Wednesday, September 17, 2014

Chor Bakyr - The City of the Dead, near Bukhara

Nilufar Nuriddinova
Nilufar Nuriddinova is one Bukhara's most experienced guides. She knows the city like the back of her hand. Nilufar graduated from the faculty of foreign philology at Bukhara State University and she will contribute occasional articles about this remarkable city.

Chor Bakr necropolis is one of the biggest architectural ensembles of Uzbekistan, situated 6 kms west of Bukhara at a place known from antiquity as Sumitan. Sumitan means “wool weavers”, as this was the primary occupation of the inhabitants in the past. The ancient road from Bukhara ended right at its gate.

Few tourists visit Chor-Bakr – it lacks the dazzling tile work of Samarkand’s Shah-i-Zindar necropolis. However, it is a calm and beautiful place, well worth exploring. It was entered into UNESCO’s World Heritage Tentative List in 2008.

Chor means “four” and Bakr was the name of four wise and holy men, all related:

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View of a Chor Bakyr dome
Abu Bakr Saad Yamani - was a descendant of the Prophet Muhammad and an imam of a mosque in Mecca. When he came to Bukhara he became a spiritual adviser to the ruler, Ismail Samani (The Samanids were the ruling dynasty in the 9th and 10th centuries AD).

Abu Bakr Mukhammad ibn Fazl Yamani –  was the richest among the four men and financially supported the caravans which came to Bukhara. He also collected the sayings of the Prophet, known as khadises.

Abu Bakr  Mukhammad ibn Homid Yamani – was a sheik and scientist.

Abu Bakr  Abdulloh Tarkhan –  assisted the Saminid rulers develop laws based on the Koran.

It is said that Abu Bakr Saad heard that on judgment day there would be eleven gates open to paradise and that one of those gates would be in Bukhara. He organised a large caravan bound for Bukhara. It included Sufis, students of Abu Bakr Saad, merchants and scientists.

Even some Arabian masters heard about the caravan and gave Abu Bakr Saad a beautifully carved marble gate, asking him to place it where they themselves would come 
and stay. A small piece of that gate can be seen today - it was hidden by a  descendant of the Chor-Bakrs during Soviet times.

Because of the services that the Bakyrs rendered to the Bukharan ruler, Ismail Samani, they were given 40,000 hectares of private land at Sumitan where they constructed mosques, madrassahs, mills, caravansaries, tim (covered bazaars), bakeries and other workshops. Local people found employment in these businesses and their families received free education. Every morning local people were given 1000 fresh loaves of bread free of charge by the order of Abu Bakr Saad. 

As the area prospered, the Bakyrs bought more land and developed more projects with the local community. For example, there was a canal that was always full of water. However, ordinary local people could not use that water. The Bakyrs bought the canal and let anyone use the water.

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The remnant of marble gate given to Abu Bakr Saad
Abu Bakr Saad and Abu Bakr Homid are buried in the northwestern part of the complex. The other two were buried in a cemetery that was dug up during the Soviet period. After independence a college of law and high school specialising in the German language were constructed on the site. During construction many bones of the deceased were discovered and they were placed in a kind of mausoleum near the college.

In the Chor Bakyr complex there are 36 different buildings: 22 khaziras (burial places), a hammam (bath house), a madrassah, a khanaka (hostel for Sufi dervishes) and mosques.

The people of the original caravan who had come with Abu Bakr Saad and all his descendants are also buried there. Most people who live around the complex today consider themselves descendants of the Chor Bakrs and are called khodjas. Even today, when they die, they are buried in special khaziras not in the common cemetery.

After the death of the four Bakrs the name of the settlement became known as Chor Bakr.  In Soviet times, when large collective farms were created, the area was called Kolkhoz Pravda (Truth Collective Farm). After independence in 1991, the area reverted to  Chor Bakr.

bukhara uzbekistan tours, chor bakyr bukhara, uzbekistan art craft toursDuring the Soviet period the Chor Bakyr monuments deteriorated – no maintenance was done. Under the initiative of the president of Uzbekistan, Islam Karimov, major restoration works were undertaken in the 1990s.

Today the beautiful complex is a pilgrimage site. When you visit such a place you feel something fresh in mind and body: such places have a kind of spiritual power. For me, it is because in this place the holy words of the Koran have been sounded every day for a very long time.

I must add that if succulent lamb cooked in a tandyr oven takes your fancy, then you must stop at the Milly Taom restaurant in Chor Bakyr. It is at the turn off from the main road to the Chor Bakyr necropolis. Such is the reputation of this simple restaurant that people come from far and wide to eat there. Every taxi driver knows this restaurant.

Contact Nilufar at:  nilufar_nuriddinova(at) yahoo(dot)com

Related posts:

Bukhara's Summer Palace: Sitora-i Mokhi-Khosa
Bukhara's Puppet Theatre
Alexander 'Bokhara' Burnes - Great Game Player

Wednesday, September 10, 2014

Impressions of Uzbek Women

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Beautiful Girl in the Woodblock Studio, Tashkent
Bernadette Smith travels with neither a camera nor a sketch pad.

Yet on her return from a spring 2014 tour with Uzbek Journeys, she started a series of canvases of her impressions of the country and its people.

She would rise early and roam the back streets. While others were busy snapping images, Bernadette keenly observed the scenes around her and let the impressions just soak in.

Bernadette claims that Uzbekistan "got under her skin" - this is apparent from the bold strokes and colours that dominate her work.

Her first works are these three paintings of Uzbek women.

At right is Nargisa, an apprentice woodblock printer in a contemporary studio in Tashkent. She is a talented, shy and  serious young woman.

The work below, Impressions of Tamara, refers to the remarkable dancer, Tamara Khanum, the first woman to dance without a veil in Uzbekistan. There is a house museum in Tashkent devoted to her, which is visited on an Uzbek Journeys tour.

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Shades of Tamara

Bernadette took a post-tour excursion to the Ferghana Valley. It is a long and spectacular drive over the Kamchik Pass. It was spring and children pick wild flowers and sell them by the side of the road. The painting below, Girl Selling Tulips, Road to Ferghana, charmingly captures one young girl.

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Girl Selling Tulips, Road to Ferghana

Bernadette is now working on a series about Khiva - certainly something to look forward to.

As marvellous as digital photography is, these paintings show how wondrous thoughtful reflections are after a journey. Plus you need talent!

Related posts:
Uzbek Sketchbook
Christine Shoji's Samarkand and Khiva Sketches
Tamara Khanum: Legendary Uzbek Dancer
Tashkent's Small House Museums

Wednesday, August 27, 2014

Bukhara's Contemporary Art Museum

Pavel Benkov's Tajik with Tea Bowl
Bukhara possesses a singular allure. Over 2,500 years old, it was one of the most important trading centres of the Silk Road. During the golden age of the Saminid rulers, Bukhara also became the intellectual centre of the Islamic world.

The entire old city is now a UNESCO World Heritage site: it is the most complete example of a medieval city in Central Asia, with an historic ambience and an urban fabric that has remained largely intact.

It is so easy to spend hours exploring the ancient caravanserais and madrassahs, now housing artisans workshops, antiquarians, fabric boutiques and knife makers. The old Jewish quarter, the residential neighbourhoods set along cobbled streets, all make for marvellous strolls.

And for those travellers interested in avant-garde and 20th century art, Bukhara's small Contemporary Art Museum is a *must-see*. Located between the first and second trade domes, it is housed in a corner, brick building constructed in 1912 as Central Asia's first central bank.

Despite a fine collection of Soviet artists, such as Pavel Benkov, Mikhail Kurzin, Alexander Volkov, Nadeja Kashina, the exhibition space dedicated to that period is not easy to find. Entrance to the museum is at street level and is about US$2. There is usually an exhibition of local painters' works on that level. Ask the staff at the ticket office where the avant garde art is and someone will lead you through several rooms, then up stairs at the back until you reach the modernist section.

M. Kurzin's Portrait of Embroiderer Niyazova Karomat
Pavel Benkov came to Bukhara in 1928 and it was a turning point in the artist's life. Benkov's portraits on display reflect his skill at capturing the essence of Bukharan life at the time. In Tajik with a Tea Bowl he has brilliantly captured a proud man, fully conscious of his own dignity. The museum's collection of Benkov's work is significant, ranging from portraits to cityscapes.

Mikhail Kurzin lived and worked in Bukhara in the late 1940s. (Kurzin was the founder of a Tashkent art group Masters of the New Orient). He was later repressed and sentenced to 5 years imprisonment and 3 years exile.  On his release he moved to Bukhara until 1948 when he was exiled once again.

Kurzin painted a series of portraits of well-known Bukharan artisans - engravers, weavers, stone masons, metal chasers, embroiderers and jewellers - all painted in bold, broad strokes. There was a shortage of materials in the post-war years and Kurzin sometimes simply painted on cardboard.

The museum is open daily from 1000 - 1800 daily and closed on Mondays. Overlook the rather sad exhibition space and tilted hangings. If you speak Russian, try to arrange a guided tour with one of the art historians there. Call in advance: +998  65 224 5853.  Stopping by this collection is an excellent prelude to the Savitsky museum in Nukus, visited on an Uzbek Journeys tour.

Related posts:
London Book Launch: Biography of Igor Savitsky, Founder of the Karakalpakstan Museum, Nukus
Pablo Picasso and Nadejda Kashina Exhibition in Tashkent
Alexander Volkov: Of Sand and Silk, an Exhibition at Christie's, London

Pavel Benkov's Bukhara Caravanserai

Mikhail Kurzin's Mosque Magok Attor (now the Carpet Museum)