About Uzbekistan

Samarkand: Manufactories of the East
03 January 2018

Samarkand stood at the crossroad of trade routes from the Middle East to China, right in the middle of where the deserts were replaced by mountains, and this advantageous location contributed to its prosperity. And if science and religion came here from the Arab world, then something was adapted from ancient China. It should be noted that both the Arabs and the Chinese fought for the Central Asia with the support of the nomads (each side of their own) in the 8th century, and Tashkent was the furthest point of Chinese expansion to the west, whilst the last point of Arab expansion to the east was Akyrtas in the Chui Valley. The Talas River was the border of two worlds, and here in 752 AD China and the Caliphate fought the greatest battle in history - not in terms of soldier numbers, but the resulting influence on the world. After the battle a huge civil war broke out in China, taking up to 30 million (!) lives, and many technical achievements of Chinese thought were adopted in Muslim lands from captured Chinese engineers, spreading from here to Europe. One of the Four Great Inventions of ancient China was papermaking, much more practical than parchment, wax tablets or birch bark, and Samarkand became the first center of its production outside of China. A few years ago on the outskirts of Samarkand in Konigil mahalla they built a paper workshop, recreating the production chain with ancient technique. You can reach a place by taking a taxi or taking a bus N1 going to Konigil from the railway station.

The excursion fee is quite cheap and is available in Russian & English. They will show you the entire production cycle. The initial material is a silk tree, from the bark of which about 2000 years ago the Chinese dignitary Cai Lun received the first paper - the exact same process was recreated here in Konigil. The bark is peeled off from one year branches of mulberry trees, then it is boiled for a long time on fire from their own wood, and when the bark becomes soft and the red precipitate falls to the bottom - it is washed with clean water:

The water wheel makes the further work. The entire wooden hydraulic drive is made stunningly convincing. The protrusions on the log hit the levers ...

... and jumping levers hit a mortar from a thick tree trunk with a heavy pestle:

The boiled bark is pounded in mortars, occasionally being stirred with a wooden stick, to the state of porridge – the process takes 7-8 hours:

The next stage - the crushed mass is diluted with water and mixed thoroughly, and then the resulting mass is scooped with the sieve in the form of a paper sheet. The water is gone, the paper mass remains:

Then the raw paper sheet is put under the press, where the paper consolidates and gets rid of water:

And after that a sheet of paper is dried in an upright position - in the summer it dries 4 hours, in winter – the whole day.

The trouble is that the dried paper is rough, like a sanding paper, so each sheet should be polished by hand. But even polished paper is quite unusual to the touch - rough, like cardboard, shaggy and looks dusty:

In present-day Samarkand they make only souvenirs from this paper like bags, post cards, envelopes and even dolls and masks made of papier-mache. They also make pseudo-tiles and Christmas toys, although the lacquered paper feels like plastic. 

Nearby is a pile of mulberry tree branches - bark for raw materials, wood for fuel:

Behind the workshop there is a chigir, or noria, pouring water from a large irrigation ditch into a small one

But the paper workshop is not the only old Samarkand manufactory. In the mahallas of the Old City there is also a carpet factory "Hujum", which also uses traditional technologies to produce carpets:

Inside the factory’s courtyard you will find obviously Soviet monument of a woman. The thing is that "Hujum" means a campaign against the Muslim dress code for women to remove veil. The hujum was literally an "attack" on all manifestations of perceived gender inequality, especially on the archaic systems of female veiling and seclusion, practised in Central Asia. So most likely the heroine of this monument is depicted shedding her burqa. The excursion is totally free, in the end you will be taken to the shop to check what they produced – but purchasing something is not obligatory at all

The factory is run by Afghans, or rather the same Uzbeks and Tajiks from Afghanistan that moved here since the 1990s, they are a full-fledged community of Samarkand with a specialization in carpet-making. The factory with the official name "Samarkand-Bukhara silk carpets" (Samarqand-Buxoro ipak gilami) was founded in 1992 as a joint Uzbek-Afghan enterprise.

For master classes they have clay ovens in the yard, with samples of grass and stone dyes. They boil cocoons of silkworm in these ovens, that produce a characteristic, very unpleasant fishy smell. Dyes can be chosen by the customer: the natural ones, apparently, more difficult to work with and more expensive, the chemical ones are easier and cheaper. Asparagus gives a yellow color, walnut gives all shades of gray or brown, pomegranate peel - pink and orange, madder - red, and imported from Afghanistan indigo - blue. In the background are dryers for silk threads:

Silkworms are harvested in April, for about 25 days they eat and gain weights, then another 5 days weave the cocoon, and after either sent to reproduce, or to boiling pot. A tiny cocoon is solid, and one would never guess that it has almost 2 kilometers (!) of thread:

Primary silk thread is quite rough, and several more stages of processing take place, but it is not demonstrated here, unlike in the similar factory in Margilan.

The prime task here is to make a carpet ... and sell it, which of course is much easier to do than in their own Afghanistan. About half of what the factory makes are pre-orders. Inside it is much more like some Centre of Folk Crafts than from outside.

The guide will take you to the third floor, where all the major work is done in spacious rooms with large windows. As in the old times the women use manual labor and simple weaving machines ... the atmosphere is some kind of noble - no cracking sounds, no clang, but only the rustling of the thread, the clicks of scissors, and ringing voices of young weavers:

Only girls over 18 years old work here after a 3-month course of study. The salary is relatively good by local standards and in general it is quite prestigious to get a job at a carpet factory in Samarkand.

Moreover, there are a lot of beauties here, and tourists from all over the world will admire their beauty. There are about 400 female workers here working at the factory.

Simple tools of a weaver. The knife is used more like a manipulator, the prong to make ready knots and stretched threads, and scissors to cut the excess fringe:

The guide personally shows the work at the machine:

The basic unit of the carpet, as a pixel on the screen – a knot formed from multi-colored threads. The more of them - the higher the "resolution", but the more difficult, longer and more expensive the process. The standard carpet of this factory measures 120 by 160 cm, and "in resolution" of 25 knots per centimeter is produced during 3 months, with 100 knots per centimeter - a year and a half. The most complex carpet that was made here, had 600 knots per centimeter, and such work can only be done with a magnifying glass no more than an hour a day.

An experienced weaver makes 40 knots per minute, as a rule they work in trios on machines, and within a day the carpet will ‘grow’ by an average of 2-3 centimeters.

But it is still difficult to understand how a bunch of multicolored threads turns into a clear pattern even after watching the process:

After the workshop you will be taken to a store located in the same building. There they treat guests with the tea and show more interesting things - for example, carpets "two in one", slightly changing color (from white to gray, from light to deep blue, etc.) when viewed from the opposite side. In addition to carpets, they sell kerchiefs and suzane: Samarkand suzani on the wall on the right, and Urgut suzani in the front. The prices in the store are quite affordable. 

One have to be a specialist to understand the features of the Samarkand carpet. They say that Bukhara and Khorezm carpets with geometric patterns are essentially the same as Turkmen ones (but what they have in common and what exactly differ them Bukharians and Turkmens are arguing for many years), whilst Samarkand carpets with plant ornamentation are closer to native Persian carpets. Still, ... in Samarkand you can come across both "geometric" and "plant" ornaments, that at the same time cannot be confused with either Bukhara or Iran - perhaps there are just a few traditional schools in the city. But what is striking is that there is a lighter and brighter color palette, including blue carpets, which are absolutely not characteristic for Bukhara or Khorezm.

Manufacture is on the edge of a huge array of garment factories:

With its long facades facing the ancient Afrosiab with domes of Shahi-Zinda mausoleums.

Nor far away is Siab-bazaar at the foot of Afrosiab hill, separated by a noisy street

The street separates from the main bazaar its metalworks section, and wandering here you will realize why there is such an unbearable metallic noise:

This is the work of blacksmiths and chasers:

Making all this here, and obviously not for the tourists, but for everyday needs of locals:

Especially beautiful trunks. You will find here an impressive samples of the artistic chasing.

Courtesy to varandej

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