Uzbekistan is a country that is consists almost entirely of desert; only 10% of it is occupied by humans. A large part of the country is covered by the Kyzyl Kum, one of the most extensive deserts in Central Asia. Uzbekistan is made up of a huge desert plain and two large rivers of Central Asia: the Amu Darya and the Syr Darya. To the east, Uzbekistan is dominated by large mountains.
Part of the Aral Sea lies in Uzbekistan. Once the fourth largest inland sea in the world, it now represents a serious ecological problem or, worse, some consider it to be one of the biggest ecological catastrophes of the 20th century. Steadily shrinking since the 1960s, after the rivers that fed it were diverted by Soviet irrigation projects, by 2007 it had declined to 10% of its original size, leaving behind even more desert.
A veritable crossroads at the heart of Asia, Uzbekistan has seen some of the largest empires cross its territory; that of Alexander the Great to Genghis Khan to Tamerlane. A genuine mosaic of religions and civilisations, the art and culture are reflective of the country. Traversed by the legendary Silk Road, every year Uzbekistan sees an increasing amount of tourists who are eager to walk in the footsteps of Marco Polo and to discover the splendours of Muslim architecture.
At the crossroads of Buddhism, Christianity, Islam and traditions left behind by shamanism and Mazdaism, Uzbekistan's heritage has preserved elements from each of the various populations that have lived in it. Represented by the way of life of the inhabitants and the monuments, Uzbekistan's culture is a concentration of history and legends that can especially be seen in the towns of Samarkand, Bukhara and Khiva.
Twenty years after gaining its independence, Uzbekistan is fully taking advantage of its tourist attractions.
The cities of Khiva, Boukhara and Samarkand are veritable open-air museums but there are other less touristy sites to see as well.
The archaeological site of Afrassiab is comprised of a necropolis and a richly decorated museum where visitors can discover the country more in detail.
The Savitsky State Museum of the Arts in Nukus, the city's main attraction, holds an exceptional collection of Russian avant-garde art.