Tuesday, April 19, 2016

Pushkin in Babur Park, Tashkent

Pushkin monument in Babur Park, Tashkent. Image: Stanislav Magay
Although the great Russian poet Alexander Sergeyevich Pushkin spent time in the Caucausus (in exile) he did not visit Central Asia.

Nevertheless, Pushkin's poetry is much loved by Uzbek people. It is still studied in schools and taxi drivers will sometimes regale you with quotes from Pushkin's works.

With the fall of the Soviet Union, statues of Soviet heroes were removed from Tashkent.

However, the city kept the monuments dedicated to poets, writers and artists who were not associated with the Soviet regime. These include the Georgian poet Shota Rustavelli, Azerbaijan's Nizami Ganjavi, Ukranian poet Taras Shevchenko and Russia's Alexander Sergeyevich Pushkin.

The renowned Soviet sculptor Mikhail Anikushin created Tashkent's Pushkin monument, which was unveiled in 1974. (In 1957 Anikushin created the bronze Pushkin monument in Arts Square, in St Petersburg. He was awarded the Lenin prize in 1958 for this remarkable sculpture).

For many years the monument marked the enduring role of the great poet in Uzbekistan’s culture and has strengthened Russian-Uzbek cultural ties. Russian compatriots and Uzbek public personalities traditionally gathered at the monument to mark memorable dates associated with the life and work of the poet.

The story-telling cat in Pushkin's poem Ruslan and Ludmilla.  Image: Stanislav Magay
As part of the ongoing urban development plan of Tashkent, the Pushkin monument required relocation. Tashkent residents were initially concerned - the monument is a city favourite.

However, in collaboration with the Russian Foreign Ministry, beloved Alexander Sergeyevich Pushkin is now the centrepiece of Pushkin Square, a redeveloped corner of Babur Park.

This is a much more accessible venue and has quickly become a favourite spot for family outings, couples young and old, and groups of friends. And of course brides and grooms have their photos taken with the Romantic poet.

One of Pushkin's celebrated epic poems is Ruslan and Ludmilla. Based on a Russian folk tale, it tells the story of the abduction of Ludmilla, the daughter of Prince Vladimir of Kiev, by an evil wizard and the attempt by the brave knight Ruslan to find and rescue her. (This poem formed the basis for Mikhail Glinka's opera Ruslan and Ludmilla).

The poem's narrator describes a wise story-telling cat that walks on a golden chain. The narrator remembers one of the cat’s stories in particular, namely Ruslan and Ludmilla.  Look out for this cat on its golden chain when you visit the Pushkin monument.

Behind the monument, on the right-hand side of the yellow, Uzbek Light Industry building is a small Pushkin library devoted to the poet's work. There is talk of a Pushkin café and poetry evenings.

Benches in Pushkin Square, Tashkent. Image: Stanislav Magay
The area has been beautifully landscaped - park benches with birch tree legs are built around trees - and there are many flower beds with basil borders.  At night the monument is illuminated and fountains cool the summer days.

Babur Park is a large park on the corner of two main streets - Babur and Shota Rustavelli. Babur was a descendant of Uzbekistan's national hero Amir Timur (Tamerlaine); he founded the Mughul dynasty in India.

The park is divided into the Korean garden, the amusement centre, Pushkin square and strolling paths.

Within the grounds is also the Seattle Peace Park.  Remarkably, in 1973, during the Cold War, Tashkent and Seattle (Washington) became sister cities, the first US-Soviet agreement under the sister cities program.

According to Piney Kesting, writing in Aramco magazine, "The spirit of friendship reached a peak in the summer of 1988, when more than 200 volunteers from Washington state and the Tashkent region joined to build the Seattle-Tashkent Peace Park, dedicated on September 12 that year. The centerpiece was a fountain and pool ringed by tiles, each one individually hand-painted by school children in Seattle and carried to Tashkent". 

For travellers on an Uzbek Journeys tour, Babur Park is just a 5-minute walk from the hotel. Take a picnic, a copy of Pushkin's poems and sit on a bench to enjoy this city oasis.

Related posts:
Tashkent: A Stroll Along Anhor Canal
Tashkent's Small House Museums
Tashkent's Churches
48 Hours in Tashkent