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Notes on the Geography of Uzbekistan: Tashkent

Tourists to Uzbekistan--yes, there are some, though these days they are mostly French and German. They don't spend a lot of time in Tashkent: they're coming to the Uzbekistan of Tamerlane and the khans and emirs. 

It's a shame, because Tashkent is a monument to modern architecture.  We'll get there in the next folder. Instead, start here with the corner of Tashkent that wasn't wiped clean by the Russians. They came to Central Asia in the 19th century carrying their own version of the White Man's Burden.

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This is the mausoleum and madrasa of Barak Khan, a descendant of Timur or Tamerlane.  It was built in the 1500s, and though outshone by similar buildings in Samarkand and Bukhara it does show the form that was repeated as widely in Uzbekistan as the form of a Catholic church is repeated in Quebec.  The dominant element is the pishtaq, or high projecting portal, which creates at the entrance a three-sided room, or iwan, in this case vaulted. 

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A closeup.

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Inside, the dakkma or courtyard is rimmed with rooms for students. No longer: this madrasa is now the office of the mufti, or Islamic judge, of Uzbekistan.   

The garden is laid out in the classic Persian char bagh or four gardens that is found very widely--not least in Delhi's Red Fort, which, it may be remembered, was built by the Moguls, who were themselves descendants of Timur.

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Across the street: the Tellya Sheikh Mosque--noteworthy for a treasure within.

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The mosque itself is comparatively simple, almost homely, save for that opulent column.

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But in an air-conditioned side room is the Osman Qur'an, which is said to be the world's oldest.  Tamerlane stole it--is that too strong a word?--and installed it in his great mosque, the Bibi Khanum, in Samarkand.  The Russian general who captured Samarkand--Kaufmann by name--sent it to St. Petersburg.  The Soviets in 1989 sent it here.

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Enough of monuments!  A nearby street.  Wonder about that elevated pipe on the right?

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Here's a better example.  You'll see this in many Uzbek cities.  The pipe carries natural gas used as domestic fuel.  Earthquakes are so common that burying the pipes is a bad idea.

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The neighborhood is full of branching, blind alleys.

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Plaster and whitewash in the preceding pictures hid the typical Uzbek residential construction method, which consists of a wood frame filled with cheap and quake-proof adobe bricks, or guwalyak.  Wood is scarce and expensive, and so it is often recycled from building to building.

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The overhanging cornice helps keeps the adobe dry.

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So does plaster.

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You wouldn't have seen houses like this in comradely Soviet times, when apartment buildings were the order of the day.  Since Uzbekistan's independence, the few people with money have gone ahead and built mansions even here in the old neighborhood. 

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Old or new, the houses are designed around courtyards with gardens.

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An improvised shop.

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Another, with shutters onto the street and a cushion for the merchant.

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Close by is the city's main market, a huge place.  The bread--called nan though it's much thicker than the nan of South Asia--is typically wheeled here on these babybuggy frames.  You have to hunt to find the bakery it comes from.

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Among the items for sale are these cradles.  The form is common from Turkey to China and has not changed in at least the last century. These cradles used to be very nearly the only furniture you'd find in a house.  Grownups lived on the floor--albeit carpeted.

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Tools and handles.

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Storage chests for sale for about $10.

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They're popular.

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The center of the market is the new Chorsu ("four corners") Bazaar. 

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The architecture may be tiresome, but you can wander around and just about survive on the free samples of nuts and dried fruit handed out as samples.

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There are grain and spice merchants, too.

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