There was a bazaar on this site near the Bibi Khanum mosque long before the mosque was built, and no doubt much of what was for sale here was the same then as it is now - mini-mountains of fresh and dried fruit; fresh-baked loaves; seeds, grains and other dry goods; spices, nuts, vegetables and the sticky sweets beloved of adults and children alike as well as household essentials, clothes and the like. Early summer is stone fruit time - peaches and delicate white apricots that perfume the air. Autumn brings melons in such quantities there is hardly room to move between them. Even under Soviet rule this was mainly a farmer's market and so it continues today. Come early in the morning - by 11 or so the crowds are thinning, women going home with their bags laden.
2009 update The old bazaar we saw last time has been demolished and a new market hall built. Not that things have changed a lot - it's bigger, and more of the stalls are under a roof, but essentially nothing has changed. The stalls are still heaped with seasonal produce, the mountains of dried fruits, nuts and spices are all there still.
This was one of the very few places in Uzbekistan we encountered children being prompted to beg by their mother (I got a photo - 5 - but I'm afraid I sent her empty-handed back to Mama), and where our guide warned us to be careful with our bags.
The bazaar in Samarkand is rather picturesque but by far not comparable to the Chorsu in Tashkent. But if you are on the way from Bibi Khanum to Shohi Zinda you may spend a little time there.
Bibi Hanim was for a long time the main mosque in Samarkand. It was a central place, where people gathered. Since 600 years there is this lifely bazaar at the feet of the big walls. It is not a covered bazaar with impressive cupolas. It is just an colorful bazaar with interesting people, many different vegetables and fruits.
At one corner some stall sold herbs. Our guide told us that this is a mild drug, which is legal in Uzbekistan. I do not remember the name. See pic 5.
For a complete contrast to, and respite from, Samarkand’s wealth of blue-tiled splendour, head to the bazaar by Bibi Khanum Mosque. This isn’t a tourist attraction, though many tourists come here, but a real slice of the daily life of this city. People flock here to sell and buy local produce of all kinds – fruit and vegetables, herbs and spices, bread in a huge variety of designs. There is even some bread decorated with coloured sweets, intended for celebrations and parties. Also on sale are brooms, caps and other necessities, but it is fresh produce that dominates. There is a separate area for the sale of each, so you will walk past stall after stall selling nothing but onions, potatoes, or heaps of fresh herbs. Make your way to the spice section for the most enticing smells; to the bread or dried fruits to be offered tempting samples; to the fruit or vegetables of you want to buy items for a tasty picnic.
And of course, as this is Uzbekistan, everywhere you wander people will be eager to greet you, to pose for photos and press treats upon you. In fact the willingness to pose became a bit of a problem – it made it hard for me to capture natural shots of people going about their daily business, not because they didn’t want me to, but because as soon as I raised the camera they would break off from their sale or their conversation to smile at me rather stiffly.
This is also a good place to observe local customs in dress and personal adornment. Gold teeth are very popular here – they are considered a sign of wealth and people will often have healthy teeth replaced if they can afford to, rather than wait for the teeth to go bad and give them problems later. Another striking difference from what we in the UK consider beautiful is the custom of the women of some ethnic groups to draw in the space between their eyebrows to create a single line, as the woman in my photograph has done. For me it’s as much a part of travel to learn about these cultural differences as it is to see the great monuments.
There is a nice bazaar in the old town -very typical of Uzbekistan with row upon row of vendors selling the exact same stuff, but several different sections of these to provide variety. Samples flow freely here, although some vendors act like they've made the sale long before they've sold anything, which is a little annoying. An offshoot bazaar towards the Street of Tombs has an expanse of clothes and more shoes than you can shake a stick at. The bazaar choykhana is serving shashlyk even before 8am. Beware of the gypsies.