Samarkand, city in east-central Uzbekistan, is one of the oldest cities of Central Asia. Known as Maracanda in the 4th century bce, it was the capital of Sogdiana and was captured by Alexander the Great in 329 bce. The city was later ruled by Central Asian Turks (6th century ce), the Arabs (8th century), the Sāmānids of Iran (9th–10th century), and various Turkic peoples (11th–13th century) before it was annexed by the Khwārezm-Shāh dynasty (early 13th century) and destroyed by the Mongol conqueror Genghis Khan (1220). After it revolted against its Mongol rulers (1365), Samarkand became the capital of the empire of Timur (Tamerlane), who made the city the most important economic and cultural centre in Central Asia. Samarkand was conquered by Uzbeks in 1500 and became part of the khanate of Bukhara. By the 18th century it had declined, and from the 1720s to the 1770s it was uninhabited. Only after it became a provincial capital of the Russian Empire (1887) and a railroad centre did it recover economically. It was briefly (1924–36) the capital of the Uzbek Soviet Socialist Republic. Samarkand today consists of an old city dating from medieval times and a new section built after the 19th century.
Rīgestān Square, an impressive public square in the old city, is fronted by several madrasas (Islamic schools): that of Timur’s grandson, the astronomer Ulūgh Beg (1417–20), and those of Shirdar (1619–1635/36) and Tilakari (mid-17th century), which together border the square on three sides.