The small but most important town in the Kyzylkum, Nurata, was founded by Alexander the Great in the 4th century BC in the foothills of the Naratau Mountains. The remains of the fortress he built can, amazingly, still be seen on the south side of town.
Set along an important caravanserai on the road between Samarkand and Bukhara, it is centred around a spring-fed oasis where The Chashma, a collection of religious buildings are said to have been created by the brother of the Prophet Mohammed and still considered one of the most revered shrines in Uzbekistan. Dating from between the 9th and 15th centuries, the Chashma is a complex of beautiful domed mosques, wells and bathhouses which nowadays attracts Shia pilgrims from across the region – an exotic spectacle against the backdrop of desert mountains to the south.
The complex derives its name literally from the word for "holy spring" and legend has it that a spring appeared here after an asteroid, emitting a mysterious light fell here while the town derives its name the word for light from "Nur", or "light" in honour of the spring's creation. The spring is home to the sacred Manarika fish.
Other interesting sites here include the Juma Mosque, the Panjawakt mosque, Bath complex and of course the nearby Nur Fortress.