About Uzbekistan

Chorsu bazaar & Old Tashkent
09 December 2017

After the conquest of Tashkent by Russians in 1865 large construction works started in the city that divided it to New and Old parts along the narrow and fast city canal. The Old City is literally older by about a thousand years than its new neighbor, and preserved many Central Asian antiquities with iwans and minarets, and its center is not a square, but the great bazaar of Chorsu.

Long before the Russians came Tashkent was some kind of confederation of 4 independent daha (cities)... that had a common fortified wall of 12 gates and the center - ancient but still existing and functioning Chorsu bazaar. Each daha was governed by its own hokim (mayor), whose meetings were called Chorhakim (4 mayors) where they discussed common issues of confederation. That is why sometimes that period of Tashkent is called the Republic of Four Hakims. Sometimes daha fought each other, calling for outside help Kazakhs, the Dzungar or the Uzbeks. In 1784, Yunuskhodzha, the ruler of Sheikhantaur, took power over the whole city, downgrading the rest of hakims to the role of advisers.

Though not the centre of the city as it used to be before, Chorsu bazaar is still heart of Tashkent and its major landmark. This is how the market looks now from the hill of the Juma mosque, where in 819 the Arab governor Yahya ibn Assad began construction of the first Tashkent Urda (citadel), destroyed later by the Mongols and restored in a few decades in the same place. The view is towards north, on top of the neighboring hill is the blue dome of Chorsu.

"Chorsu" in translation means literally "four waters", but figuratively "confluence", the place where people of four daha meet, traded and communicated. Chorsu-bazaar existed continuously since at least the Mongol invasion. The blue dome of bazaar became one of the symbols of Tashkent even though it was built after the earthquake of 1966, but it brilliantly blended into the architecture of Central Asia with its centuries-old tradition of trading domes like in Bukhara, Samarkand and Shakhrisabz. But with 80 meters in diameter and 30 meters height (approximate dimensions) it is undoubtedly the largest dome in Uzbekistan.

the dome of Chorsu bazaar

Around are a few more smaller domes in the same style:

There are several terraces below the main dome that are used as trading space. The assortment here is basically quite ordinary, almost nothing "for the tourist", except for a few stands with ceramics from the metro side. 

Ceramics tourist souvenirs in Chorsu

There is a small café on one of these terraces where they cook shish kebabs and pilaf. Shish kebabs in Central Asia are always served with an abundant amount of thinly sliced onions.

Shish kebabs in Central Asia are always served with an abundant amount of thinly sliced onions

But the main thing here is the atmosphere itself, the colorful appearance of the bazaar people and the unique drive of oriental trade:

the atmosphere of Orient bazaar in Chorsu not to be compared with

A view from one of the terraces, on the right is a café with shish kebab. In the background, from the left to the right is the Stalin era building of former Children's World shop, the gray domes of the Juma mosque (21st century) and the tops of the aivans of the Kukeldash Madrasah (16th century)

But first let's go in the opposite direction - to Eski-Juva, which means Old Arsenal - a reminder of the ancient Urda (fortress), the most "tenacious" parts of which were jail and armament depot... however, and it was incredibly long ago, just an oral tradition of toponymyin Central Asia preservesknowledge of the location and structure of settlements that have long been moved or abandoned. By the time of the Russian conquest, Eski-Juva was just a residential area next to the bazaar, where Soviets built trade pavilions worthy of another VDNKh:

Here, too, there are trading domes, but - in the Stalinist style of the 1950s:

Once here do pop in to Eski-Juva as it will impress you no less than Chorsu:

Eski-Juva will impress you no less than Chorsu

A unique atmosphere of orient bazaar reigns here. At the pavilion with tiles you will find every kind of national food. There is a largest assortment of kurt (salty dried cheese balls) with different flavors from spicy to hot, this is an excellent Central Asian alternative to the chips.

largest assortment of kurt (salty dried cheese balls) with different flavors from spicy to hot, this is an excellent Central Asian alternative to the chips

You can have a lunch here and taste a national cuisine (all is cheap but reliably tasty)

Another bazaar is located on the other side of Chorsu, on the edge of the former Kukcha daha behind the busy street of Sakimchon. There is just one long trading row under small blue domes known "Temirchilar" ("Blacksmiths"). 

"Temirchilar" ("Blacksmiths") bazaar

Here you will probably find the most colorful assortment – not a tourist souvenirs but real folk handicrafts, things that Uzbeks use on a daily basis. 

Among the countless bazaars of Uzbekistan, the most interesting would be Tashkent’s Chorsu and Samarkand’s Siab - on the one hand, they have oriental flavor and authenticity, on the other, apparently due to the popularity and abundance of tourists authorities take efforts to keep it neat, tidy and beautiful, what is lacking in many bazaars in the province.

In the same place where the Eski-Juva pavilions are now located, once there was Tashkent's Registan, that is, simply the main square, which was also occupied by the bazaar - long roofs of shopping arcades from the picture below:

Its center was a huge and not the most beautiful Beklyarbek madrassah (1830), the very name of which refers to the times of Kokand's reign, when the city citadel (the second Urda, from the 15th century standing a couple of kilometers to the south) was destroyed, and the newly built third Urda outside city walls on the other bank of Ankhor canal was occupied by Kokand garrison and its own beclarbek (governor).

Beklyarbek madrassah (1830)

Beclarbek square on the other side of the madrassa (which apparently gave the square its name) played much more important role in the life of those days Tashkent than old Registan. There were three caravan-sarays and a couple of mosques, the most beautiful of which was the wooden Khatun mosque (1754):

In the early twentieth century, they built a Russian "business center" in the square - the local office of Savva Morozov textile manufactory: after all it is not a secret that one of the reasons for the conquest of Central Asia was the cotton that the Russian textile industry needed, and with the American civil war that caused disruptions in its supplies the tsarist authorities were forced to speed up the campaign to Turkestan. In the Soviet era the building was taken by the printing house, then passed to the Theater of Young Spectators, and was apparently destroyed by an earthquake of 1966.

Russian "business center" in the square - the local office of Savva Morozov textile manufactory

Therefore, most of the guidebooks mentioning Tashkent Registan now usually refer to the area near Djuma mosque and the Kukeldash Madrasa at the intersection of three avenues of Beruni, Navoi and Samarkand Gate

Kukeldash, translated as "heart friend" is, speaking in modern language, a position of the head of the khan’s security service. In this case, Shaybanid Abdullah II, under which Bukhara Khanate reached its heyday: his "right hand" was the Kukeldash Nizam Kulbaba, later (from 1583) the governor of Herat, and in addition the poet (under the pseudonym Muhibbi) and philanthropist, whose name is associated with a minimum two large madrasahs (the second in Bukhara) ... The one in Tashkent was built in 1551-71, but Abdullah Khan regained control over Tashkent only in 1576, so how exactly the madrasah got its name is not totally clear.

Kukeldash Madrasa

The Madrasah was heavily damaged by numerous wars, an earthquake in 1866 and 1886, and its restoration in the 1950s was, in a sense a compensation for the demolition of Biklarbek Madrasah, that was in perfect condition. Its aivan from the previous picture - in fact, just a good replica. The size of the madrasah is only 60x50 meters, but it seems at least twice as much. Note that one side of the building is significantly higher than the other and is strengthened by buttresses (2nd pictures above). Here at the photo you can see the third dominant of the "ersatz-registan" - a multi-storey "Chorsu" hotel, which is in a state of major reconstruction:

Surprisingly, this is a functioning madrasah that is a huge rarity - although there are actually hundreds of ancient madrassas in Uzbekistan, just 10 of them operate as educational institutions. And unlike in many secular educational institutions, it is possible to enter this madrassah without problem:

Life in hudjras (cells):

Now let's move on to the Juma mosque with its memorable silhouette of the three domes:

Juma mosque in Tashkent near Chorsu bazaar

The Friday mosque named after Khoja Akhrar (1997-2003) is a modern replica, and rather soulless:

Juma mosque in Tashkent near Chorsu bazaar

Its historical building, instead of the abandoned first Urda, was built in 1451 on the initiative of the Sufi sheikh Ubaydullah Khoja Akhrar, who came from Tashkent mahallas, as a farewell gift before leaving for Samarkand, where he became the spiritual leader of the Timurid state. His historical role is very contradictory: on the one hand, he was a religious fanatic, an opponent of Khan-scientist Ulugbek (killed in 1449), under him Samarkand lost the role of one of the centers of world science, which was replaced by the unquestioning Sharia law; on the other, when he became the richest man in the country, he lived a life of a commoner, sacrificing huge sums for building, developing and combating social inequality, and for the craftsmen and dekhans (farmers) his epoch was a "golden age" ... The Tashkent mosque was damaged in 1868 by the earthquake, the emperor sent money to repair it in 1886, for which it was called the Tsar's mosque, and finally destroyed under Soviets. Only a "booth" in the foreground stands as if nothing had happened on edge of the "terrace" between the mosque and the madrasah:

And no more than a hundred years ago this kind of panorama opened from these hills - the boundless space of mahallas with narrow streets, flat roofs and dark aivans in the courtyards. Tashkent, as was mentioned before, was the 10th largest city of the Russian Empire in 1897, and almost 130 thousand out of its 155 thousand population were Sarts and Uzbeks, who lived mainly in the Old Town. Now on the site of most of these streets stand high-rise buildings:

Somewhere there flow through the pipes the waters of old canals - the central one is Djangob (the Battle) Stream, where in 1783 Yunushodja, the khokim of the Sheikhantaur daha defeated the armies of the other three dahas, creating a brief and quite unique in the history of Central Asia Tashkent city state, the Central Asian analogue of European "free cities" (see here). There were 23 madrasahs, 150 mosques In Old Tashkent, but only 10% left at best.

Tashkent. The street in the old town

However, one can still find quite large pieces of surviving mahallas in the Old part of Tashkent, and it is difficult to imagine that we are in the same city.

Some pictures remind more Bukhara and Samarkand, with just more locked doors and less life on the streets:

In these mahallas, especially closer to Chorsu, there are still many functioning mosques used by locals, and hardly anyone now knows they original names and the year they were built.  

Here one of them, the largest Tokhtabay mosque that was founded in 1329, and the current building was built in 1908. And the same more or less can be referred to any of these mosques. Apparently only under Russia they began to build massively from burnt bricks (before that was the "privilege" of the most important buildings like Kukeldash-madrassah), whilst before they used a short-lived adobe.

Tokhtabay mosque that was founded in 1329, and the current building was built in 1908

The courtyard of the Tokhtabay mosque is its main part like in most Uzbek mosques

But the role of Chorsu as one of the city centers is well marked by the fact that it is surrounded by a number of important secular buildings, mainly concentrated near the wide high-speed Zarkainar street, known in the past as Khamza, and even earlier as Tokhtapul street. To expand this street they demolished Beklyarbek Square. At the edge of the mahallas south of Chorsu is a miniature Uzbek Drama Theater after Hamza, apparently its branch, since there is also a major and much larger building of the same theater nearby. Here, the first of its kind Uzbek theater opened in 1919.

From here you can also see one more blue dome - the UFO looking building of the circus built in 1970s:

Across the road from the bazaars there is a park named after Abdul Kadiri, more familiar to the Tashkent people as Pushkin Park. On its edge is a planetarium:

From the other end of the Zarkainar street is the Center of National Arts with the same name:

To the left of the previous photo is the "Tower of Babel", called by locals a snail – this is a Tashkent House of Children's Creativity. There is an observation deck on top of the tower. It stands right on the site of the former Biklarbek madrassah and Khatun mosque.

Tashkent House of Children's Creativity

Courtesy to varandej

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