Wednesday, November 25, 2015

Kyrgyzstan: Uzgen's Eternal Treasures

Lilya Kas'yanova,
Lilya Kas'yanova, one of Kyrgyzstan's finest guides, is passionate about the history, art and craft of her country. She regularly contributes articles to this website. A graduate in Linguistics and Intercultural Communications from I. Arabaev Kyrgyz State University, she is also a keen photographer and hiker. In this article Lilya takes us to the ancient settlement of Uzgen, in the south.

Compared to Uzbekistan, Kyrgyzstan has few architectural monuments - its extraordinary peaks and valleys are natural, spectacular monuments.

However, Uzgen settlement, situated in the Osh region of southern Kyrgyzstan, boasts a splendid architectural complex.

The town sprang up on the trade route from Kashgar to Samarkand at the beginning of the Christian era. From the 7th century A.D. up to the beginning of the 16th century, Uzgen experienced exponential growth. When the maritime routes overtook Silk Road land trade, impacting economic and diplomatic cooperation in Central Asia and China, Uzgen slumped.

1994 Kyrgyz 50 som note, featuring Uzgen complex
In the 8th - 9th centuries, the settlement had been fully walled. Archaeological and topographical data reveal the town covered an area of 20-30 hectares, large by the standards of those distant times.

The Uzgen settlement was positioned on the high bank of the Kara-Darya river. It was divided into several areas: the citadel (central, fortified stronghold), three shahrestans (residential quarters of the rulers and nobles), and the rabad (suburb represented by workshops, shops etc,  the centre of economic life).

The whole settlement was enclosed by abundant orchards and fields secured by “puddle clay” walls from east and west. Uzgen became the capital of the Karakhanid empire in the 12th century A.D.

Detail from an Uzgen mausoleum
Later, the town fell into ruins, and now mainly hills and earthworks remain. However, in the grounds of one of the shahrestans, a minaret and three mausoleums - one-of-a-kind architectural monuments of medieval Central Asia - survived the test of time.

These historical and architectural landmarks are considered to be classic man-made creations of the Karakhanid era ( end of the 10th – beginning of the 13th centuries A.D.).

The monumental elements of the architectural complex are conventionally known as Northern (1152 – date of substantial completion), Middle (beginning of the 11th century) and Southern (1187).

Prominent figures of the Karakhanid era are buried in the mausoleums. Each mausoleum’s architectural style is different, reflecting the date of its construction.

The structures abound in floral and geometric motives, elegant engraved Arabic inscriptions, delicate fretwork and terracotta tiles. Thus the complex reflects the step-by-step refinement of Central Asian architectural style and concepts.

The detached minaret, built from burnt bricks bound by clay and gypsum mortar, consists of three sections: octagonal foundation, middle section – a tapering cylinder adorned with ornately shaped bands, and the upper part - crowned by a lantern (with arched windows), which was reconstructed in 1923-24.

Uzgen minaret prior to the 1927 restoration
An earthquake destroyed the original upper part of the minaret in the 17th century. According to archaeologists, the minaret was originally 47 – 50 metres. Today it stands at 27.5 meters. It is dated to the middle of the 11th century A.D.

A cathedral mosque, with its nearby madrassah, adjoined the minaret. Unfortunately, the cathedral mosque did not survive.

Uzgen minaret, which was constructed almost one hundred years later than its northern brother Burana, shows more exquisite technique and delicate d├ęcor: its body is finely embellished by brick masonry belts in combination with embossed ganch, a mixture of gypsum and clay.

The minaret was used for azan, the Muslim call to ritual prayer made by a muezzin.   (As an aside - Jarkurgan minaret, in Termez, Uzbekistan, was also built in the early 12th century by the Karakhanids).

The Uzgen architectural complex is considered to be one of the finest examples of Central Asian dome and portal architecture of the Muslim Renaissance.  Soviet experts restored the complex in the 1920s and again in 1976 - 1983.

In the near future, it may be listed as a UNESCO World Heritage Site. Its structures frequently adorn Kyrgyz banners and stamps and appear on the Kyrgyz 50 som note.

A visit to Uzgen is not included in Uzbek Journeys tours to Kyrgyzstan. However, a trip there can be arranged either before or after your tour.

Contact Lilya on: lolya.87(at) mail (dot) ru
Read all Lilya's articles.

Detail of exquisite fretwork at the Uzgen complex
Detail of exquisite fretwork at the Uzgen complex
Related posts:
Burana, Kyrgyzstan: Central Asia's Oldest Minaret
5 Reasons to Visit Kyrgyzstan
Kyrgyzstan's Petroglyphs #2 - Inner Tien Shan and Osh
100 Experiences of Kyrgyzstan

Tuesday, November 10, 2015

Khiva: Bread Making Master Class

khiva uzbekistan art tours, uzbekistan small group tours, uzbekistan craft textile tours
Zulkhumor preparing the dough in her kitchen
Seattle-based  globetrotter Carol Willison recently travelled with Uzbek Journeys to Kyrgyzstan and Uzbekistan. 

With fellow travellers, she participated in a bread making master class in Khiva, arranged as an optional activity on the tour.  This is her story about the class.

It is still dark when five of us, flashlights and bread stamps in hand, slip out of our hotel and wind our way through the narrow streets of Khiva. We are on our way to make bread.

We arrive at the guest house, remove our shoes and move quietly into the small, warm, cosy kitchen.

Our host, Zulkhumor, does not speak English, but her son, Jaloladdin, is there to translate. First a plastic cloth is laid out on the floor and a large pile of flour and other ingredients added.  It seems like a huge amount, but then I realize she is making bread for a few days, for those staying in the guest house and for our group's dinner tonight.

khiva uzbekistan breadmaking, uzbekistan art craft tours
Carol (centre) and friends working with the dough
After she mixes the dough and kneads it, it is put into a very large bowl and gently wrapped in quilts and put to rest.  Then, per Uzbek hospitality, we have to sit down and eat.

Of course we are served tea, and also jam, bread, and honey - then we head back to our own hotel (for breakfast!), scheduled to return in another hour or so after the dough has risen.

Back we go, this time it is light and we all slide into the kitchen where we break off chunks of the dough and begin kneading it and making small balls. These all go back in the large bowl to rise again.

The kitchen is small and the oven is tiny, where are we going to bake the bread?  At this point, Jaloladdin starts to make a fire outside in the tandyr oven. Since nothing goes to waste in Uzbekistan, he hauls down bundles of dried cotton plant stalks to fuel the fire.

The oven, made of mud, straw and bricks, is a dome-shaped structure with a round hole in the top. It  will last up to 4-5 years. We realize that the key is getting the temperature of the fire just right. We now take the balls out of the bowl and flatten them out into the size of medium size pizzas, then the stamping begins. Stamping the dough is also critical: not too light, not too heavy.

khiva uzbekistan breadmaking, uzbekistan art craft tours
Zulkhumor at the tandyr oven behind her house
Zulkhumor then works quickly with a large hand mitt to slap the bread against the sides of the tandyr oven walls.

Our first few circles of bread are slightly burnt because the oven is really hot. Then the next batch is perfect. They come out golden brown and hot - of course we have to eat them.

Family members bring out butter and honey and we are eating for the third time in the space of 3 hours!

We are laughing and somehow communicating with a group of women who do not share a common language, except that of being together and producing food for others.

This is an experience that cannot be found by just moving from one historic landmark to the next or by visiting museums.  These are the women of this household, who are sharing their craft and culture with us.

We are sent back to the hotel with a few hot loaves, knowing that the rest of our group will be eating the bread we made at dinner tonight.

khiva uzbekistan breadmaking, uzbekistan art craft tours
The result - delicious!
Here is our bread, straight from the tandyr!

Related posts:
The Glory of Uzbek Bread
Chekichs: Uzbek Bread Stamps
Khiva's Sunday Markets
A Glimpse of Khivan Woodcarving 1937 

Tuesday, October 27, 2015

Kyrgyzstan: Edelweiss and the Legend of the Broken Heart

Lilya Kas'yanova
Lilya Kas'yanova, one of Kyrgyzstan's finest guides, is passionate about the history, art and craft of her country. She regularly contributes articles to this website. A graduate in Linguistics and Intercultural Communications from I. Arabaev Kyrgyz State University, she is also a keen photographer and hiker. 

Kyrgyz nomads recite a wonderful, but sorrowful love story about a broken heart and edelweiss.

In the twilight of time, a maiden, who was as fair as a rose, dwelt in the southeastern part of the Issyk-Kul’ hollow. The time was ripe for her to be married, and she was mobbed by a great many eligible suitors.

The young woman, spoilt with exuberant and constant attention, decided to delay marrying. At first, just for the fun of it, she wanted to test the bachelors’ mettle, and she found the means of doing it.

Edelweiss felt brooch from Tumar Studio, Bishkek. Image: Lilya Kas'yanova
“I will marry the man who can find a rare and splendid edelweiss for me!” she announced.

The maid knew for sure that it would not be simple to comply with her wish. Edelweiss grow in difficult to access places, high in the mountains, on forbidding crags.

The bachelors gave up without even going flower hunting. Some did not have enough courage; some turned their attention to other desirable alliances.

Only one youth took up the challenge of obtaining an edelweiss and thereby finding a way to the heart of the inaccessible beauty. That venturesome man also caught the fancy of the radiant, wilful beauty.

However, she was determined to follow through with the challenge: “He has to obtain an edelweiss for me, and then I will reveal my soul to him and become his wife!”

The love-struck man set out in search of the mysterious flower of love, and never returned.

Edelweiss in a wall mosaic, Tamga sanatorium. Image: Lilya Kas'yanova
Many days passed. The maiden waited the return of her young man. Time and again she blamed herself for sending her beloved to his doom. She could not endure his absence any longer: with her loyal friends she went in search of him.

They searched for a long time, and, ultimately, found him. The brave youth was dead: he was like an ice statue, having died of exposure. But in his frozen hand, there was a snowy edelweiss - symbol of triumphant love.

Only then did the maiden fully understand that she would not be able to withstand the bitterness of eternal parting with her beloved.

She could not imagine her life without him.

Heavy with sorrow, the unfortunate maiden ripped her heart out of her chest, and it turned into a splintered rock.

Broken Heart rock in Jety-Oguz valley
In Kyrgyzstan’s Jety-Oguz valley the Broken Heart rock still stands today.

And the magnificent snow-white edelweiss still blooms in the mountains above the valley – a symbol of sorrow and love.

Related posts:
Kyrgyzstan: Jety-Oguz and One-of-a-Kind Health Resort
Jamilia: A Kyrgyz Love Story
Kyrgyzstan: Hunting with Birds of Prey  
Kyrgyz Blues