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About Uzbekistan

Uzbekistan – a museum under the open sky

Masterpieces of Uzbek architecture have already and deservedly gained world fame. Especially famous ones are in particular those that are located on tourist schemes of Samarkand,
Bukhara, Khiva, and all these examples of monumental architecture. Meanwhile a lot of outstanding monuments lie out of these blazed tracks. Creations of national architecture - houses, small intra quarter and rural mosques have fallen out of vision field of traditional guidebooks, though they have concentrated centuries-old construction experience, beauty of architectural forms and pattern decor.

          Monuments of Uzbek architecture cover approximately a thousand-year interval of time, but these are mature fruits on history tree of the Central Asian architecture which roots go deep into lands - not only in figurative, but also in literal sense. As archaeological expeditions open from year to year the remains buried in earth stratum of constructions with two and three-thousand-year antiquity, and they have already embodied those receptions of construction work which in the highest forms define qualities of architecture as arts.

           A name «Uzbekistan - a museum under the open air» underlines that monuments of architecture are indeed open for a look, as if huge museum pieces of different centuries. But things in museums are dead, revive for visitors or with radiation of the beauty (if it works of art), or with informative data concluded in them. Monuments of architecture live that sanguineous life in which midst they are included. Whether that is madrasah of Samarkand Registan, around which move crowds of passers-by and steams of cars, and inside of it work master restorers, whether that is ancient markets of Bukhara and Khiva where and until now goods dazzle on stores, whether that is mausoleum in mountains at Langar as if merged with greatness of surrounding landscape, or, at last, cozy houses of cities twisted by grapevines and villages of Fergana Valley, architecture here is inseparably linked with people - their works and thoughts, their cares and leisure.

            We, certainly, don't set a purpose to inform about the history of architecture of Uzbekistan - this subject belongs to solid scientific work. Let's throw only a view on a long way of its searches and finds, refusal from achieved, sometimes price of losses, and then of also new accomplishment, visible marks monuments of architecture will appear before us.

            Already in the sources and in subsequent development in architecture of Uzbekistan a lot of things were dictated by climatic conditions. Cheap, viscous, resistant - loess was a leading construction material here constantly. It was used in the form of beaten clay – pakhsa, rubble lumps, raw brick, fastening solution, greasing and plasters, later - in the form of a baked brick, still later - glazed bricks and decorative facing details. There also was applied a tree but is economical manner; wood landings in hot climate of the South were to be protected. Very seldom there was used a stone - its stocks are huge, but it is unreliable upon construction in zones with high seismicity, and territory of Uzbekistan in everywhere is of this kind.

          Sharply continental climate of the country has also defined many things in local architecture. Almost eight months in a year here can be carried out in the open air, being preserved from cold, not the same as from solar heat. From here - closed court yard, canopies – ayvans, top half-open loose overalls; from here role of green plantings and flowing water aryks and hauz.

            Changes of social situation stimulated development of general architectural ideas. Ancient areas - Bactria (part of it covered Sudkhandarya region of Uzbekistan), Sogd (Entre Rios of Kashkadarya - Zaravshan - Syr-Darya), Horazmiya (lower reaches of Amu Darya and Syr-Darya), Shash (Chirchik-Angren oasis), Parkana (Fergana Valley) were areas of addition of ancient Central Asian civilizations. Characteristic feature of them was made by existence settled - agricultural and cattle breeding population and formation beginning in the 2nd millennium BC protocity culture. In northern Bactria archeologists completely opened one of such „protocity” Sappalitep - rectangular in the plan, captured on perimeter system of defensive walls with labyrinthine casemates and with dense internal building.


            In the 1st millennium BC in Bactria, Sogda, Khoresm there already were original cities. They have rectangular or round plan (Kizil-tepe, Banda khan, Tapashkan - all in Surkhan-Darya region), are strengthened by fortifications with semicircular towers and intra wall corridors with set of loopholes for archers shooters; in these cities there was a citadel and special administrative and governmental complex, and behind the walls there were scattered settlements and separate estates to which inhabitants, the city could give protection in disturbing days of hostilities.

            Such cities were found and took in attack in the IV th century BC by armies of Alexander the Great when they crossed Amu Darya and moved to the capital Sogd - Marakande. It was led round by a wall and had powerful citadel which remains can be seen at visit to Samarkand, on site of ancient settlement Afrasiab.

            And here Central Asia enters into era of own ancient art, addition, lifting, blossoming and degradation of which covers a period from IIIrd century BC to the IVth century AD. It has developed in close contacts with advanced for those time direction of culture of Hellenistic world, partly India and Iran. Thus main focus was not direct loan in architecture, but only assimilation of some creative ideas and separate art details.

             From India together with Buddhism there have passed typically Buddhist constructions - in Termez, Ayrtama, Dalverzin-tepa. But in whole monuments of architecture of the Central Asian antiquity appear in originality of their volume and spatial compositions of architectural forms and details, testifying tradition relying on experience of centuries, about those creative researches that led to development of own directions and style.

           In antique time there was an increase in number and expand on square of the city. Further improvement is received by fortification. Pinion walls in thickness from four to nine meters at a sole are led round by ditch. They are withdrawn by total massif, with the top fighting courses and platforms for stone cut tools, with intra wall casemates and connecting courses, and numerous rectangular towers are flanked. On walls and in towers – great number of loopholes in two-three rows on height, on their crests there were gear parapets due to which also was conducted an attack.

            A variety of social functions of antique cities put forward before the architecture town-planning tasks - punched hole of streets and areas, device of opened hauzs and underground waste sewerage. Main mass of city building consisted of  houses. Houses of rich men and palaces of governors (Toprak-kala in Khoresm, Halchayan and Dalverzin-tepa in Surkhandarya) differed either with scales, or character of furniture, but generally followed descent, typological schemes: they have holiday yard (yards), a portico-ayvan on wooden columns, "guest" part —lobby and reception hall – guests room (hotel), lateral or bypass corridors separating blocks of living and economic rooms; quite often there was special house chapel with a cult niche. Houses of ordinary citizens were more simpler: compact plan including small guests room, living, working and economic and household rooms.

           Diversity of religious views has defined versions of related cult constructions where rules of ritual dictated differences of planned and respectively, volume and spatial compositions. On ancient sites of ancient settlement of Uzbekistan there were found temples of a dynasty cult, sanctuary of Great goddess, Buddhist monasteries – Vihara and memorable monolithic constructions - mortars. The furniture of temples, palaces and houses of rich men quite often included carved tree, stone architectural details, painting, and sculpture.

            Already during those far times there are special types of funeral constructions: rectangular with vaulted crypts «naus» in Bactria (Dalverkzin-tepa, Bandykhan), round, with central dome and bypass chambers mausoleums in lower reaches of Syr-Darya (Tagisken, Chirchik-Rabat and other).

           The VI - VII centuries are marked by life restoration in some from antique cities which have come to full decline (for example, Samarkand), partially with addition of new cities answering to inquiries of other social situation, but settlements arising near powerful castle – keshk (palace) where lived and governed prevailing during this time and local knight-dikhkan. Country broke up to numerous independent principalities which have been only nominally subordinated to central authority of Turkic empire, being a part of Iranian state of Sasanids, actually independent, but low-power. Meanwhile social system - early feudalism was on increase, and it caused general incentive to development of various parties of social being, including culture.

            Use of a baked brick opened before architects unexpected possibilities of its combinations creating a geometrical pattern by installation of bricks flatwise, vertically, on diagonal, "fir-tree" laying. In woodcarving and ganch, at preservation of many ancient motives of vegetative ornament, their increasing stylization was planned. And, at last, with assimilation of Arab writing, there appeared a new type of decor - an epigraphic ornament.

           In the XI th and at the beginning of the XIII centuries Central Asia was included into part of large state formations headed by Turkic dynasties of Karakhanids, Gaznevids, Seldzhukids, Horezmshakhs. This era of developed feudalism is noted by further growth of cities where population inflow, center of administrative power and military forces, further expansion of domestic and international trade put forward responsible and diverse tasks before architectural and construction corporations. In construction business there is noted a progress as a part of construction materials and improvement of designs. Everything in monumental architecture increases a role of baked brick on high-strength solutions. Big successes are reached by architects in development of vaulted - dome overlappings, especially dome designs over square of walls. It is carried out by means of witty transitional systems, device of facilitated internal spaces, removal of domes by double cover, by means of what the Central Asian architects outstripped a similar design in the European architecture for three hundred years.

            Development of construction and pottery expanded types of architectural decor. Besides pattern forming calculations from figure drafted baked brick, there appeared carved terracotta, and from XII century blue glaze entered into facing of domes by separate impregnations into pattern. In formation of interiors there are used carving on ganch and ornamental script. Expansion of technology of architectural decor is accompanied by exclusive richness of ornamental motives - geometrical, stylized -vegetative, epigraphic.

           In composition of palaces of governors of the XI-XII centuries extensive yard with ayvans and on axes, in contour of one-two floors of rooms among which especially was characteristic an audience hall. So, in palace of Termez governors it was allocated outside by portico with powerful foundations supporting arches behind which three-flying vaulted hall was settled down, and all walls and foundations were covered by richest carving on ganch and ornamental painting.

       The final celebration on whole Central Asia of Islam has drawn special attention to creation and maintenance of buildings of a Muslim cult - mosques, madrasah - the highest spiritual schools, tekke – hospice for sufiys, mausoleums over burials of prominent sheikhs and sultans. Three versions of mosques were defined: main cathedral mosque – djami or djuma for city Friday prayers; country mosque – namazga where there were celebrated Kurban and Ramadan festivals; intra quarter - guzar mosques which are daily serving a community of guzar (makhallya). Mosques – djami usually had yard which has been led round by canopies on wooden columns or arch and dome galleries on columns; on main axis of the yard, opposite to an entrance, there was hanging vaulted ayvan of main building, in end wall there was a prayful niche – mikhrab. At the corner - end-to-end or a little at some distance there was a tower minaret for convocation devout on a praying. Central Asian minarets usually had a form of round trunk which was narrowed up topped with a rotunda lamp; trunk is dismembered by concentric strips of an ornament.

            Special development was received by construction of mausoleums in the XI-XII centuries. Architectural and figurative idea of them is to immortalize in generations memory of eminent persons of Islam, powerful governors or members of reigning house. From here - construction of tombs from durable material - a baked brick while even palaces were erected usually from raw or in clay - frame laying, giving them monumental forms, sometimes at not so the large general sizes, saturation with decorative furniture.

            The main group of remained in Uzbekistan constructions in the middle of the XIV th century consists of mausoleums (Buyankulikhan and Seyfeddin Bokharzi in Bukhara, complexes in Fudin and Kasbi, early group of Shakhi Zinda in Samarkand). Their remarkable line is - an ensemble principle of group and decorative furniture - amazing on beauty.

            In the last quarter of the XIV th century Timur was forwarded to political arena of world history. From number of the most grandiose buildings created on command of Timur in Samarkand and Shakhrisabz, have reached almost entirely or in ruins, family tombs of Timurids - Dorussiadat and Gur Emir, palace of Ak Saray and Bibi-Hanym mosque. From Ak Saray have remained only powerful foundations of portal arch, but detailed descriptions of contemporaries allow recreating its shape in mental order: grandiose frontal part (peshtak) behind which there located extensive yard with a pool mirror in the center, in contour of rooms and with vaulted ayvans on axes behind which there were settled down big and small audience - halls. In Samarkand, generally in a residential suburb, there was erected several number of palaces for Timur, buried in verdure skillfully broken parks.

       In public and ideological life of Timurids state, religion still played great role - from here construction of cult buildings of Islam. Although in Samarkand there already existed djuma mosque, Timur ordered to erect a new which would surpass by scales and richness of a decor all mosques of the Muslim world. This big construction (its ruins are known under the name of Bibi-Hanym - legendary queen) included yard, led round by multidome gallery on hundred bearing columns and pillars, with monumental portal and dome buildings on axes and angular minarets. Special attention at the time of Timur and Timurids was drawn to construction of empire mausoleums. Among them - Gur Emir where Timur, his sons and grandsons are buried. Form of the mausoleum is extremely geometrized: octahedral prism topped with a ribbed dome on cylindrical drum. The same stately simplicity and in external tile decor, but inside there is whole tomb, from panels to dome zenith, is interweaved by patterns dominated by gold and azure-dark blue color. During the XIV-XV centuries there was also a majority of memorial constructions of ensemble for Shakhi Zinda.

            At Ulugbek’s time special attention was given to construction of madrasahs playing this time a role of peculiar universities where along with theology there were taught exact and natural sciences (they are kept in Samarkand, Bukhara, Gijduvan). He has built also well-known Samarkand observatory, which had no equivalent during that time around the world.

            Outstanding achievement of town-planning thought of Timurids era was made by architectural complexes. The best one among them is - Registan and Shakhi Zinda in Samarkand. Registan - heart of the Timurids capital, its main public square was formed at Ulugbek’s time from three parties with monumental facades of madrasah, khanaka and caravanserai, and from the fourth – with buildings of huge mosque Alik Kukeltash and a small mosque Mukatta. At various scaled composition of all constructions they were united by strict logic of axial and spatial communications, balance of volumes, unity of decorative applications and means. Meanwhile Shakhi Zinda is surprising in the variety and at the same time composite integrity ensemble of picturesque style that is defined in many respects by unprecedented richness of a tile decor of its constructions.

            The social and economic crisis which has collapsed all Central Asia in the XVIII th century, had interrupted here much more years any type of architectural activity. Fracture was noticed only at the end of century, political sign of it was formation of Bukhara emirate, Khiva, and later – Kokand khanates. Economic recovery was promoted by revival of foreign trade. Preservation of feudal system braked progress, but almost decayed cultural life was gradually awakening. In the XIX th century in the Central Asian khanates there is noticed a speed of construction – major attention is drawn to building of Bukhara, Khiva, Kokand, but it also captures also Tashkent, Samarkand, Andijan, a number of small cities and even settlements. Century’s cultural stagnation approximately has brought many losses - not only disappearance of many architectural creations of the past from the earth, but also interrupted constructional traditions which were earlier transferred in craft environment from generation to generation. But threads of creative continuity in people didn't die away, as a proof of that serve monuments of architecture of the end XVIII - the beginnings of the XX th centuries. It is especially clearly embodied in Khiva which kernel — Ichan - kala appears in unity of all the building: serf protections and city gate, small streets and minor areas, monumental buildings and houses.

            It is noted in monumental architecture from one side, following of earlier developed composite schemes, and from another — emergence of local features, on the one hand, we would tell, local schools - Khiva, Bukhara, Fergana. Explanation of it is an impact on official architecture of local applications and forms of national architecture and arts and also crafts.

            The best examples of palace architecture of this period - Tash-hauli, Rafanek, Nurulla-bay in Khiva, Urda Hudoyarkhan in Kokand, Sitorai Mohi Khossa in Bukhara. Their yards, rooms, columned ayvans are hypertrophied in the sizes elements of houses sated with the richest decor, their applications and motives are characteristic for national decorative art. The same forms and furniture - in Friday and quarter mosques. Creators of these constructions were local national masters who have entered a habitual arsenal of architectural forms and an ornament. Only madrasah and minarets still follow traditional schemes of monumental architecture of former eras.

           Amidst constructions of the XIX th - the beginnings of the XX th centuries reached our days, perhaps, special value is made by houses. Unfortunately, in the course of time they becomes ever less as houses built from materials, are not so durable. Here prevail - frame walls (wooden framework, filling clay lumps-balls), their advantage is - exclusive low cost and at the same time anti-seismicity. Also raw and pakhsa walls which are more economic than erected ones from baked brick are used and better keep a cool in summer, heat of the centers - in winter. Overlappings are braced, with earth roof.

           National mass inhabitants of Uzbekistan conceal centuries-old, settled experience in themselves, it creates internal comfort and optimum conditions for accommodation in zone of sharply continental climate of the country. Natural features of different areas - from here are known as regional differences in planning, orientation, airing applications.

            Houses of Bukhara, which area was limited by density of intracity building, were erected in majority in two floors, with internal one or two court yards. Deaf facades hid cozy organization of internal space - a yard surrounded by ayvans on wooden columns with stalactite capitals or carved bolsters; walls of the rooms richly formed with figured niches – kasamonas, carved ganch, modeled eaves, script on ceilings. Samarkand houses were insignificant - in two-three rooms, with columned ayvans, walls and (living) room - guests of which are decorated with kasanonas, carving on ganch with coloring of details or background. Original Samarkand country estates – settlements (kurgans), led round with high pise-walled wall. Their shape reminds medieval fortresses due to decorative pise-walled turrets, dentil, rammed loopholes (walls); surface of pakhsa blocks decorates a grooved or stamped pattern of linear geometric or symbolic and ornamental character.

            Decorative furniture is deemed as a precious quality of national architecture of Uzbekistan. In various areas favourite local masters prevailed artistic approaches and motives of an ornamentation in woodcarving, ganch, marble and simply on clay, in coloring of carved panels, in style of masterly wall and ceiling scripts.

            Architectural and decorative heritage of Uzbekistan is deeply national art, very cheerful, full of bright beauty and inexhaustible imagination in creation of a pattern.


We invite you to visit Uzbekistan – a museum under the open sky!


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