Uzbekistan was once at the heart of the fabled Silk Road trade route connecting China with the Middle East and Europe. The country spent most of the past 200 years as part of the Russian Empire, and then of the Soviet Union, before emerging as an independent state when the USSR collapsed in 1991.
Under the authoritarian president Islam Karimov, who ruled from 1989 until his death in 2016, Uzbekistan was reliant on exports of cotton, gas and gold to maintain its rigid, state-controlled economy. Karimov's successor, Shavkat Mirziyoyev, has made efforts to break Uzbekistan out of its international isolation and economic stagnation, but any serious liberalisation has yet to be seen.
Bukhara was once one of the largest trading hubs on the ancient Silk Road as well as an important Islamic center. During its turbulent history, Bukhara has been destroyed and rebuilt several times. Today it's bursting with historic buildings and monuments. Bargain hard in the bazaars and you'll feel like a silk road merchant searching for exotic goods.
One of the greatest silk road cities, Samarkand is stuff of the fables. Throughout the centuries it was taken by great emperors (Alexander the Great, Genghis Khan) but its heyday came with Tamerlane in the 14th and 15th centuries. One of Tamerlane's remaining legacies is the grand Bibi-Khanum Mosque, that is espoused to a legend. Apparently Tamerlane's wife Bibi-Khanum wanted to surprise him with a magnificent mosque. She ordered the best architect to work on the project, but he fell in love with beautiful Bibi-Khanum and refused to complete it without a kiss. As her answer, she brought forty painted eggs and pointed out that they all looked different but inside they were the same. She offered other girls but he turned them down, saying that if he had forty buckets filled with water and one with wine, only one could turn his head. Beaten, she agreed to a kiss on cheek. Right before he reached her she put a pillow in between them, but his kiss was so passionate that it still left a mark on her cheek. Ashamed of the mark, the queen ordered all women to cover their faces. When Tamerlane found out about the kiss, he ordered both of them to be thrown from the minaret. Wings appeared upon the shoulders of the architect as he stood on top of the minaret and he flew away. The queen asked for permission to wear all her silk dresses at once. Thus, when she jumped they cushioned her fall and lived happily ever after.
Tashkent is the capital and a large metropolis. Its name literally translates as "stone city". It has been destroyed several times in history, the most recent damage coming from an earthquake in 1966 when many of its ancient historical monuments were destroyed. Thus Tashkent today is a modern city with a wide variety of restaurants, shopping, Soviet style urbanisation and modern high buildings.
Try to make a detour from all the sight seeing and visit the metro/subway. It is ornate and so clean. Each station is decorated differently. Some are rather bland, but a lot of them are opulent "ball rooms". Huge light fixtures, domes to match any mosque, modern themed or historically inspired. And with a lot of color to please the eye.