History

Tashkent’s earliest incarnation might have been as the settlement of Ming-Uruk (Thousand Apricot Trees) in the 2nd or 1st century BC. By the time the Arabs took it in AD 751 it was a major caravan crossroads. It was given the name Toshkent (Tashkent, ‘City of Stone’ in Turkic) in about the 11th century.

The Khorezmshahs, one of the ruling dynasties of Central Asia and Persia from the late 11th to the early 13th centuries, and Chinggis (Genghis) Khan stubbed out Tashkent in the early 13th century, although it slowly recovered under the Mongols and then under Timur (Tamerlane). The city grew more prosperous under the Shaybanids, the founding dynasty of what effectively became modern Uzbekistan, ruling from the mid-15th until the start of the 17th century.

The khan of Kokand annexed Tashkent in 1809. In 1865, as the Emir of Bukhara was preparing to snatch it away, the Russians under General Mikhail Grigorevich Chernyaev beat him to it, against the orders of the tsar and despite being outnumbered 15 to one. They found a proud town, enclosed by a 25km-long wall with 11 gates (of which not a trace remains today).

The newly installed Governor General Konstantin Kaufman gradually widened the imperial net around the other Central Asian khanates. Tashkent also became the tsarists’ (and later the Soviets’) main centre for espionage in Asia, during the protracted imperial rivalry with Britain known as the Great Game.

Tashkent became the capital of the Turkestan Autonomous SSR, declared in 1918. When this was further split, the capital of the new Uzbek Autonomous SSR became Samarkand. In 1930 this status was restored to Tashkent.

Physically, Tashkent was changed forever on 25 April 1966, when a massive earthquake levelled vast areas of the town and left 300,000 people homeless. The city's current look dates from rebuilding efforts in the late '60s and '70s, though a slew of post-independence structures and statues have also graced the city.

Security in the city, particularly in the metro stations, has been high since February 1999, when six car bombs killed 16 and injured more than 120. The blasts were attributed by the government to Islamic extremists, but it will probably never be known who was responsible.