. This is Timur’s hometown, and once upon a time it probably put Samarkand itself in the shade. It’s worth a visit just to check out the great man’s roots.
Timur was born on 9 April 1336 into the Barlas clan of local aristocrats, at the village of Hoja Ilghar, 13km to the south. Ancient even then, Shakhrisabz (called Kesh at the time) was a kind of family seat. As he rose to power, Timur gave it its present name (Tajik for ‘Green Town’) and turned it into an extended family monument. Most of its current attractions were built here by Timur (including a tomb intended for himself) or his grandson Ulugbek.
You can easily see all of Shakhrisabz as a day trip from Samarkand. There are a couple of sleeping options for those who want to linger and absorb the city’s easy-going provincial vibe.