About Uzbekistan

Old Tashkent: The remaining pieces of 4 dahas
11 December 2017

Having inspected the Chorsu Bazaar and the neighboring mahallas in the previous post, let’s take a walk to other places of the Old Town and explore what is left after the great construction and shocks of the 20th century. We will find the oldest Russian building in Central Asia and a madrasah with the oldest copy of the Koran in the world.

As was mentioned before Tashkent was quite a unique city with unusual form of governance similar to confederation of free cities. To some extent it could be compared to the "free cities" of medieval Europe, that were next to each other but each separated by the walls. However, four dahas that divided Tashkent interacted more cunningly - they had one wall for all, with common city centre at the border of each daha  - Chorsu bazaar, and their hokims (mayors) consulted each other at chorkhakim (four mayors)gatherings, but sometimes when it was not possible to negotiate dahas could fight each other. Finally, conflicts between dahas ended in 1784 by their unification under power of Yunushodja. The city wall was almost circular, and each daha occupied a sector with three city gates. The smallest Kukcha daha consisting of 31 mahallas (living quarters) was located at the north-west and controlled  Sagban, Chagatai and Kukcha gates. This daha was famous for its potters and tanners. There are still left at the territory of this daha the mausoleum of Sheikh Zaynuddin of the 16th century and the Chagatai cemetery, which was built in 1927 and where the most famous people of the Soviet and independent Uzbekistan are usually buried. 

Going north from Chorsu-Bazaar along Sagban Street, which once divided Kukcha and the northeastern Sebzar daha (38 mahallas) with Labzak, Takhtapul ("Customs Duty") and Karasaray Gates. It played a special role in old Tashkent, owning the best lands near city borders and mills on the Kalkauz channel, supplying the city with food from bread to meat, and even artisans here specialized in making arbas (araba carts). Here, on the bank of Kalkaus has been preserved the most important ensemble of Old Tashkent - Khazrati-Imom, also known as Khast Imam. Its facade is facing Karasaray street, but you can also reach it going down Sagban street through mahalla to its backyard.

 the most important ensemble of Old Tashkent - Khazrati-Imom, also known as Khast Imam

From left to right: the modern Cathedral Mosque (2007) with two minarets (53 m) and as in Samarkand three madrasahs - Mui-Mubarak (16th century, the name translates as "Sacred Hair", as the hair of the Prophet was stored there), Tillya-Sheikh (1856-57, in translation "The Gilded Sheikh")...

And to the left of the previous photo - Barak Khan Madrassah (1531-32), probably the most beautiful building in all of Tashkent:

Barak Khan Madrassah (1531-32)

"Barak" in this case is not a name, but a nickname indicating luck, and it was worn by Timurid Navruz Ahmadkhan, grandson of Ulugbek. Two domes on each side are mausoleums: an unnamed mausoleum was built for Barakhan himself, who was eventually buried in Samarkand, and in the second is buried Suyunidzhi Khan, the first ruler of the Tashkent branch of Sheibanids, separated from Bukhara. 

Back view:

Under the third main dome they sell souvenirs now:

Decoration is stunningly beautiful, although more modest than in Bukhara and Samarkand. Palettes and ornaments are completely different than in Bukhara, Samarkand, Khorezm, Termez.

Souvenir shop inside 

To enter Mui-Mubarak you will need to pass through checkpoint (with a couple of police officers and a metal detector), only groups are allowed. Here they keep the main Muslim relic of Central Asia:

Uthman ibn Affan was the third Arab Caliph (644-656), one of the closest associates of Muhammad, and it was during his rule when prophet's verses-the revelation that were finally brought together by the predecessor of Abu Bakr were compiled into a single book of the Qur'an. In total, Uthman prepared six of its copies for the most important cities of the Caliphate, with which are now identified manuscripts in Istanbul, Sanaa (Yemen) and Tashkent and separate sheets in the libraries of Paris, Birmingham, Tubingen and St. Petersburg. On the three complete versions of Qur'an, there are also traces of blood - in each country holding a complete version it is believed to the blood of Uthman himself, killed in his home by the rebels. Modern studies consider as original pages the very same pages from the libraries, whilst the closest to original complete version of Koran is the one in Yemen. Studies of the Tashkent and especially the Istanbul Korans "rejuvenated" them to the 8th and 9th centuries, and the artificiality of blood on their pages was proved as far back as the 19th century, but still ... Firstly, the Samarkand Koran (as it is known in the world) was always respected as the original, secondly, its parchment sheets (a total of 353), almost meter-wide, have no less than 1200 years anyway.

The copy of this Koran was brought to Samarkand by Tamerlane from his campaign to Asia Minor, where he crushed the Ottoman Empire, which had not yet reached Constantinople. The Koran was kept in Samarkand (first in the Bibi-Khanum cathedral mosque, then in the Khodja-Ahrar khanaq) and the mountain village of Lyangar-Ata, in 1869 it was taken to St. Petersburg, where it was studied in detail, during the civil war in Russia (1918-1920) it was kept in the Spiritual Directorate of Russian Muslims in Ufa, and finally in 1921 on Lenin's personal instruction returned to Central Asia, only this time not to Samarkand but to Tashkent. In 1905, fifty facsimile copies were made, one of which is now kept in the same Mui-Mubarak madrassah.

Apart from Uthman Koran there is generally nothing interesting in the building of Mui-Mubarak. Above the square is the Cathedral Mosque, very beautiful - that's how it looks from the Karasaray street:

A quiet side street takes you to the original construction of the complex, the Saint Imam (as translated from Khazrati-Imom) mausoleum past the modern buildings of the Spiritual Administration of Muslims of Uzbekistan:

View from the porch of the mausoleum to the Namazgokh mosque (1845-67) - from the back, in a closed territory, its aivans open into a wide courtyard, that were built for the festive "open-air" services. The building itself is only a replica of the 1970s, instead of the original destroyed in the revolution.

The Qur'an of Uthman was placed here only in the 20th century, and historically the main shrine of Khast Imam was the mausoleum of Abu Bakr ibn Ismail, nicknamed Kaffal Shoshi. The last in translation means "locker from Tashkent" - like many Central Asian saints, he was an artisan in everyday life and made door locks. And obviously the Arabic name is not accidental: Kaffal-Shoshi lived in the 10th century, when the present Tashkent (Binket in the Chach oasis) was the northeast outpost of the Caliphate, and Islam shared the minds of the Central Asian people with Zoroastrianism, Nestorianism and Manichaeism. They say that Kaffal Shoshi knew 72 languages ​​and for the first time translated Torah into Arabic. For many centuries he remained one of the most venerated saints of Turkestan.

was the mausoleum of Abu Bakr ibn Ismail, nicknamed Kaffal Shoshi

His mausoleum, of course, is much younger (1542), and represents a hanaka, that is, includes a mosque and a pilgrimage guesthouse. The most beautiful detail is the carved window above the main entrance:

On the other side of Karasaray street are high-rise buildings. The most untouched part of Sebzar is exactly between here and Sagban Street:

On the way to the nearest "Gafur Gulyam" metro station (about 20 minutes walk) along Karasaray street you will find Almazan mosque (1850) with a very beautiful minaret:

Almazan mosque (1850) with a very beautiful minaret

From ‘Gafur Gulyam’ you can either walk (20 minutes) or take 1 station ride by metro to ‘Pakhtakor’ metro station to get to the centre of Sheikhantaur, the largest and most influential of the four dahas, occupying the southeastern sector of the city with Koymas, Kokand and Kashgar gates, which used to "welcome" the Silk Road caravans. It had 48 mahallas, there lived artisans of various profiles (including casters and blacksmiths, and hence gunsmiths). It was hokim of Sheikhantaur - Yunus-khodja, who in 1784 conquered other dakhas, put an end to the "four hokhim rule" and formed a Tashkent state with a mercenary army. You won’t find old mahallas here, it was heavily modernized in XXth century with many Stalin era buildings:

Near the metro station is the Youth Theater of Uzbekistan, which shares the luxurious post-constructivist building (1928) with the Museum of Alisher Navoi, whose monument stands in the square next to:

Nearby - a concrete "puck" of the Palace of Arts named after Navoi, built apparently after the earthquake:

But the heart of Sheikhantaur, once worthy of the Sebzar Khast Imam - inside the block between Navoi Avenue and Abdula Kodiri street. To enter you will need to come from Kodiri street through that booth under the blue roof behind the fence:

Earlier this part of the quarter was occupied by one of the faculties of the Tashkent Pedagogical Institute, and it even owned a building with aivan: judging by the old photographs, the square tower was a minaret that was used to call for prayer until late 1920s. 

In 1991 the building was passed to the Islamic Institute of Uzbekistan, and the old building received the appropriate decorations and a blue ribbed dome ... amazingly, but they managed to preserve the traditions of folk arts in Uzbekistan, and therefore new replicas often look almost worthy of antiquity.

Long before this quarter was occupied by the Sheikhantaur cemetery, that by the twentieth century was turned into a huge architectural ensemble of 16 large (mausoleums, madrassas and mosques) and many small (like gazebos or canteens) buildings. The most characteristic was "chortak" - this word refers to the design that came from Zoroastrianism with supporting arches in all four walls, and refers in principle to most mausoleums, but simply chortak is rather a pavilion or gate. The Sheikhantaur facade on the present Navoi avenue was chortak (1892) and Ishankuli-datkha madrassas (1840s), from the 1920s occupied by Uzbekfilm studio and the cinema, and at the end of the 1940s demolished to expand the avenue.

View of the madrasah from the back. Datkha - the title of commander in the Kokand Khanate similar to general, and Ishankuli was also the son of one of the Tashkent beklarbeks (governors), that is, he was quite well off and had all the means to invest in a madrassa:

And a whole city-inside-city with narrow streets, mosques, chaykhanas for pilgrims, mausoleums instead of houses and cemeteries instead of yards, mostly destroyed in the 1920s:

There were also several mosques (Zinjerlik, Aurad, Gharib, Seid Azimbai), mausoleums, chortaks, two minarets, a chillahona (room for seclusion), zierathona (pilgrims' house) and much more, mostly from the turn of the 19th and 20th centuries. In the cemeteries were resting personalities such as the mentioned unifier of 4 daha Yunuhoja, Alimkul Paravarchi - the actual ruler of Kokand, the main opponent of Mikhail Chernyaev, who managed to defeat Russian troops under Ikan, but who died in the defense of Tashkent. Here in 1932, the beautiful wooden mosque Khatun (1754) was transferred from the Registan and turned into the library, that was later demolished anyway in 1967.

Now only three most valuable mausoleums of the 15th century left here. Standing slightly away from the other two the mausoleum of Yunus-khan (1487) is clearly visible from the gate with the above-mentioned blue-roofed booth. It is closed for public visits but if you ask the guard they most likely would be happy to volunteer and show you around.

mausoleum of Yunus-khan (1487)

Here rests the Yunus-Khan of Mogulistan: in the middle of the 15th century everal emirs fled with their nomads from the neighboring Mogulistan to Samarkand, taking with them a teenager-brother of the khan Esen-Bugi who ascended the throne there. Instead of protection in the country of Timurids, they were either killed or enslaved, but Ulugbek saved the life of young prince, sent to his father to be raised in Herat, thus counting on taking over Mogulistan: in 1456, with the support of the Timurid army, Yunus returned to his homeland and overthrew his brother from Kashgar throne. Further in a series of wars, he firstly conquered and then lost all of Mogulistan and died in Tashkent.

Another pair of mausoleums stands a little further away, there is a passage to them from the outside world, although it is extremely confusing to find, and next to it there is also a small newly built mosque. In the foreground the mausoleum of Sheikhantaur himself, and slightly further away is the mausoleum of Kaldyrgach-bi with conical dome

In the foreground the mausoleum of Sheikhantaur himself, and slightly further away is the mausoleum of Kaldyrgach-bi with conical dome

Shaykh Hokim at-Tahur (or simply Sheikhantaur) was a descendant of Muhammad, in Tashkent of the 14th century he was known as "the wisest of the wisest," and remained in the memory of the people as some kind of patron of the city, at least his mausoleum was the most revered among the people of Tashkent (unlike the "international" Kaffal-Shashi). Built in 1355-60, it is also the oldest building in the city:

And the eerie bare trees that you can see in most of the old photos of Sheikhantaur are Iskander's petrified Saur trees (juniper), the Sacred Grove, where according to the legend once was a spring with live water, a pagan altar of Water and Fire, and most importantly where Alexander The Grear (Iskander) rested at the farthest point of his Asian campaign. Over the years, the dead trees have not rotted, but have hardened like a stone and stood in the cemetery ... but they were not spared in the 1920s, and only one trunk was kept inside the mausoleum. Saur is purely local name, scientifically this is juniper semi-spherical.

trunk of juniper tree kept inside Sheikhantaur mausoleum

But the "neighbor" Kaldyrgach-biy, buried in a more ancient mausoleum in 1756 (many of the mausoleums of Central Asia held several graves), is much more famous in Kazakhstan, where each city has the street of Tolebiy. "Biy" means a judge: in the beginning of the 18th century the judges of the three Kazakh Juzes at the general council adopted a single code of laws "Zhety-Zhergy" ("Seven codes"); Tole was representing the Senior Juz. At home, in the steppes of Kazygurt between Tashkent and Chimkent, he was known under the nickname Kaldyrgach ("Swallow"): according to the legend, during the invasion of the Jungars in the 1720s, he was the only one who did not leave the village - on top of his yurt a swallow made a nest, and Tole decided that the life of her chicks is more important than his life. This act of big heart impressed the Jungars themselves, who left the old man alive.

As for the conical dome that was capitally restored during the Soviet era, this construction came from Khorezm, becoming a prototype of the first domes of the Golden Horde, and from the Horde was passed to Russian steepled churches and tent shaped towers... but most of the Khorezm buildings are now in Turkmenistan. In addition to the mausoleum of Kaldyrgach-biy, a couple of such domes of pre-Mongolian era are in the village of Turbat in the Kazakh surroundings of Tashkent.

From Sheikhantaur take a metro to ‘Milliy Bog’ station to visit the last Beshagach daha (32 mahallas) that controlled Beshagach, Kamalon and Samarkand gates. The main "asset" of this daha was firstly the gardens behind the city wall, and secondly brick plants, supplying construction materials throughout Tashkent. The current center of Beshagach is Milliy-Bog, translated as the National Garden, located  between Furkat Street and Bunyodkor Avenue. The gates to the garden near the metro station at Bunyodkor Avenue:

The gates shape combine constructivism and national motives (!) and reminds of the park’s old name: the Komsomol Park that was established here in the 1930s around an artificial lake fed by the waters of Anchor Canal that was dug in the early years of Soviet power by Komsomol enthusiasts and prisoners. For the local population that used to see only small dirty ponds in the towns of this country the Komsomol lake looked like an ocean of fresh water.

Komsomol lake

Here stands the Oliy Majlis (High Council), the lower house of parliament 

Oliy Majlis (High Council), the lower house of Uzbek parliament

There is another Navoi monument on the hill in the gazebo with a blue dome.

Behind the pond is very beautiful in its simplicity a monument to a couple of Uzbek writers of the twentieth century Said Ahmad and Saida Zunnunova:

There is also an "Almazar" exhibition hall with national wooden carvings in the park:

"Almazar" exhibition hall with national wooden carvings

"Istiklol" Palace of Arts, the former House of Friendship of the Peoples of the 1970s with a huge open air stage:

And even the Children's Railway station on the other side of the pond:

Children's Railway station

The Tashkent ChRW (1940, expanded in 1955) is quite simple - a line of 1,7 km in a shape of semicircle around the lake with Navoi and Yoshlik (Youth) stations at different ends. There was also the final Zaozernaya station before 1955, but disassembled in the 1990s. The TU7 diesel locomotive operates on the line, but the most impressive is that it is used for its intended purpose as a summer school for young railway workers, even the emblem of the Uzbekistan Railways hangs on the wall.

There is one more, rather plain-looking Madrassah of Abdulaziz that is left from the ancient daha, looking nearly the same as demolished Biklarbek madrasah.

Madrassah of Abdulaziz

Actually, it was built at the same time in the middle of the 19th century, and until recently it was more known as Abulkasym madrassah, a Kokand official in Tashkent, who left a good memory (according to legend, when the epidemic of plague started in Tashkent people raised a riot, Abulkasym persuaded the governor not to open fire from guns from the walls of Urda, he managed to calm down the crowd, but contracted the plague himself and died). In 1865, here, was signed the surrender of Tashkent to Russian troops between city officials and the General Mikhail Chernyaev (not to be confused with the transfer of the city to Russian governance a year later when the Russian commander was given 12 keys from the city gates). In 1919-74, the madrassa was turned into an apartment building for the refugees from the Volga region, then into the factory, and finally the chairman of the city committee for the protection of monuments Abdulaziz Mukhammadkarimov defended the madrasah from being demolished and insisted on its restoration (1982-87). Since that time it is called "madrasah of Abdulaziz", whilst Abdulaziz himself calls it "Guzallik Maskani" ("Spring of Beauty"): he invited artisans into the cell of the restored building and now there are all kinds of workshops of folk crafts reside in the building. It is highly recommended for the visit.


The gates of the park from Furkat Street, the former border of the two dahas:

Now this is the Beshagach Square, on the other side is former Sheikhantaur:

Beshagach Square

Near the square, next to Ankhor channel, you can see the building of the Uzbek Musical Theater Mukimi, separated  in 1939 from the Navoi Opera and Ballet Theater. Surprisingly, the theater was built in 1939-43 (probably 90% of the works were finished in the first year and a half, before the World War II started), becoming, at least formally, the rarest building built in the times of the Great Patriotic War.

Uzbek Musical Theater Mukimi, built in 1939-43

Cross Bunyodkor Avenue to the mahallas of the former Beshagach daha behind the high-rise buildings. This part of daha was known as Kamalon, and it was here between the Kamalon and Samarkand gates, where the fate of Tashkent was decided in 1865 - the Russian soldiers of Chernyaev broke through the walls, regrouped under the protection of raging fires in the surrounding makhallas, and soon Chernyaev was receiving city’s surrender in Abdulkasym madrassah. Several hundreds of Sarts and Uzbeks were killed at the siege whilst Russians lost only 25 people. And a monument of those times - a tiny and abandoned chapel of St. George the Victorious (1866) over the common grave of soldiers: the first Orthodox temple in Tashkent, the only one remaining in the Old City, and the oldest Russian building in Central Asia.

The Bolsheviks devastated the chapel in Civil War, then an elderly Uzbek woman from neighboring houses was taking care of it, and now there are plans to transfer it to Uspensky Cathedral near the railway station ..., if they won’t do that, then sooner or later it will simply be demolished, as many Other monuments of Russian Turkestan.

One block away from from the chapel is a huge and honorable Kamalon cemetery, where, for example, writer Abdul Kadiri is at rest; for Beshagach daha, it was playing the same role as Hast-Imam for Sebzar daha, and Sheikhantaur necropolis for Sheikhantaur daha. The mahallas around are of Soviet times.

There is an imposing mausoleum of a saint with almost Spanish name - Khoja Alambardor (or more local version Khodja Alandar-buva), built in the 19th century over the grave from the times of Arab domination.

Cemetery, mahalla and the wall of high-rise buildings near the avenue is a very Tashkent landscape. Now there is almost nothing reminding about the former dahas, even their borders have eroded in many places. And the Soviet era pretty leveled the Old and New parts of the city...

Courtesy to varandej

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