Travel to Uzbekistan: Tashkent
Tourists to Uzbekistan--yes, there are some, though these days they are mostly French and Germans--don't spend a lot of time in Tashkent. That's because they're coming to the Uzbekistan of Tamerlane and the khans and emirs succeeding him. It's a shame, because Tashkent is a monument to modern architecture: it has scarcely a glimmer of the postmoderism so rampant in Europe and North America. We start, though, with the corner of Tashkent that wasn't wiped clean by the Russians, who came to Central Asia in the 19th century carrying their own version of the White Man's Burden.
This is the mausoleum and madrasa of Barak Khan, a descendant of Timur or Tamerlane. It was built in the 1500s, and though outshone by similar buildings in Samarkand and Bukhara, it does show the form that was repeated as widely in Uzbekistan as the form of Catholic churches is repeated in Quebec. The dominating element here is the pishtaq, or high projecting portal, which creates at the entrance a three-sided room, or iwan, in this case vaulted. The terms pishtaq and iwan recur ad nauseum in the pages that follow.
Inside, the dakkma, or courtyard rimmed with rooms. The typical madrasa, or Islamic school, would have students living in the cells, but this madrasa is now the office of the mufti, or Islamic judge, of Uzbekistan. The garden is laid out in the classic Persian chahar bagh, or four gardens that is found very widely--not least in Delhi's Red Fort, which, it may be remembered, was built by the Moguls, who were themselves descendants of Timur.
Across the street: the Tellya Sheikh Mosque--noteworthy for a treasure within.
The mosque itself is comparatively simple, almost homely.
But in an air-conditioned side room is the Osman Qur'an, which is said to be the world's oldest. Tamerlane stole it--is that too strong a word?--and installed it in his great mosque, the Bibi Khanum, in Samarkand. The Russian general who captured Samarkand--Kaufmann by name--sent it to St. Petersburg. The Soviets sent it here in 1989.
Enough of monuments! A nearby street. Wonder about that elevated pipe on the right?
Here's a better example. You'll see this in many Uzbek cities. The pipe carries natural gas--domestic fuel. Earthquakes are so common that burying the pipes is a bad idea.
The neighborhood is full of branching, blind alleys.
Plaster and whitewash in the preceding pictures hid the typical Uzbek residential construction method, which consists of a wood frame filled with cheap and quake-proof adobe bricks, or guwalyak. Wood isn't cheap, but it can be and is often recycled from building to building.
The overhanging cornice helps keeps the adobe dry, more or less.
So does plaster.
You wouldn't have seen houses like this in comradely Soviet times, when apartment buildings were the order of the day. Since Uzbekistan's independence, the few people with money have gone ahead and built mansions even here, in the old neighborhood.
Old or new, the houses are designed around courtyards with gardens.
An improvised shop.
Another, with shutters onto the street and a comfortable spot for the merchant.
Close by is the city's main market, a huge place. The bread--called nan, though it's much thicker than the nan of South Asia--is typically wheeled here on these babybuggy frames. You have to hunt to find the bakery it comes from.
Among the items for sale are these cradles, which are especially interesting. The form is common from Turkey to China, has not changed in at least the last century, and--most interesting of all--because back then these cradles were very nearly the only furniture you'd find in a house. Grownups lived on the floor--albeit carpeted and complemented with textile wall hangings.
Tools and handles.
Storage chests, for about $10.
They're popular items.
The center of the market is the new Chorsu ("four corners") Bazaar.
The architecture may be tiresome, but you can wander around and just about survive on the free samples or nuts and dried fruit handed your way as samples.
There are grain merchants here, too, and spice ones.
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