Traveling in Uzbekistan you often hear the names of two rulers of antiquity, Genghis Khan (pronounced Jengis) and Timur (whom we are more familiar with as Tamerlane). The armies of Genghis Khan and his brutal sons ravaged central Asia early in the 13th century and destroyed almost everything as they swept through. It is said that his intention was to make pasture for his horses. The reign didn't last long but history there, for the most part, begins after 1220. There is little to be seen of prior civilizations except in the museums. There are, however, a few outstanding and seemingly accidental intact old buildings.

Noteworthy among these is the Ismail Samani mausoleum in Bukhara -- a masterpiece of decorative brickwork, completed in 905 and, according to the guide books, unseen by the armies in 1220 because it was mostly buried in the sands of time -- and the Kalon minaret, also in Bukhara, which, it is said, Genghis Khan would climb up to view his domain (and see who was coming to visit).

Tamerlane is completely different. We may view him as destructive as Genghis but he was born near Shakhrisabz in present day Uzbekistan, and is honored as their national hero. What he destroyed were lands foreign to them and he enriched his country with architecture and culture. One might conclude from reading the history of Tamerlane that having little regard for human life is okay if you make your buildings big, beautiful, and covered with tile and majolica. My trip through Uzbekistan followed the ancient Silk Road (although much is now asphalt) whose highlights are the legendary cities of Samarkand, Bukhara, and Khiva.