Samarcand (anc. Maracanda), a walled city of central Asia, belonging to Russia, formerly in the khanate and 135 m. E. of the city of Bokhara, about lat. 39° 40' N., lon. 67° 18' E.; pop. from 15,000 to 20,000, mostly Uzbecks. It is situated in the fertile valley of the Zeraf-shan, 4 m. S. of that river, and in site and surroundings is said to be the most beautiful city in Turkistan; but much of its interior aspect is miserable. It contains a citadel and a large public market place, and a considerable trade is carried on at the bazaars, especially in the products of leather manufacture. Samarcand stands on higher ground than Bokhara, and before the Russian conquest was a summer resort of the emir in consequence of its lower temperature. The principal buildings are the summer palace of Tamerlane, his mosque surmounted by a melon-shaped dome, his reception hall containing the celebrated köktash, or blue stone, on which his throne was placed, and his sepulchre in a domed chapel without the city.
Three sacred colleges (medreses) border the market place. - Samarcand was known to the Chinese as Tshin prior to the times of Alexander the Great. In classical geography it appears as Maracanda, the capital of Sogdi-ana. Alexander, who occupied it in 328 B. C., slew there his friend Clitus. The Nestorian Christians early made their way thither, and according to Col. H. Yule the see of a Christian bishop was established there early in the 6th century. About the time of the Arab invasion of Turkistan, the city and territory appear to have been ruled by a Turkish prince bearing the title of tarkhan. About 710 they fell under the dominion of the Arabs, and subsequently became subject to the dynasty of the Samanides, after the fall of which the city was ruled by various contending chieftains until its capture and the destruction of its fortress by Genghis Khan about 1220. A century and a half later it reappears prominently in history as the capital of Tamerlane, who made it the most famous, luxurious, and magnificent city of central Asia, adorned with imperial palaces and surrounded by extensive and splendid gardens. Vámbéry declares that the reputed magnificence of the buildings is fully borne out by the existing ruins.
At that time the city contained 150,000 inhabitants, and was not only the centre of important manufactures and a vast emporium of trade, but also a prominent seat of Mohammedan learning. It maintained 40 colleges, one of which accommodated 1,000 students, and is still even in ruins remarkable for the handsome specimens of fine earth mosaic work in its walls. "With the fall of the Timour dynasty Samarcand began permanently to decline, and it is now politically and commercially inferior to Bokhara. It was captured by the Russians in May, 1868, in the course of the war against Bokhara, and was ceded to Russia a few months later. A Russian garrison occupies the citadel, and Samarcand is now the capital of the military district of Zerafshan in the Russian province of Turkistan.