Uzbekistan is a Central Asian country known for its ancient history, beautiful architecture and diverse culture. Once part of the USSR, today the country is an independent nation with much to interest those who plan to travel within its borders. These 44 facts about Uzbekistan will divulge many of the country’s highlights for travelers.
1. Once part of the ancient Persian Empire, what is now known as Uzbekistan was conquered in the fourth century B.C. by Alexander the Great.
2. During the eighth century invading Arab forces dominated the area and converted the nomadic Turkic tribes living there to Islam.
3. In the thirteenth century Ghengis Khan and the Mongols seized the region from the Seljuk Turks.
4. Next the territory became part of the empire of Tamerlane the Great and his successors. This lasted into the sixteenth century.
5. In the early sixteenth century the Uzbeks invaded and merged with the other inhabitants of the territory that today is Uzbekistan, breaking it into the separate principalities of the khanates (city-states) Khiva, Kokand and Bukhara.
6. The city-states resisted fiercely but were conquered by the Russian expansion into the area in the mid-19th century.
7. After World War I the population gave stiff resistance to the Red Army but they were eventually suppressed. A socialist Uzbek Republic was set up in 1924. The country became the independent Uzbekistan Soviet Socialist Republic in 1925.
8. Following the breakup of the Soviet Union, Uzbekistan gained its independence in 1991 and became a constitutional republic.
9. President Islam Karimov ran the country from 1991 until his death in 2016. He was widely held to be responsible for severe breaches of basic human rights (tortures and executions).
10. In 2016 Uzbekistan held its first election since 1991.
Read: facts about Pakistan
People and Economics
11. Uzbekistan is Central Asia’s most populous country and the majority live in rural areas.
12. The economic trend is for urban residents to earn twice as much as their rural counterparts.
13. Though the Uzbekistan economy grew eight percent in 2015, it is still one of the least developed and poorest countries in Asia.
14. The majority of the country’s citizens are ethnic Uzbeks who speak Uzbek, the official language. Russian is the second most widely spoken language. Sunni Muslims make up 88 percent of the population though they are secular and not religious Muslims.
15. The country is the world’s second-largest cotton exporter and fifth largest producer. Other exports include gold, oil, and natural gas as well as uranium. The nation is resource rich but the money has typical gone to the president and his governmental ruling class.
Cultural, tradition and food facts
16. Having been an historic crossroads for centuries as part of various ancient empires, Uzbekistan’s food is very eclectic. It has its roots in Iranian, Arab, Indian, Russian and Chinese cuisine.
17. Palov or Plov is the national dish. Made of mutton, rice, onions and grated carrots, legend holds it was invented by the cooks of Alexander the Great. Different areas of the country put their own spin on the dish, adding ingredients like pumpkins, peppers or dried tomatoes.
18. Chuchvara is similar to ravioli (Russian pelmeni) and stuffed with onions and mutton. Manti is a dumpling filled with the same. Somsa (samosa) is a pastry pocket filled with mutton or beef, pumpkin or potatoes.
19. Soups include lagman, thick with meat, spices, potatoes, pasta and vegetables (usually with 50 ingredients); mastava , which is rice soup with carrots, tomatoes, onions, peas and even wild plums; and shurpa, a soup made with fatty meat (usually mutton) and fresh vegetables.
20. A Uzbek master chef is held to be able to cook enough palov/plov in one caldron to serve a thousand men.
Read: facts about Afghanistan
Respect for bread
21. Lepioshka (bread) is never laid upside down (it brings bad luck) nor placed on the ground, even if it’s safely in a bag.
22. Traditional Uzbek bread, known as ‘obi non’ or simply ‘non’, is flat and round and always torn by hand, never sliced with a knife. It is also never thrown out.
23. Following an ancient tradition a family member must take a bite from a small piece of Uzbek bread before departing on a journey. The rest of that bread is kept hidden or buried until the traveler comes home.
24. Handshakes are only acceptable as a greeting between two men. A Uzbek woman is greet by bowing to her with your right hand placed over your heart.
25. In Uzbek tradition, the most respected guest is seated the farthest from the entrance to the house.
26. Respect for the elderly is paramount. A Uzbek never insults nor yells at his parents.
Read: facts about Iran
27. The Uzbek people are well-known for the culture’s music. Koshuk are household songs while Lapar are dialogue ones, a give and take between two singers. Many of these are wedding songs. National and professional poems are used as texts for the songs.
28. The Uzbek traditional dances are distinguished by a soft smoothness and expressiveness of movement, either in place or in a circle.
29. Applied arts include painted pottery influenced by the many cultures that have lived in the country and luscious, colorful, ornamental embroidery. A fine embroidery with threads made of gold is still practiced in the province of Bukhara.
30. Soccer and tennis are the country’s most popular sports. Cycling, boxing, wrestling and gymnastics are also highly regarded. Uzbekistan athletes have done well in the Olympics in these sports. Kurash is their native martial art form.
31. The Ugam-Chatkal National Park is the natural habitat of 44 mammal species, 230 bird species and 1168 species of plants, including bears, wolves, red marmots, lynx, snow leopards and wild rams. Travel permits are required for parts of the park near the borders with other countries.
32. The Jeyran Ecological Center is rescuing and restoring this endangered species. The Kitab State Geological Reserve and Kyzylkum Tugai and Sand Reserve explore the natural geography. Watch for wild boar, deer, wild ducks, sand pipers and reed cats.
33. The Nuratau-Kyzylkum Biospheric Reserve will soon be included in the UNESCO global list of such reserves.
34. Uzbekistan features three health and recreation complexes for relaxation: Chimgan, Charvak and Beldersay. Visas are required for all tourists apart from passport holders of CIS countries.
35. Other activities tourists can enjoy in the country include camel trekking, hiking, bird watching, rafting and skiing.
Random, Fun and Unusual Facts about Uzbekistan
36. Uzbekistan is a doubly landlocked country: that is, a landlocked country surrounded by landlocked countries. Additionally, none of its rivers ever lead to the sea.
37. The Tashkent region, including the capital city of Tashkent, is the economic and political center of the nation. Here you will find the international airport, bus service and Tashkent’s beautiful metro system.
38. Metro Tashkent’s three stations feature marble ceilings and pillars, engraved metal, and beautiful chandeliers. Not only does it have some of the most beautiful stations in the world, this metro is the biggest system in Central Asia.
39. The Aral Sea was once the Earth’s fourth largest inland sea. After the Soviets depleted its water supply to irrigate the cotton fields in the 1960s and extensively used chemical pesticides and fertilizers, it has shrunk to half its former area and decreased by threefold in volume.
40. Now there is a shortage of water in Uzbekistan, with underground water and reservoirs serving the needs for plant irrigation. Certain rivers are now half dry. The drying of the Aral Sea has ravaged the surrounding land with disease and agricultural devastation.
41. An island in the Aral Sea named Vozrozhdeniye was a secret biological weapons test site for the Soviets during their era. In 1988, the Soviets buried evidence on the island, which today is contaminated with live anthrax and other deadly poisons.
42. The country mines 160 million ounces of gold annually and has the fourth largest deposits of gold in the world. Its Muruntan gold mine is the largest open pit gold mine in the world, located on a site where turquoise was previously mined from ancient times.
43. Be aware that laws are strictly enforced in Uzbekistan, punishments are severe, and it is not wise to get snarky with the police. It is illegal to gamble, possess and use drugs, and use tobacco and alcohol if you are under 20. Homosexuality is illegal in this country.
44. Be aware some photography upsets the authorities. Don’t photograph government or public buildings and transportation hubs. When in doubt, ask.
With ancient cities that have stood for centuries along old Spice routes and beautiful tiled architecture, friendly people and delicious foods, Uzbekistan is a feast for the senses.
Quick facts about Uzbekistan
|Total area||447,400 sq km|
|Population||29,473,614 (July 2016 est.)|
|Independence||1 September 1991 (from the Soviet Union)|
|National anthem||"O'zbekiston Respublikasining Davlat Madhiyasi" (National Anthem of the Republic of Uzbekistan)|
|National symbol||khumo (mythical bird)|
|National colors||blue, white, red, green|
|Government type||presidential republic|
|Borders||Kazakhstan, Tajikistan, Kyrgyzstan, Afghanistan and Turkmenistan.|
|Currency||Uzbekistan som (UZS)|
|Religion||Islam and Christianity|
|Life expectancy||73.8 Years (2016)|
|GDP - per capita (PPP)||$6,100 (2015 est.)|
|Industries||textiles, food processing, machine building, metallurgy, mining, hydrocarbon extraction, chemicals|
|Exports||energy products, cotton, gold, mineral fertilizers, ferrous and nonferrous metals, textiles, foodstuffs, machinery, automobiles|
|Imports||machinery and equipment, foodstuffs, chemicals, ferrous and nonferrous metals|
|Climate||mostly mid-latitude desert, long, hot summers, mild winters; semiarid grassland in east|
|Terrain||mostly flat-to-rolling sandy desert with dunes; broad, flat intensely irrigated river valleys along course of Amu Darya, Syr Darya (Sirdaryo), and Zarafshon; Fergana Valley in east surrounded by mountainous Tajikistan and Kyrgyzstan; shrinking Aral Sea in west|
|Natural resources||natural gas, petroleum, coal, gold, uranium, silver, copper, lead and zinc, tungsten, molybdenum|
|Birth rate||16.9 births/1,000 population (2016 est.)|
|Death rate||5.3 deaths/1,000 population (2016 est.)|
|Sex ratio||1.06 male(s)/female|
|Time Zone||UZT (UTC+5)|
|Internet country code||.uz|
|Drives on the||Right|