Wednesday, June 25, 2014

Khiva's Sunday Markets

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Autumn melon bonanza at Khiva market
Sunday morning is a lovely time to be in Khiva. The old town - Ichan Qala - within the baked brick walls, is bustling with families, teenagers on school excursions and wedding parties traipsing around important sites.

Once notorious for the largest slave market in Central Asia, Khiva's bazaar today lies just outside the east gate. Enticing fresh fruit and vegetables are piled high or sold from the back of farmers' trucks.  Men and women, their cotton blankets spread on the ground, ensure their goods are neatly arranged to display home-grown produce.

Dried fruit and nuts are arranged in pyramids and sellers are happy for you to taste before buying. Confectionery, biscuits, baked goodies, fresh meat and fish are all for sale along with clothing, underwear and socks.

The market is also the place to have your umbrella fixed and your shoes repaired. You can purchase a sunduk (trousseau box for brides), a baby's cradle or a padlock - indeed anything you need for the home. Sunday is the biggest market day: it is a sprawling, marvellous affair.

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Livestock packed into an old Soviet farm truck
There is also the Sunday livestock market, held about 2 kilometres from the old town. Farmers come from all over the region to sell their sheep, goats, cows and donkeys. It starts around 6:00 a.m. and is all over by 8:30 a.m.

Of course there are stalls selling practical, livestock goods such as ropes to walk your animals back home. Three small sheep will set you back around $275. There is a small kitchen offering green tea, plov and soup.

This market is a great place to people watch - farmers quietly examine the livestock, negotiate prices and chit chat with their friends.

Happily, on an Uzbek Journeys tour, you have a free Sunday morning in Khiva before heading out to Ayaz-Qala yurt camp. The bazaar is easily reached by foot and, for those interested in the livestock market, our driver can take you there.

Related posts: Khiva's Open-Air Cinema
Mennonites in Khiva 1880 -1935
The Jabborov Rope Walking Family of Khiva
The Beauty of Khivan Carpets 
A Glimpse of Khivan Woodcarving 1937 
Khiva: Bread Making Master Class

ubekistan bazaars, uzbekistan tours, uzbekistan art textile tours
A feast of apricots at the Khiva market. Image: Richard Marshall

Wednesday, June 18, 2014

Turkmenistan: Tracking Down Mosaics

Detail of entrance portal to Tejen, an oasis city in the Karakum desert
Turkmenistan's capital, Ashgabat, is transforming itself into a shiny, white-marbled metropolis. Drab, Soviet blocks make way for gleaming new buildings with golden domes. Construction continues apace 24 hours a day 7 days a week.

Yet here and there in Ashgabat, as well as some spots in the provinces, are marvellous examples of mosaics from the Soviet period.

Following the devastating Ashgabat earthquake of 1948, in which 110,000 people reportedly were killed, concrete buildings were hastily constructed.

In the 1970s, however, artists turned their attention to these buildings. They started to decorate them with mosaic panels in combination with ceramics created by Turkmen monumental painters Alexander Shchetinin and Artyk Ramazanov. Then later with the works by young muralists, including graduates of the Tashkent Theatre and Arts Institute.

One such artist was People's Artist of Turkmenistan Muhammetmurad Gochmuradov, who designed a mosaic novel The Beauty of Art that decorated a row of residential building facades. (See image further down).

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Mural in Chekhov Sreet, Ashgabat
According to art historian Maral Kadzharova, Gochmuradov attributed his mosaics to his passion for Mexican muralists Diego Rivera, David Alfaro Siqueiros and Gabriel Orozco.

Gochmuradov was born into a family of shepherds in Akhal province and tended small camel herds - his first canvas was the desert sand.

The Mexican style and the aesthetic influence of his native, Turkmen landscape produced some remarkable pieces.

Ashgabat's mosaics also celebrate workers, heroes, musicians or the harvest. But there are few, and their future is uncertain. Like the mosaics of Uzbekistan, I hope that someone will document Turkmenistan's splendid architectural panels before it is too late.

Below are examples of pieces I captured during a recent visit, sometimes snapped from a moving vehicle.

Related posts:
Uzbekistan's Decorative Architectural Panels #1
Uzbekistan's Decorative Architectural Panels #2
Kyrgyzstan: Monumental Art in the Provinces

                                                                                                   Bishkek's Mosaics: Fragmented Dream Project
                                                                                                   Back in the USSR: Soviet Roadside Architecture

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Detail, rich in symbolism, from one of Muhammetmurad Gochmuradov's facades in the Beauty of Art series

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Detail from Ashgabat mosaic celebrating harvest time

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An Ashgabat facade

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Mosaic decorating an Ashgabat winery

Tuesday, June 10, 2014

Kyrgyzstan's Petroglyphs #2 - Inner Tien Shan and Osh

Lilya Kas'yanova
In February, contributor Lilya Kas'yanova, one of Kyrgyzstan's finest guides, wrote an article on the petroglyphs around Issyk Kul lake. 

In this piece she describes petroglyphs found in the inner Tien Shan range as well as petroglyphs in the southern province of Osh.

Inner Tien Shan: Saimaluu Tash

In 1902, while investigating the postal road that connected Naryn and Andijan, the military topographer and artist Nikolai Hludov learnt from local people about the Saimaluu Tash mountain area. Saimaluu Tash ("Patterned Stone" in the Kyrgyz language) lies on the Ferghana range, in the area of the Kugart mountain pass.

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Petroglyphs of the inner Tien Shan area, image: Lilya Kas'yanova
Hludov faced many difficulties in trying to mount an expedition to that region as it is a remote mountain plateau more than 3,000 metres above sea level. Eventually, he reached an art gallery of petroglyphs, made a short description of the locality, and drew several sketches of the rock carvings.

It was not until 1950, in Soviet times, that the first solid expedition to Saimaluu Tash took place. After extensive research, the expedition chief, A. Bernshtam, concluded that a number of the area's rock carvings were destroyed during  an earthquake that occurred at the beginning of the 1st millennium BC. There are, however,  images carved on some rock fragments after that natural disaster.

The archaeologists divided the locality into two parts, which were named Saimaluu Tash One and Saimaluu Tash Two. They estimated there are 11,000 petroglyphs dating back to the Bronze Age. It is one of the world's most important rock art sites. This period is marked by a specific set of images, among which chariots and carts are frequent.

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Chart of Saimaluu Tash symbols (UNESCO)
According to the ideas of ancient people, chariots were used by divine beings, and in particular by the solar deity. Solar and moon deities and depictions of swastika are characteristic features of the Bronze Age. The combination of cart and solar symbol images, according to the ideas of some scholars, may be a representation of the calendar myth.

The site can be reached in about a day on foot or horseback, but only around August. At other times, snow conditions make it too difficult to reach. 

Osh Province Petroglyphs

That-i-Sulaiman ("Solomon's Mountain"), a limestone outcrop, is in the heart of Osh city. It dominates the Kyrgyz Fergana Valley and forms the backdrop to Osh, at the crossroads of important routes on the Central Asian Silk Roads. According to UNESCO, the That-i-Sulaiman mountain is "the most complete example of a sacred mountain anywhere in Central Asia, worshipped over several millennia". Sulamain was a beacon for travellers and revered as a sacred mountain. It is inscribed in UNESCO's World Heritage list.

The mountain is riddled with numerous caves and grottoes where examples of ancient petroglyphs can be observed. These images of rock art display anthropomorphic creatures, the so-called labyrinths, solar symbols, square motives, and mysterious signs. More than four hundred petroglyphs were registered here. They date back to the Bronze Age and represent significant historical and archaeological value.

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Aravan - celestial horses; image Google Maps
Aravan is a small settlement situated 20kms northwest of Osh city. Rock carvings were discovered at the end of the 19th century there, however,  the first archaeological investigations of the district were initiated by Soviet researchers.

In addition to common images of Central Asian petroglyphic art – ibexes, deer, human beings - here are picturesque illustrations of two pairs of horses. Archaeologists connect these exceptional depictions with the legendary, blood-sweating horses of Davan State (Ancient Fergana). These were the praised, swift racers that the Chinese called “heavenly” or “celestial” horses.

The petroglyphs play an important role in regional folklore and have become a pilgrimage site for Muslims in the Ferghana valley. There is also a Sufi shrine there.

The historical sites described in my two articles about Kyrgyz petroglyphs are considered to be among the most impressive petroglyphic complexes in Central Asia. The natural processes that have been taking place for centuries, as well as human interference, result in the decay of rock carvings and cave paintings. Nevertheless, there is still a unique possibility to feel a distinctive, historic charm and mystery at the sites.

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Sun Boy felt cushion from Made & Told
Head over to Made & Told, an online store that supports artisans across Central Asia, where you can buy a charming felt cushion, Sun Boy, patterned on the Saimaluu Tash petroglyphs.

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

Related posts:

Kyrgyztsan's Petroglyphs #1 - Issyk-kul Hollow
Burana, Kyrgyzstan: Medieval Settlement & Central Asia's Oldest Minaret
100 Experiences of Kyrgyzstan 
5 Reasons to Visit Kyrgyzstan

Tuesday, June 3, 2014

Tashkent's Churches

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Holy Assumption Cathedral, Tashkent
About 87% of Uzbekistan's citizens follow the Sunni Islamic tradition. The country is famed for its glorious mosques and madrassahs.

There are also Christians, most of whom follow Russian Orthodoxy. The Jewish population is numbered around 5,000 in Uzbekistan.

Here are three of Tashkent's churches well worth visiting.

Uspensky (Holy Assumption) Cathedral

Tashkent has four Russian orthodox churches, the largest being the Uspensky (Holy Assumption) Cathedral, which has been the cathedral of the Tashkent Diocese since 1945. The cathedral began as a small church in 1879, attached to the Gospitalniy (hospital) cemetery. Little by little parishioners paid for the enlargement of the building and its grounds.

During the early Soviet period, the cathedral was closed and used as a storehouse and garage. However, from 1945 it was returned to the Russian Orthodox church. The building has been completely rebuilt and is especially crowded during Easter, when Tashkent residents join night services and the Easter procession. There is a theological seminary in the grounds. The cathedral is in Avlieot Street, not far from Tashkent's main railway station. It is open daily from 0900 - 1800.

Sacred Heart of Jesus Church 

The gothic Sacred Heart of Jesus Church, Tashkent
The Sacred Heart of Jesus Church is popularly known as the Polish church because Polish soldiers stationed there in Tsarist times wished to have a place of worship.

Under the guidance of the influential curate of Turkestan, Justin Bonaventure Pranaitis, construction of the cathedral began in 1902.  It was designed by the famous Polish architect Ludwig Panchakevicha. Many soldiers worked on the construction and their families donated funds. However, work was slow and funds limited.

Construction ceased in 1917.  During the Soviet period it was used as a hostel for the Electrical Cable Plant and the Republican Obstetric School. The church was reconstructed several times and eventually was abandoned.  Church relics and decorations were lost over the years. As were the original design plans.

In 1976 the building was  handed over to the Ministry of Culture of the Uzbek SSR, and in 1981 it was recognised as a historical site in Uzbekistan. Catholic activities resumed in Uzbekistan in 1987 and from 1993 - 2000 the church was restored and is under the care of Polish Fransiscans.  The interior of the church is beautiful.

You can visit the church from 3 to 5 pm; mass is conducted in Russian, Korean and English. It is located at 80/1 Musahanova Street, Tashkent.

Evangelical Lutheran church of Uzbekistan

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The Evangelical Lutheran church in Tashkent
Construction began on the Evangelical Lutheran church of Uzbekistan in 1891 and the first service held in 1896. Designed by architect A. L. Benoit (who also designed the Palace of Prince Romanov in Tashkent), the funding came mainly from the German community of Tashkent.

During the Soviet period,  the church was used as a concert hall. Solidly built of yellow brick in neo-gothic style, the building withstood the Tashkent 1966 earthquake and was returned to Tashkent's Lutheran community in 1991.

The majority of parishioners are ethnic Germans; the church provides a setting to pass on the faith, language and customs of their ancestors. Some are the children and grandchildren of those who were christened and confirmed in the church during its early years.

In 1996, to celebrate the 100th anniversary of the church, the bishop of the Evangelical Lutheran church of Uzbekistan, Cornelius Vibe, arranged a mini-van *ride* from Tashkent to Salzburg. Along the length of this impressive route, he visited Lutheran communities and acquainted them with the history and present-day activities of the Tashkent church.

Services are held on Sundays, in German and Russian. The church is at 37 Sadiq Asimov Street in central Tashkent.

Related posts:
Early Christianity in Central Asia
48 Hours in Tashkent
Another 48 Hours in Tashkent
Tashkent - A Stroll Along Anhor Canal