Formerly part of the Soviet Union, the landlocked Republic of Uzbekistan has borders with Kazakhstan to the west and north, Kirghizstan and Tajikistan to the east and Afghanistan and Turkmenistan to the south. Persian empires ruled here, as did Tamerlane, before the region was conquered in the early 16th century by Uzbek nomads. Uzbekistan claimed its independence from the Soviet Union in 1991. Of outstanding interest to the traveller are the old 'Silk Road' towns of Tashkent, Bukhara and Samarkand. Samarkand in particular had a central position on that old trading route and was an important Islamic centre of learning. The town has a wonderful collection of architectural masterpieces, including the Bibi-Khanym Mosque, built by Tamerlane around the year 1400. For the modern adventure traveller, Uzbekistan provides a useful point of access (through Tashkent) for a number of Central Asian destinations, including Tajikistan.