Shakhrisabz (75,000) is a small, un-Russified town south of Samarkand, across the hills in the Kashkadarya province. The town is a pleasant Uzbek backwater and seems to be nothing special - until you start bumping into the ruins dotted around its backstreets, and the megalomaniac ghosts of a wholly different place materialise. This is Timur's hometown, and once upon a time it probably put Samarkand itself in the shade. It's worth a visit just to check out the great man's roots.
The home town of Central Asia's foremost conqueror was the Sogdian town of Kesh when Chinese Buddhist traveller Xuan Zang passed through in the early seventh century. After the Arab invasion, it assumed the Muslim urban pattern, but fell into semi-dereliction during the Samanid period as Bukhara and Samarkand prospered.