The sights of Uzbekistan

Tashkent , the capital of Uzbekistan, is the biggest, modern and most cosmopolitan city in Central Asia. Since two thousand five hundred years, people have been living here where the western tip of Tien-Shan pans out into the Kyzyl-Kum. After independence in 1991, the city has made a rapid progress in economical and industrial field; however the glimpses of the ancient history, traditions and culture are existing till today. There has been a settlement at the Tashkent oasis on the Chirchik River since the 1st century A.D. Though it was called Chach or Shash until the 8th century. Later it was called Binkent in the 8th and 9th centuries and Tashkent (city of stone) in the 11th century.

Kukeldash Madrasah
This madrasah was originally built in 1560 as an Islamic seminary. During the revolution it served as a local government building, it is now restored as an Islamic school. It has a domed courtyard at the rear which gives magnificent view from the Chorsu bazaar.

Barak Khan Madrasah
It was built in 16th century and since that time it is a headquarters for the grand Mufti who is equivalent to the archbishop for Uzbekistan, Kyrgyzstan, Tajikistan and Turkmenistan. To the east across Zarqaynar Street there is Telyashayakh mosque, also called Hastimom mosque. The big block on the north side is Islamic Institute, a five year post-madrasah academy, the only one allowed in Central Asia in Soviet times, 16th century mausoleum of Abu Bakr Kaffal Shoshi lies to the west, an Islamic scholar of the Shaybanid period. All these buildings are normally closed to tourists but can be visited with prior permission. Visitors who have made prior arrangements to go inside should be modestly dressed, and women should cover their hair.

Abdul Khasim Madrasah
It is situated behind the enormous Palace of people's Friendship near Halqlar Dustligi Metro station. A beautiful restoration work has been done after the independence. Presently it is a museum of traditional arts - a ragtag collection of souvenir vendors, artists and the occasional folk ensemble. It is open daily from 09am to 6pm.

Museum of Applied Arts
In 1898 Alexander Polovtsev, a wealthy tsarist diplomat, retired to a house built for him in traditional style by artisans from Tashkent, Samarkand, Bukhara and Fergana. After a post-Revolutionary stint as an orphanage, the house was surrounded by ugly museum buildings and opened in 1937 as a showcase for turn-of-the century applied arts. Full of bright carved plaster decorations (ghanch) and carved wood, the house itself is the main attraction, though there are also exhibits of ceramics, textiles, jewellery, musical instruments and toys, and a good but pricey gift shop. The museum is open daily from 10am to 5pm.

Museum of History
One highlight in the museum is a small, peaceful Buddha figure from a Kushan temple excavated at Fayoz-Tepe near Termez, but conspicuously absent is a famous big Buddha from Kuva in the Fergana Valley. The museum is open daily, except Monday, from 10am to 6pm.

Navoi Opera & Ballet Theatre
Not only is this a venue for some of the cheapest classical opera outside the Covent Garden piazza, it's also the only Soviet building in Tashkent with any personality. The interior is itself a museum, its Soviet brashness hidden behind a veneer of regional artistic styles a different one in each room - executed by the best artisans of the day, under the direction of the architect who did Lenin's tomb in Moscow.

Everything I have heard about the beauty of Samarkand is true..... Except that it is even more beautiful than I could have imagined (Alexander the Great). It was already a cosmopolitan walled capital of Sogdian Empire when Alexander conquered it during 329 B.C. The oldest evidence of urban settlement is a collection of jewellery from a Bronze Age burial dating back to 1500 B.C.

The Registan Square
Ulugbek Madrasah on the west side is the oldest, finished in 1420 under Ulugbek. Beneath the little corner domes were lecture halls, and at the rear a large mosque. About 100 students lived in two storeys of dormitory cells, most of which are still in good condition. The other buildings are imitations by the Shaybanid Emir Yalangtush. The entrance portal of the Sher Dor Madrasah, opposite Ulugbek's and finished in 1636, is decorated with roaring tigers. In between is the Til1a Kari Madrasah, completed in 1660, with a pleasant, garden-like mosque courtyard.

Bibi Khanum Mosque
The gigantic congregational mosque in the northeast of Registan square was finished shortly before Timur's death. It is one of the jewels of his empire. It finally collapsed in an earthquake in 1897 but has been restored after independence.

Shahi Zinda
The name, which means Tomb of the Living King, refers to its original, innermost and holiest shrine - a complex of cool, quiet rooms around what is probably the grave of Qusam ibn Abbas, a cousin of the Prophet Muhammad (peace be upon him) who is said to have brought Islam to this area. It's also an important place of pilgrimage. Except a few early tombs at the end, the rest belongs to Timur's and Ulugbek's family and favourites.

Ulugbek Observatory
The grandson of Amir Timur, Ulugbek was less interested in conquering the earth than the stars and he became more famous as an astronomer than as a ruler. In 1420, he built the best equipped Observatory for leading scientists of that time.

Guri Amir Mausoleum
Guri Amir Tomb of the Amir Timur, his two sons and two grandsons, including Ulugbek, lie beneath this surprisingly modest mausoleum topped by a fluted azure dome. Timur had built a simple crypt for himself at Shakhrisabz, and apparently had this one built in 1404 for some of his sons and grandsons. When he died on the way to China in 1405 he was buried here, because the passes to Shakhrisabz were snowed.

One of the Central Asian oldest city Bukhara dates back to 2500 years. The name came from Indian Sanskrit word - Vikhara ("monastery"). The city prospered during 9 -10th century and was known as pillar of Islam. After two centuries it was conquered by Jenghiz Khan in 1220 and fell under the shadow of Timur's Samarkand in 1370.

A second life came in the 16th century when Bukhara was the capital of Khanate during Shaybanid period with dozens of bazaars and caravanserais, over 100 madrasahs and more than 300 mosques. It was home of scholars and scientists and among those are Ibne-Sina, Firdausi and Rudaki. The present day Bukhara is a medium sized city of 250000 and its historic monuments illustrate story of the past 1000 years.

Labi Hauz
Labi Hauz (around the pool), the most peaceful and interesting spot in town-shaded by mulberry trees as old as the pool and peopled with street-sellers, crazies, old men hunched over chessboards or gossiping over tea, and anyone else with nowhere else to go. On the east side is a statue of Hoja Nasriddin, a semi-mythical “wise fool” who appears in Sufi teaching tales around the world. Next interesting place called the Nadir Divanbegi madrasah which was built as a caravanserai, but the Khan converted it into educational madrasah in 1630 A.D. On the west side of the square and built at the same time/ is the Nadir Divanbegi Khanaka. Both are named for Abdul Aziz Khan's treasury minister who financed them in the 17th century. North across the street, the Kukeldash madrasah built by Abdullah Khan II, was at the time the biggest Islamic school in Central Asia. South of Labi-Hauz is what's left of the old town's unique Jewish quarter.

Covered Bazaars
From Shaybanid times, the area west and north from Labi-Hauz was a vast warren of market lanes, arcades and crossroads mini-bazaars whose multi-domed roofs were designed to draw in cool air. Three remaining domed bazaars, heavily renovated in Soviet times - Tacp-Sarrafon (dress-sellers), Taqi-Telpak Furushon (Cap-makers) and Taqi-Zargaron (Jewellers) - were among dozens of specialized bazaars in the town. They are returning tentatively to life, with games of backgammon like shishbesh being played in the shade, and new shops to lure new consumers. Local people call the covered markets by the following numbers: - Sarrafon No 1, Telpak Furushon No 2 and Zargaron No 3.

Kalan Minaret
When it was built by Qarakhan ruler Arslan Khan in 1127, the Kalan minaret was probably the tallest building in Central Asia (Kalon means “great” in Tajik). It's an incredible piece of work, 47 meters tall with 10 metre deep foundations (including reeds stacked underneath in an early form of earthquake-proofing), which in 850 years has never needed any but cosmetic repairs. Jenghiz Khan was so dumbfounded by it that he ordered it spared. It was also used as a beacon and watch tower, and the Manghit emirs threw criminals off it until forbidden to do so by the Russians. Its 14 ornamental bands, all different, include the first use of the glazed blue tiles that were so saturate Central Asia under Timur. Up and down the south and east sides are faintly lighter patches, marking the restoration of damage by Frunze's artillery in 1920. Its 105 inner stairs are closed to tourists, but special arrangements may be possible. A legend says that Arslan Khan killed an Imam of that time after a quarrel. That night in a dream the Imam told him, “You have killed me; now oblige me by laying my head on a spot where nobody can tread”, and the tower was built over his grave.

Ismail Samani Mausoleum
In Samani Park is the town's oldest monument (completed about 905 A.D) and one of the most elegant structures in Central Asia, the mausoleum of Ismail Samani (the Samanid Dynasty's founder), his father and grandson. Its delicate baked terracotta brickwork which gradually changes “personality” through the day as the shadows shift disguises walls almost two metres thick, helping it survive without restoration (except of the dome) for almost 11 centuries. The bricks predate the art of majolica tiles. Though dating from early Islamic times, the building bears Zoroastrian symbols such as the circle in nested squares symbolizing eternity above the door. Jenghiz Khan overlooked it because it was partly buried in the dust of ages.

The Ark
This royal town-within-a-town is Bukhara's oldest structure, occupied from the fifth century right up until 1920, when the Red Army bombed it. Bits of it may go back two millennia, though the present crumbling walls are probably less than 300 years old. It's about 75% ruins inside now, except for some remaining royal quarters, now housing a multi-branched museum. At the top of the entrance ramp is the 17th century Juma (Friday) mosque, its porch supported by columns of sycamore. Inside is a little museum of 19th and 20th century manuscripts and writing tools. Turn right into a corridor with courtyards off both sides. First on the left are the former living quarters of the emir's kushbegi or prime minister, now housing a seldom-shown exhibit on WWII and the Soviet period (including a little mechanical diorama depicting the celebrated post-Revolutionary burning of the veils).

On the left is the oldest surviving part of the Ark, the vast Reception & Coronation Court, whose roof fell in during the 1920 bombardment. The last coronation to take place here was Alim Khan's in 1910. The submerged chamber on the right wall was the treasury, and behind the room was the harem (ladies dwelling). To the right of the corridor were the open-air royal stables and the noghorahona, a room for drums and musical instruments used during public spectacles.

Now there are shops and a tedious natural history exhibit. Around the salamhona or Protocol Court at the end of the corridor is what remains of the royal apartments. These apparently fell into such disrepair that the last two Amirs preferred full-time residence at the summer palace. Now there are several museums, including ho-hum pre-Shaybanid history on the ground floor, and coins and bits of applied art on the top floor.

Mir-i-Arab madrAsaH
It is a working seminary from the 16th century until 1920, but reopened by Stalin in 1944 in an effort to carrying Muslim support for the war effort. It was the only in Central Asia functioning madrasah in Soviet times. Presently 250 young men mostly from Uzbekistan, enrol for five years, normally from the age of 17 or 18 years to study Arabic, the Koran and Islamic law. In fact, most classes are now held in the Kalan mosque, with Mir-i-Arab serving mainly as dormitories. The madrasah is named in honour of a 16th century Naqshbandi Sheikh from Yemen who had a strong influence on the Shaybanid ruler Ubaidullah Khan and financed the original complex. Both Khan and teacher are buried beneath the northern dome. The tall pole with a horse hair tassel at the north end of the tomb is a traditional marker for the graves of very revered figures in Islam. The hand symbolizes the “five pillars of Islam”. Note the door high above street level, predating the Soviet excavation of much of the old centre down to 16th century levels. Behind Mir-i-Arab is the small Amir Alim Khan Madrasah, built this century, and now used as a children's library.

The birth place of Tamerlane “Kesh” was renamed as “Shakhrisabz” (Green city) during his rule in 14th century and turned into his family monuments. The city was destroyed by Abdullah Khan of Bukhara at the end of 16th century

Ak Saray
Timur's summer palace called Ak Saray (White Palace), covered an area the size of an Olympic stadium, took a quarter of a century to build and did not complete when he died. It has as much grandeur per sq. cm as anything in Samarkand. There is actually nothing let except bits of the majestic 40 metre high entrance, covered with gorgeous, filigree-like blue, white and gold mosaics. It was probably Timur's most ambitious project.

Kok-Gumbaz Mosque & Dorut Tilovat
This big Friday mosque was completed by Ulugbek in 1437 in honour of his father Shakhrukh (Timur's son). The name means Blue Dome. Behind it was the original burial complex of Timur's forebears. The sign says Dorut Tilovat (House of Meditation). On the left is the Mausoleum of Sheikh Shamsuddin Kulal, spiritual tutor to Timur and his father, Amir Taragay. It was completed by Timur in 1374. On the right is the Gumbazi Seyidon (Dome of the Seyids), which Ulugbek finished in 1438 as a mausoleum for his own descendants.

Doru Saodat Complex
The complex was built in 1392 by Timur and means Seat of Power & Might. The main survivor is the tall, crumbling Tomb of Jehangir, Timur's eldest and favourite son, who died at 22. It is also the resting place for another son, Umar Sheikh (Timur's other sons, Shahrukh and Miran Shah are buried with him at Guri Amir in Samarkand). Khazrati Imam Mosque dates only from the late 19th century. The name refers to a revered 8th century Imam, or religious leader from Iraq and the story goes that Abdullah Khan II spared the mausoleum because he was told the Imam was buried there.

A long time ago, Shem, son of Noah, was roaming the Kara-Kum Desert with his tribe. His people became thirsty. Being full clay's walk from the river by dug a hole, and struck water, and the water was sweet. “Khei-vakh!” they cried. “What the satisfaction!” From “Kheivakh” it came to Khiva. Always being part of Khorezm, it was “pearl” of Khorezm. When Kunya Urgench was destroyed in 14th century Khiva became the capital of Khorezm until the Russian invasion of 19th century.

The main entrance to the Ichan-Qala is the twin-turreted brick West Gate (Ota Darvaza - Father Gate). The picturesque 2.5 km long mud walls date from the 18th century, rebuilt after being wrecked by the Persians. The walls also have North, East and South gates, respectively Bukhara Gate, Polvon Gate, Stone Gate, as well as about 40 bastions.

Muhammad Amin Khan MadrAsah & Kelte Minar
The first building on the right inside the West Gate is the Muhammad Amin Khan Madrasah built in the 1850. Outside stands the fat, turquoise-tiled Kelte Minor Minaret, at the same time and looking like it was originally meant to far taller, which would have made it much higher than Bukhara's Kalan Minaret. As stories said, it was stopped cither because the architect or the khan died.

Tosh Khovli Palace
Tosh-Khovli facing the caravanserai contains Khiva's most sumptuous interior decoration, ceramic tiles, carved stone and woods and ghanch. Built by Alloquli Khan between 1832 and 1841 as a more splendid alternative to the Kuhna Ark, it's said to have over 150 rooms off nine courtyards. The biggest courtyard, immediately inside the entrance is the Harem. The rooms off harem's south west corner hold craft exhibits. The Ishrat Khovli was a ceremonial and banqueting hall, like the Kuhna Ark, circles for yurts.

Kuhna Ark
Opposite the Muhammad Amin Khan stands the Kuhna Ark. The Khiva ruler's own fortress and residence. In 12th century Aksheikh-bobo (the white sheikh) built the clay fortress. Later on it became a mausoleum. It was expanded by the khans in the 17th century. And was used as harem (ladies living area), mint, barracks, arsenal, stables, jail and mosque.

Juma Mosque & Minaret
The large Juma mosque is interesting for the 218 wooden columns supporting its roof, a structural concept thought to be derived from ancient Arabian mosques. The few finely decorated columns are from the original 10th century mosque, though the present buildings date from the 18th century. East of the Juma Mosque, the 1855 Abdulla Khan Madrasah holds a missable nature museum. The little Aq Mosque dates from 1657 by the entrance to the long tunnel of the East Gate.

Muhammad Rahim Khan Madrasah
Facing the Kuhna Ark, across an open space that was once a busy palace square and place of execution, this 19th century madrasah is named after Khan Muhammad Rahim II. The khan was also a poet under the pen name Feruz.

Alloquli Khan Madrasah, Bazaar & Caravanserai
The street leading north opposite the Aq Mosque contains Alloquli Khan Madrasah (1835) and the earlier Kutlimurodinok Madrasah (1809). North of the Alloquli Khan Madrasah and built in the same year are the Alloquli Khan Bazaar & caravanserai.

Islam Huja Madrasah & Minaret
Khiva's newest Islamic monuments, both built in 1910. The 45 meters tall minaret is highest in Khiva. The madrasah holds Khiva's best museum of Khorezm handicraft through the ages fine wood carving, metalwork, jewellery, books, Uzbek and Turkmen carpets, pottery etc. Islam Huja himself was an early 20th century grand vizier. He founded a European style school brought long-distance telegraph to the city and built a hospital.

Pahlavan M Ahmud M Ausoleum
Pahlavan Mahmud was a poet, philosopher and legendary wrestler who became Khiva's patron saint. His 1326 tomb was rebuilt in 19th century and requisitioned in 1913 by the khan of the day as the family mausoleum. The chamber under the dome at the north end of the courtyard holds the tomb of Khan Muhammad Rahim II who ruled from 1865 to 1910.

Fergana Valley
The valley of Fergana is known for its scenic splendour, gushing streams and lush green valleys. It was the stable of the Mongols, and the horses breed at Fergana was known as the heavenly. The Great Silk Road made its way through the villages which produced a fine quality of silk, known even today for its intricate weave and design.

Visit Andijan bazaar, one of the most interesting bazaars of Central Asia. It is saturated with skull caps and lined with metal and wood workshop producing orange sparks, a mighty din, sickles, axes, painted wooden cradles and surly the old scimitar. Zaheeruddin Mohammad Babur, the fifth in line to the throne of Tamerlane was born in Andijan in 1483. Also visit city museum and Juma mosque (300 years old).

Kokand is the most famous city along the ancient Silk Road. Kokand has pro-revolutionary role as the second most important religious centre in Central Asia after Bukhara. According to local Imam there were 56 madrasahs and 500 mosques. Visit the famous Khudayar Khan's palace (closed on Monday). Palace is last truly monumental building in Central Asia, it took eight years to build (1863-71), was badly damaged by Russian shell in 1876 and 1918 but now under restoration.