Monday, January 30, 2012

Jacques Dupâquier's Images of Tashkent, 1956

French member of delegation with young Uzbek woman, 1956
Jacques Dupâquier, a French scholar and demographer, was part of a French mission to the USSR in September 1956. This mission was organized after the 20th Congress of the Communist Party in which Nikita Khrushchev denounced the personality cult and dictatorship of Joseph Stalin.

Dupâquier was not a professional photographer. However, the colour images he took on his Leica during this journey form a remarkable record of Tashkent prior to the 1966 earthquake that destroyed most of the city. These photos also reveal how Central Asian the city was prior to the influx of Russians, which changed the city's culture emphatically.

It seems that the Communist Party was in some disarray after Kruschchev's 'Secret Speech' and so the French mission members enjoyed considerable freedom of movement (In fact when Dupâquier returned in 1964 he was stopped many times and questioned. He also stated in a 2003 interview: "Even in the era of Gorbachev and later still, I never had such a great sense of freedom as I did in 1956").

The Syr Daria river flowing into the Aral Sea, 1956
Dupâquier flew by propeller aircraft from Moscow to Tashkent, at around 3,200 metres. He enjoyed astonishing views as the land, houses and agricultural machinery rolled out beneath him. He even took photographs of the Aral Sea.

There is a selection of Dupâquier's Uzbek photographs on the English Russia blog. You can also view his photographic archive of every day Tashkent life at L'Iconothèque Russe et Soviétique in France. (Tashkent images start at #122).

An exhibition of Dupâquier's photographs taken during his several journeys through the USSR was held in Nancy, France, in 2010. It then toured Russia in 2011, attracting large crowds. The video clip below, in Russian, (2 mins; 15 secs) is taken at that exhibition. Jacques Dupâquier died in 2010.

Related posts: Max Penson: Uzbek Photography between Revolution and Tradition 
Khudaybergen Divanov - Father of Uzbek Photography 
Kyrgyzstan's Quest for Historical Photographs 
Paul Nadar's Images of Turkestan 1890  

Monday, January 23, 2012

Omar Khayyam in Samarkand and Bukhara

portrait of omar khaayam astronomer mathematician
Omar Khayyam
Most Westerners have been introduced to Omar Khayyam through Edward Fitzgerald's 1859 popular translation of nearly 600, four-line poems known as the Rubaiyat. That collection profoundly influenced perceptions (and misperceptions) of Persia at the time. In the Islamic world, Khayyam is celebrated as a mathematician and astronomer.

Amin Maalouf, a Paris-based Lebanese writer who won the Prix Goncourt in 1993, sets the record straight in his marvellous blend of fact and fiction, Samarkand. The novel not only imagines the history of the manuscript of the Rubaiyat, it recreates the city of Samarkand in the 11th century AD, a renowned centre of beauty and learning.

Only the bare facts of his life are known. He was born in Nishapur, Persia, in 1048 AD, possibly to a family of tent makers: the Farsi word 'khayyami' means 'tent maker'. (Khayyam himself played with this notion in later life in a poem that started 'Khayyam, who stitched the tents of science...)

After studying philosophy at Nishapur, a hub of culture and civilization, Khayyam travelled to Bukhara, where he frequented the renowned library of the Ark, as had Avicenna earlier. In 1070 he moved to Samarkand where he was supported by Abu Tahir, a prominent Samarkand jurist; this support allowed him to write his most famous algebraic work, the Treatise on Demonstration of Problems of Algebra.

This treatise  contained a complete classification of cubic equations with geometric solutions found by means of intersecting conic sections. Khayyam also provided an interesting historical account in which he claims that the Greeks had written nothing on the theory of cubic equations.

omar khaayam cubic equations solution
Detail from Khayyam's algebraic treatise
Indeed, Khayyam states that earlier writers such as al-Mahani and al-Khazin  contributed significantly to the translation of geometric problems into algebraic equations (something which was essentially impossible before the work of the 9th century polymath Al-Khorezmi, who was born in Khiva). However, Khayyam himself seems to have been the first to conceive a general theory of cubic equations.

Khayyam left Samarkand in 1073 at the invitation of Malik Shah, ruler of Isfahan, to set up an observatory there. For 18 years he and other leading scientists and astronomers produced work of outstanding quality.

He led significant studies on compiling astronomical tables and he also contributed to calendar reform: in 1079 Khayyam measured with astounding accuracy the length of the year as 365.24219858156 days. Today we know that a year's length is 365.242190 days. The calendar, known as the Jalali calendar, was used throughout the Perisan empire until the 20th century and, following a modification in 1925, is the basis of the modern Iranian calendar.

Omar Khayyam died in 1131, aged 83, and his mausoleum in his hometown of Nishapur is visited by hundreds of thousands of people every year. The mausoleum's interior and exterior walls are decorated with his quatrains inscribed as inlaid tile works.

His life and work has inspired many movies, most recently the 2005 film The Keeper: The Legend of Omar Khayyam, written and directed by US-based Iranian director Kayvan MashayekhTry to find a copy at your library or DVD store, as it was filmed mostly in Khiva and Bukhara.

And please try to pick up a copy of Maalouf's Samarkand, published in Abacus paperbacks. It's an evocative and beautifully written story.

poster from kayvan mashayekh film the keeper about omar khaayam
Poster from Kayvan Mashayekh's film 'The Keeper'
I cannot resist ending this post with a quote from one of Khaayam's quatrains, which I think is most suitable for travellers to Uzbekistan:

The world is a caravanserai, with one entry and one exit…

Related posts: 
Avicenna of Bukhara and Al-Khorezmi of Khiva
Uzbek Caravanserais 
Merv, an Ancient Silk Road Oasis in Turkmenistan
Travelling the Great Silk Road to Canberra, Australia 

Monday, January 16, 2012

Tashkent Restaurants and Cafés: An Insider's View

suzanna fatyan susanna fatyan uzbek restaurant review guide
Suzanna Fatyan
Suzanna Fatyan, one of Uzbekistan's finest tour guides, is also an obsessive foodie. She hunts down seasonal foods, and visits markets and restaurants all over Uzbekistan.  Suzanna will contribute regular articles recommending the best places to eat in the cities visited on Uzbek Journeys tours, as well as pieces about Uzbek cuisine.

Following her review of Samarkand restaurants and cafés, Suzanna now takes us to Tashkent, where she has sampled some fine meals and local specialities.

Tashkent is Uzbekistan's capital city and during the last 100 years the most common epithet applied to Tashkent is ‘the city of bread’. This epithet is perceived as part of the city’s history, part of a time when Tashkent became a refuge and subsequent homeland for the witnesses and participants of the upheavals of the 20th century, such as the devastating earthquake of 1966.

For many people Tashkent is synonymous with warm hearts, humanism, and a willingness to receive everyone in need with open arms. Being a Central Asian city, Tashkent sometimes has features one finds in Warsaw, St. Petersburg and other European cities. At the same time it has some ‘secret’, authentic corners known mostly to its inhabitants and very experienced travellers.

Uzbeks and other Central Asians frequently visit cosmopolitan Tashkent for cultural diversions: its museums, galleries, sporting events, opera house and theatres. But many also come to taste its specialties that are not available in the rest of the country. The city offers a wonderful choice of international cuisine, milliy taomlar (‘national dishes spots’), coffee houses, steak restaurants and other places of interest for people who enjoy good food. Note that wifi in Tashkent cafes and restaurants is becoming more popular – just ask the code when you are seated.

sunduk restaurant cafe tashkent exterior view
Sunduk restaurant, Tashkent
For a traveller who has just arrived in Uzbekistan, I recommend you start with light dishes, because the weather in the tourist season is generally hot and dry.  So I suggest as a newcomer you start your food experience at Sunduk, 63 Sadik Azimov Street, (tel: +998 71 232 11 46).

This cosy little restaurant offers dishes in the Uzbek and Russian traditions. While the restaurant has typical Uzbek salads of tomatoes and cucumbers, its menu also offers buckwheat porridge and oatmeal. Other Sunduk specialties are draniki (a kind of vegetable cutlet, very common in the Ukraine and Belarus), kompot (fruit or berries drink, not a juice), and very hot and very delicious pirojki (little pies) filled with mashed potatoes, cabbage or eggs and spring onions.

And for a dessert try the very good coffee brewed especially for you in a Turkish coffee pot. (These pots are most suitable for fortune telling from the coffee sediment at the bottom of the cup!) Other options are a cup of green tea, apple strudel and excellent homemade jam. And in summer there are outdoor tables. Sunduk is open for breakfast, lunch and dinner and is closed Sundays and public holidays.
mangyt kyrgyz yurt restaurant tashkent
Look for this sign to Mangyt

In the evening, after you’ve successfully adapted to the heat, you will be ready for a nomadic atmosphere at Mangyt restaurant not far from the Ucell office at 12 Usmon Nosir Street, (tel: +998 71 252 38 11). Mangyt is partly designed as a yurt and offers both Uzbek and Kyrgyz cuisine.

inside mangyt kyrgyz yurt restaurant tashkent
Inside Mangyt restaurant
Although it’s not ‘cosy’, the atmosphere romantically evokes the Central Asian steppe. Mangyt’s main specialty is beshbarmak, a dish of boiled meat and noodles. The name means 'five fingers' because it is eaten with one's hands. Mangyt also offers dishes such as lamb ribs, kidneys cooked with meat and vegetables, and many more.

Tashkent is a perfect place for those who cannot imagine their life without cakes, pies and other sweets. Café Bon, at 63 Shota Rustavelli Street (tel:+998 71 280-51-16) provides an excellent choice of desserts: esterhazy, sachertorte, scharlotka (apple cake), tiramisu and macaroons.

cafe bon cakes and coffee tashkent
Café Bon for cakes and coffee
Café Bon also has a branch at 21 Chimkentskaya Street, near the Ukraine café (tel: +998 71 150 18 33/34).  Bon also has a good choice of coffee, fresh juices and ice creams. Both cafes are very cosy. Bon at Chimkentskaya has a downstairs room and also outdoor tables in summer.

Pizza is popular the world over and Tashkent is no exception. Pizza spots I would recommend with great pleasure are Bella Napoli and Semo di Roma. Bella Napoli is next to Café Bon at 63 Shota Rustavelli Street, (tel: +99871-253-91-83). Ristorante Semo di Roma 40 Chekhova Street, (tel: +99871 150 1835/36,) offers indoor service as well as outdoor seating on a wonderful terrace: it’s a perfect place for warm Tashkent evenings.

If you are homesick for steaks, the best steaks to my mind are at the cool, modern Studio Café, at Sadik Azimov Street, (tel: +998 71 233  0601) not far from Sunduk.

milliy taom restaurant tashkent
Outside Milliy Taom
And now the most important: this is paradise for a food lover who would like to try very traditional Uzbek dishes and see the food preparation process. As frequently happens in Uzbekistan, there is no restaurant sign but is easily recognized, even from a distance, because of the number of people nearby. This place is located not far from the Tashkent circus, at Gafur Gulyam Street.  The image to the left may help you find it. Or simply ask. Among Tashkent restaurants, this café is known as Milliy Taom (it means ‘national dish’). Your first impression when you enter the cafe is that you have arrived for a royal feast or traditional Uzbek wedding: huge boiling pots, amazing looking food, and a wonderful, seductive aroma.

tashkent shurpa served in clay pots millily taom
Tashkent shurpa served in clay pots at Milliy Taom
In Milliy Taom you can find naryn, a cold snack popular in Tashkent, made of finely sliced dough and meat. You can also try fabulous shurpa, a dish I wrote about in my Samarkand restaurant article, but this time with distinctive Tashkent features served in little clay pots.

Milly Taom also serves true Uzbek specialties such as hasip (traditional home made sausage), halim (porridge usually cooked for the Navruz festival), chuchvara (Uzbek ravioli), kazan kabob (lamb dish), delicious potatoes cooked in kurduk oil (fatty tail oil) or with lamb. These dishes are available only at lunchtime and Milly Taom is not open at night. It is such a special, authentic place and I strongly encourage you to visit.

For a farewell dinner I would recommend Caravan One at A. Kahhar Street (tel: 99871 255 11 99/ 255 696). It offers Uzbek and European food in a stylish atmosphere. Another good option is Amaretto at 28 Shota. Rustavelli Street (tel: +998 71 215 55 57). It offers a synthesis of Italian and local food).  You can also try Gruzinskiy Dvorik at 15 A. Kahhar Street, (tel: +998 71 129 07 70), a Georgian restaurant offering not only Georgian food but also excellent wine.

Enjoy your stay in Tashkent!

Related posts:
Uzbekistan for Vegetarians
The Glory of Uzbek Bread 
Celebrating Nowruz - Spring New Year in Uzbekistan 
Samarkand Restaurants and Cafés: An Insider's View
Bukhara Restaurants and Cafés: An Insider's View

Contact Suzanna via email:
contact suzanna fatyan uzbek guide samarkand


Tuesday, January 10, 2012

Minarets of Uzbekistan

kalyan minaret bukhara spared by genhis khan
Kalyan minaret, Bukhara
Minarets, from which Muslims are called five times a day for prayer, have been described as the 'gates from heaven and earth'. Derived from the Arabic word manārah, meaning lighthouse, Uzbekistan boasts some very fine minarets, and there are intriguing stories about many of them.

On approaching Bukhara, travellers can see the Kalyan Minaret in the distance. The caravans that plied the Great Silk Road during the Middle Ages used this minaret as a landmark. In 1127 Bukhara's ruler, Arslan Khan, commissioned the architect Bako to design a minaret to replace an earlier one that had collapsed.

Bako laid the foundations of the minaret using bricks and mortar made of ganch-plaster mixed with camel's milk. He then left Bukhara and returned two years later, when the foundations had become as hard as stone. On these foundations he built the minaret later called Kalyan, which means ‘Great’. Made of baked bricks it is about 47 metres high with a 10-metre deep foundation. The strong, slightly tapered body of the minaret is topped with a cylindrical rotunda gallery of 16 arched windows.

The entire surface of the minaret is covered with ornamental bands of brickwork and some turquoise glazed tile work. One of the lower bands contains the inscription with the year of completion and Arslan Khan's name. The upper frieze, which was lost during the restoration works, included Bako's name; his grave is located in the neighbourhood, and locals can point it out to you.

This grand minaret, a symbol of Holy Bukhara, has been standing there for almost one thousand years. It has survived natural and political disasters: when Genghis Khan lay siege to Bukhara in the 13th century he was so smitten by its beauty that he spared it from destruction. Local legend has it that condemned criminals were led to the top and thrown off, earning it the nickname 'Tower of Death'.

chor minor four minarets bukhara
Chor Minor, Bukhara
Also in Bukhara is Chor Minor ('four minarets'), a charming building dating from 1807, set in a local neighbourhood about a 15-minute walk from Lyabi Haus.

It is actually a gatehouse for a madrassah (now demolished) built by a Bukharan trader from a Turkmen clan, Khalif Niazkul.  He commissioned architects and astronomers  to build a madrassah in accordance with his sketches made on journeys to India, provided they would comply with two demands:
  • to build the madrassah on the Great Silk Road so Turkmen caravans from Merv, Kesh, Karakul and Alat could easily find the way to the building where they could find shelter and relax; and
  • to make every visitor to the madrassah understand that people who lived in different parts of the world had only one sky above and stood equal before God, the One and Only.
The 17-meter towers are not strictly minarets as there are no galleries. However, it possible to climb them for views of typical Bukharan back streets.

kalta minor khiva minaret covered in glazed tiles
Kalta Minor, Khiva
In Khiva a short, yet enormous minaret, stands before the facade of the Muhammad Amin-khan madrassah. This is Kalta Minor, which should have become the biggest and highest minaret in Central Asia. Its massive base is 14.2 metres in diameter and it was planned to be 80 metres high with views to Bukhara. However, construction was interrupted on the death of the khan in 1855 after a battle against the Turkmens.

Legend has preserved a better version: the Bukharan khan learnt about the construction of a grandiose minaret in Khiva, and negotiated with the architect to build an even taller one in Bukhara. The Khivan khan was furious when he heard and ordered that the architect be thrown from the minaret.

Decoratively speaking, the bright blue minaret of Kalta-Minor is unequalled in Central Asia. It is the only minaret  entirely covered with coloured glazed tiles.

islam khodja minaret madrassah khiva
Islam-Khodja minaret, Khiva
Khiva is also home to the Islam-Khodja minaret and madrassah. Islam Khodja was vizier to  Muhammad Rahim-khan II and his son Esfendiyar-khan of Khiva. Islam-Khodja financed the construction of a hospital, pharmacy, post and telegraph office and secular schools in Khiva.

In 1908 -1910 he built an ensemble of buildings in the southeastern part of Khiva's old city, the Ichan-Qala. It consisted of the smallest madrassah in Khiva and the highest minaret, imitating the ancient minarets of the 11th and 12th centuries. The minaret's height is 57 metres, including the foundation. The top platform, at a height of 45 metres, is the highest observation point in Khiva. Horizontal belts of dark blue, white, blue and green glazed mosaic decorate the minaret. For a very small fee you can climb the minaret's  dark staircase up 118 steps for views of the city and desert.

In 1417 the ruler Ulugbek, (grandson of Amir Timur) began building a madrassah in Samarkand. This forms part of the exquisitely harmonious Registan square. He was a gifted astronomer and mathematician, and on the majestic portal of the madrassah is the inscription 'to strive for knowledge is the duty of every Muslim man and Muslim woman'.  The madrassah's corners are flanked by high, well-proportioned minarets, which were never used by muezzins: there were said instead to hold up the sky. It is possible to climb one of the minarets early morning for glorious views of Samarkand.

ulughbek ulugbek madrassah mirror minarets samarkand
Ulugbek Madrassah, Registan, Samarkand
Amir Timur's monumental 15th century mausoleum, Gur-e Amir, although heavily restored, is breathtaking in design. With its central dome and arched entrance flanked by mirror-image minarets, it served as the model for the mausoleum of Hamayun, the 2nd Mughal Emperor of India, and many other Mughal architectural masterpieces. It contains the tombs of Timur, his sons, grandsons  and his spiritual teacher.

In June 1941 Stalin sent Soviet scientist Mikhail Gerasimov (a pioneer in facial reconstruction of historical figures) to Uzbekistan with a team of archaeologists to open the tombs of Timur and other members of the Timurid dynasty. Legend tells that the people of Samarkand protested against the opening, claiming that digging out the bodies would lead to a catastrophe. It is also said that when Gerasimov exhumed the body, an inscription inside the casket was found reading, "When I rise from the dead, the world shall tremble". Two days after Gerasimov had begun the exhumation, Hitler launched Operation Barbarossa, Germany's invasion of the Soviet Union. Timur was re-buried with full Islamic ritual in November 1942 just before the Soviet victory at the Battle of Stalingrad, the turning point of the Great Patriotic War.

gur e amir mausoleum sasmarkand tamerlane mausoleum
Gur-e Amir, Samarkand
All these sites are visited on Uzbek Journeys tours. In Uzbekistan, minarets are no longer used for calls to prayer.

Related post: Samarkand to Delhi: Timurid-Mughal 21st Century Connection

Tuesday, January 3, 2012

Tashkent's New Year Celebrations

Tashkent New Year tree 2011 Independence Square
New Year 2011 at Independence Square
There are two New Year celebrations in Uzbekistan: one at the end of the Gregorian calendar year, and the other Nowruz, originating from Persia and celebrated on March 21st to mark the arrival of spring.

The end of December New Year is a major festival  all over Uzbekistan. Lots of special food is thoughtfully prepared, which will probably last up to two weeks after the holiday. The idea is that the New Year’s table should be full and abundant to invite an abundant year into one's life. People travel across the country to join their families, and there are special events, especially for children.

A  gorgeously decorated New Year tree is placed in Independence Square, Tashkent, and throngs of people visit the area to enjoy the music, games and (hopefully) the snow. Grandfather Frost and Snow Maiden, as well as many other characters of favourite books and cartoons appear at the square to delight children.

Theatres, hotels, cafes and restaurants have special New Year events. The renowned Tashkent circus hosts a special program for children with clowns and acrobats and the Alisher Navoi theatre features a special Winter Tales performance for children.

The Alisher Navoi theatre has an interesting history: in the mid-1930s a state competition was held to build a theatre and musical performance space.

The winning design was by Aleksei Viktorovich Shchusev, a much-acclaimed Russian architect who had designed Lenin's mausoleum. Shchusev's design incorporated Uzbek traditions as well as modern practices.

Alisher Navoi theatre Tashkent
Alisher Navoi theatre, Tashkent
Work began in 1939 but was interrupted in 1942 because of World War II. In 1944 construction restarted, then in November 1945 Japanese prisoners of war from the Kwantung army were deported to Tashkent and finished the construction. The theatre, named after the great 15th century Uzbek poet and scientist, opened in November 1947.

According to Shchusev's design, each of the six lateral halls was to represent the artistic traditions of Uzbekistan: the Tashkent, Bukhara, Khorezm, Samarkand, Fergana and Termez halls each have their own styles and features executed by masters from those regions.

The foyer of the theatre is decorated with murals depicting plots from Alisher Navoi's poems and representing the landscapes of Uzbekistan.

The only time one can enter the theatre is for a performance: fingers crossed that during your stay a ballet or opera will be scheduled.

Classical as well as Uzbek operas are performed there and that is a wonderful opportunity to hear Uzbek traditional instruments as part of a classical orchestra.

inside Alisher Navoi theatre Tashkent
Inside the Alisher Navoi theatre
Related posts:  Tashkent - A Night at the Opera
Celebrating Nowruz -  Spring New Year in Uzbekistan
Uzbek Divas: Capturing the Poetic Traditions of Central Asia
Tashkent's Soviet Buildings