If you have read the transport section of my writings already, you have seen that I recommend Tashkent’s metro not only to take you from A to B but also for the stations themselves and their artwork. It is a mixture of majestic huge Soviet style and modern Uzbek comprehension, but has its charm. Kosmonavtlar for example is decorated with paintings of Russian/Soviet/Uzbek space pilots, all in bluish-white colours, Navoi has artwork about Alisher Navoi, some only have different abstract or theme mosaics and some only have gigantic metal decorated pillars.
It is very much attempting to take pictures, but it is strongly forbidden ! Police is all over the stations, not necessarily to control if someone takes photos, but to “be there”. And please ignore the fact that I show 2 pictures of the interior here :-) my heart did beat like mad, but it was on the top of the stairs, no police in sight, no flash (thus blurry). I didn’t even waste a second to think about taking pictures at the tracks themselves.
If you have time and like metros – take one line, get off at every station and take the next one 10 minutes later.
Metro trains run daily from 6 a.m. to midnight
Ticket is 160 som and takes you anywhere; you can also change lines with one ticket.
Opposite the Muslim Board of Uzbekistan lies their religeous library. Inside is a lovely hand painted room that is very impressive.
Locked away in a safe with a glass front is the Holy Koran Mushaf of Othman, this is in one of the side rooms and you will have task to see it. Can't guarantee that you will, if you can go with an Uzbek friend you have more of a Chance!
The Holy Koran Mushaf of Othman is the earliest existent written version of the Koran. It is the definitive version, known as the Mushaf of Othman, superseding all other versions. The third Caliph Othman, who ordered its compilation, was assassinated while reading it.
Here is a link with a photo of this Kurut:
To me, it tastes like chalky yogurt salted and stored in an old shoe. But people love it there, and it can be found in the bazaars stacked up in little pyramids. It also seems to come in a paste form too. If you know you do not like Kurut and there is a white paste sat in front of you at a bar, and your local friends (who know you hate it) keep telling you to eat that white paste, eat it anyway. It is good for a laugh.
I hated Kurut soo much. But please do try it, whatever you do. If you love it, cheers to you. If not, it will make you laugh it is soo gross.
There are 15 bazaars operating in Tashkent - Eski Juva is the biggest and the oldest, not only in Uzbekistan but also in the whole of Central Asia. Located right in the centre of the city's Old Town, it is generally referred to as Chorsu - an ancient word meaning crossroads. Eski Juva has been operating at this crossroad for over two thousand years.
Looking for all the world like a gigantic flying saucer, the huge blue dome that covers the main market hall was built by the Soviets to replace a maze of covered stalls. Nowadays it, and six mini-domes, sit surrounded by just as many stalls as they were meant to replace, thronged daily with people from all over the city. The stalls outside mostly sell clothing, household goods and such and are not all that interesting - though the high-roofed Chopon Bazaar near the mosque, full of traditional Uzbek robes -padded chapans, gold-encrusted ceremonial wear, hats of all colours and styles - is definitely worth a look.
The ground floor of the domed hall is where you will find fruit and vegetables of every description, and some you've never seen before. The bread looks wonderful but you'll probably want to pass up browsing around the butchers' stalls. Upstairs, where the curve of the roof and the sweep of the circular form of the building is very noticeable, you'll find glowing mini-mountains of spices and dried fruits, nuts of every kind, more varieties of salads than you can imagine, glistening crystalline clumps of navat (sugar), boxes and bowls of enough kurt (dried cottage cheese) to keep an army on the march.
The smell of grilling shashlik pervades the air, old women stagger by with laden shopping bags, old men sit and drink tea in the chaikhanas, young girls try on bridal veils, a baker wheels a baby's pram laden with fresh-baked loaves, porters stagger under huge bags of onions. The place buzzes with activity, the abundence of the produce is staggering. That it will all be here again tomorrow, and every day, as it has been for those two millenia, is an amazing thought.
Continue north on Rashidova from the Earthquake Memorial and you'll come to what used to be known as Victory Park, and now is called Independence, the northernmost park in a string of green spaces than runs right through the centre of the city. The blue-domed cupola at the top of the park shelters the tomb of an Unknown Warrior, a memorial to all those who have fallen in the defence of their country. Find your way to the most southerly of this string of parks, Alisher Navoi (yet another much-revered mediaeval poet) and you'll see a matching cupola, this one sheltering a statue of the poet.
The park is a high point of the city and affords nice views but if you want to really get a good overview you should head for the nearby TV Tower, at 375 metres the highest structure in Central Asia. A small admission will give you acces to a viewing platform at the 100 metre level.
Housed in a splendid traditional house commissioned by a a Russian diplomat in the early years of the 20th C, Tashkent's Museum of Applied Arts is filled with magnificent examples of Uzbek craftsmanship. The house is as much part of that display as the objects on show - the very best craftsmen were brought from all over the country to work on it and the result is a positive jewel box of a replica of a rich merchant's house.
Personally, if I had to choose between this museum and the State Fine art Museum, the State Museum would be my choice, but lots of tour groups opt for this one only and I'm sure no-one who visits will be disappointed as it is a treasure trove of beautiful things. Just don't expect to find anything of any real age here.
Guided tours are available in various languages.
The museum promotes the work of some of the highly talented craftspeople working in the country today. You won't find any bargains here - quality costs - but you will find really lovely stuff and you may get a chance to talk to those who have created it.
Check the website fpor a good overview of the collection, only a tiny part of which can be on show at any one time.
05.22 on April 26, 1966 is a time and day that Tashkent will never forget. That was the moment the city was devastated by a massive earthquake measuring 7.5 on the Richter scale. Although only 10 people were killed and about 1000 badly injured, the quake and the hundreds of aftershocks that followed left more than 300,000 people homeless. An army of both forced and volunteer workers from the USSR and other countries rebuilt the city as a model of what the planners thought a Soviet city should be, with broad, tree-lined avenues, grandise public buildings , lots of parks and mile after mile of apartment blocks.
Typically Soviet in its depiction of heroic action, the Earthquake Monument records the exact time the quake struck and shows the earth opening up as a man shields a woman and child from the calamity before them. The plaza it stands on was the epicentre of the quake.
Until quite recently, only men were able to view Tashkent's greatest treasure - a 7th C Koran that is generally recognised as the oldest in existance. It was brought to Samarkand by Temur in the 14th C. The Russians took it to St Petersburg, the Bolsheviks returned it to Tashkent but only as an historical curiosity in their atheistic State. It wasn't until 1989 that it finally came back to a religious home in the headquarters of the Mufti of Uzbekistan. There it was kept in the Tellya Sheikh mosque, the city's main Juma (Friday) mosque. Male visitors were sometimes granted the privilege of seeing it, women never could.
All this has changed since a new, seperate library was built to house both the Koran and some of the valuable collection of historic and beautiful books and manuscripts that are in the Mufti's care. Known as the Osman Koran, tradition claims the Koran was stained with the blood of the Caliph Osman, a stain that can still be seen today. The Koran is kept in a glass case in a central room in the library. Needless to say, photography is not permitted.
The new library is situated in front of the Imam Ismail al-Bukhari Islamic Institute, the main seat of Islamic learning in Uzbekistan. Both men and women may study here, though their classes are strictly segregated.
Other buildings in the ensemble include the 16th C Barak Khan Medressah and the Abu Bakr Mohammed Kaffal Shashi mausoleum around which the whole complex grew. He was a 10th century doctor, philosopher, poet and, ultimately, saint. His tomb became a shrine, attracting more and more pilgrims until, in the 16th century, the mausoleum was built. People still come to pray to the holy man.
The whole complex covers quite a large area and , as well as the students studying here and their teachers, attracts many Uzbek visitors as well as those who have flown in to Tashkent from much further afield.
Take a walk around Tashkent's Independence Square and there is no mistaking that the nation's capital was once a Russian city. This is a huge area - it was the largest such square in all the Soviet Union - lined with grandiose public buildings, fountains and monuments. The enormous statue of Lenin has been replaced by a gigantic globe with only a map of Uzbekistan on its surface, and the May Day parades with their phalanxes of soldiers and tanks have given way to Independence Day celebrations featuring traditional song and dance, but the place is still redolent of Soviet-style aggrandisement.
Here you'll find the Senate building, the Concert Hall and the Navoi Library among other public buildings. A short walk will bring you to a building with a mosre sinister history - once the headquarters of the KGB, it now houses the offices of the National Security Service of Uzbekistan, which, from some accounts has taken over where the KGB left off.
A few grand old Russian-style buildings remain but mostly the square and official buildings elsewhere are all about presenting the government's view of post-Independence Uzbekistan.
The revival of Islam since the fall of Communism is mirrored in the resurgence of the Orthodox church in the Russian community. Freedom of religion was restored to the country in 1991.
Life is very hard in the new Uzbekistan for the old babushkas who come to the churches (there are 4 in Tashkent) to light their candles and pray to the icons, and maybe beg for a few sum to add to their meagre incomes.
Visit the cathedral on Sundays and you will some young Russians as well as many of these old ladies in attendance.
Something of a curiosity, and a link to Tashkent'sTsarist connections, is the large mansion that was once the home of the Grand Duke Nikolay Konstantinovich Romanov, cousin of the last Tsar, who lived in exile here for many years following a scandal, "something to do with the crown jewels" that forced him to leave St Petersburg. A decidedly fishy character, Romanov nevertheless has left Tashkent a legacy of fine art works (now in the State Art Museum) and a wonderful collection of jewellery (in the People's History Museum). Sadly, his house is no longer open to the public as it is used by some obscure government department.
Having been put to use for many years as first a warehouse and then a museum, Tashkent's 16th Century Kukeldash Madrassa is once more taking students. The cells around the lovely courtyard are home to some 250 students as they work and study here during their 3 year course.
Venture in the doorway and you will almost certainly be greeted by a young mullah who will show you around. He may or may not ask you for a small fee. If no-one is there, ask at one of the small workshop/galleries in the corners of the building and they will find someone for you. Much of what you see is restoration but it's most attractive in a quiet, understated way and the young men who act as guides are very approachable and happy to talk about the building and their student's life there.
It's not all that long ago that much of Tashkent looked like this - windowless alleyways of sun-baked-mud houses, a twisting and turning maze of bleached dun-coloured walls and peeling blue-painted doorways. This part of the city survived the great earthquakes of 1966 that flattened so much else and now a walk through these quiet laneways is as near as you will come to a sense of what the city was like in ages past.
If, as we were, you are invited into someone's home, you will find a shady courtyard, quiet and serene with garden greenery, chairs and a table where hospitality is extended with genuine warmth and generosity. The owner's wife will probably not join you but she will make the tea and smile shyly as she hands it over. If you have thought to pack some small token of your homeland ( little clip-on koalas from Australia were just the thing) now is the time to bring it out.
To an outsider, these may look like the homes of the poor, the least desirable part of the city in which to live. Not a bit of it - houses here can cost much more than a smart new villa or apartment. Here you have not only a traditional house with its courtyard and space for an extended family, fruit trees and a vegetable garden, you can also keep agaot, 2 sheep and as many chickens as you like.
If you only have time to visit one museum in Tashkent, make it the Fine Arts Museum. Here you will find an absolute treasure house of the decorative arts of pre-Soviet Uzbekistan - wonderful palace furnishings, Buddhist and Zoroastrian carvings, frescoes and other artefacts, priceless carpets, a time-line of Central Asian ceramics and glorious embroideries - both the vibrant wallhangings known as suzanes and magificent gold-encrusted ceremonial robes, hats, boots, etc. Unlike the Museum of Applied Arts exhibits, everything here is genuinely old and authentic and it is undoubtedly one of the finest collections of traditional arts that you will see anywhere.
That is all on the first floor. When we visited in 2005, we took such a long time examining the treasures in these galleries, and it was so hot, we decided to give the upper floors a miss and check out the Bravissimo cafe across the way instead. Come 2009, the cafe is no longer there, the weather was kinder and so we thought, we'll have a quick look upstairs. 2 hours later ....
What a treasure trove we found! When the black sheep of the Romanov family was exiled to Tashkent, he raided the attics of the Hermitage and brought a few (well, a few hundred) pieces with him, no doubt thinking no one back home would miss them. He went on collecting whilst he was in exile, and when it came time for his will to be read, the city of Tashkent had inherited the lot. From Raphael to Winterhalter, Canaletto to Kandinsky, the collection takes you on a quick romp through the history of Western Art from the 16th to the 20th century. Throw in some magnificent icons, a seriously good collection of decorative art pieces (including a knock-out pair of pietra dura cabinets from Florence that would be the star pieces of any museum's collection) and a who's who gallery of Romanov family portraits from Peter the Great on, and you have a collection that could hold its own against those of many far better known cities in the West.
Add to this any number of works by local artists, some seriously good and all utterly unknown outside Uzbekistan - my favourite was a tremendous portrait of a gun-toting old Revolutionary babushka - and a gallery shop stuffed full of antique textiles, jewellery and such as well as gorgeous new pieces and you know you could easily spend half a day here. I'm still kicking myself for thinking I wouldn' t bother with a photo permit this time and being so bound up with what I found on those upper floors that I didn't go back downstairs and get one. Of course, there was no catalogue and no postcards to be had either. All I have to remind me of the place is a delicious pair of tiny porcelain dolls, every detail of their dress pefect, right doen to the soles of their hand-stitched boots (photo 3).
If time allows (and it should), wander around outside of Chorsu bazaar. Just behind the big dome, across the street, is a little mosque, surrounded by a fence. Kids play inside and are more than willing to open the gate and show you the inside (for no fee, BTW, but just a smile). It is heavily renovated, but in its sobriety very beautiful. Nice wooden carved pillars support an entrance hall, which leads into the prayer room.
A bit more to the northeast of the bazaar is a very strange building (pic 1), round in shape and almost like a snail with the ramp leading in spirals to the top. It is worth going upstairs, although it costs 500 som. The view from the top is exceptional !
Inside the building is a show or exhibition of artwork. But even if you won’t plan to buy something (it is expensive), try and ask the gatekeepers to let you peek inside – the cupola is over and over decorated with muqarnas (pic 5).
Update, March 25, 2008:
Thanks to VTer Vadim, he told me more about this building. This is what he wrote:
It's actually an museum of children artwork, it's near chorsu and opposite to the National Dress Gallery of Uzbekistan. It was build recently, and mostly sponsored by the one of the presidential family members, as I heard.
Approx. 200 m northeast, on a traffic island, you’ll see a rectangular building with blue cupola, which is a shopping centre, but of very exclusive design and goods. Beautiful doors lead into a very elaborate interior, but forget shopping there, prices might be quite “western”. In the lower level is a grocery store, just in case you need to fill up your water bottles.
Side note: I was looking it up on Google Earth, and to my amazement, it is not finished in the version, available Jan. 2007. Well, now GE is never up-to-exact-date, but still mostly not older than 2 years. So it must be brandnew, same as the snail building.