About Uzbekistan

Samarkand: from Registan to Siab bazaar
17 January 2018
Samarkand: from Registan to Siab bazaar

In this part we will take you to another major sight of Samarkand that every tourist should visit while in the city – the famed Siab Bazaar. There we’ll go from Registan along the pedestrian Tashkent street past the largest in Central Asia Bibi-Khanum mosque of the Tamerlane era.

Every major town & city in Central Asia have its own ‘Tashkent’ street, but in Samarkand it is the most genuine – firstly it was always called Tashkent street, and secondly it leads to Tashkent - from Registan to the north-east. The first pedestrian leg of this street is like a boulevard – with lot of trees and hardly any buildings.

It has its own transport - electric cars, running every half an hour from the square near Registan to the Bibi-Khanum mosque. They are very popular, always full and strangely enough it is mostly Samarkand residents than foreign tourists enjoying the ride.

There are a lot of low-rise old houses along the street, which apparently belonged to Tajik and Jewish merchants, who made money trading with Russia: 

Typical architecture of Turkestan of those years is the Russian style with a local layout and traditional courtyard facade. 

This place houses Samarkand center of craftsmen – very interesting place that is highly recommended for the visit, considering the fact that there are no similar centres in Bukhara and Khiva. Each rooms is occupied by young adepts of a variety of local crafts, who use traditional techniques to produce nice souvenirs for sale to tourists:

More about the crafts in Samarkand we covered in the first part of the series, here are couple of new photos of artisans at work.

Meantime we will continue our way. Despite looking almost ideal Tashkent street was not always like that, in the past it really was the beginning of the road to Tashkent, and instead of the tiles there was sand and instead of electric cars - arbas with donkeys.

Here is another pre-revolutionary house, most likely some kind of merchant's shop or pharmacy, and long trading rows, like in the photo above now sell only antiques and souvenirs:


Kindergarten of uncertain age, maybe even the 1920s:

Meanwhile, at some point the street expands, revealing a grand mosque with a ridiculous name Bibi-Khanym:

Or Katta-khanim, or Saray-Mulk - the first two names are translated as the Elder Queen, and the last is her actual name. Saray-Mulk was the daughter of Kazagan Khan, the last descendant of Chaghatay, and for two rebellious emirs who fought Mogulistan for the Samarkand throne - Hussein and Timur - she was indispensable: only the descendant of Genghis family line could bear the Khan title, which means that the sons from Saray-Mulk will no longer be emirs, but full-fledged khans! She was married to Hussein, and gave to Timur his sister Uljay-Turkan, but when in 1365 military comrades gained power the mortal enmity inevitably began to grow between them. Somehow Uljay kept managing to reconcile them until she died in 1367. Three years later, Timur fought with Hussein, captured him and allowed him to be killed, taking Sarai-Mulk and other wives for himself. But the dream to continue the Genghis line for his descendants did not come true: Bibi-Khanum and Tamerlane didn’t have children... and yet she remained his beloved wife. Judging by the history, Timur was capable of strong feelings, he took very seriously the death of Uldjai, and Sarai-Mulk may have been the only person next to which he could (in the figurative sense) remove armor and put aside the sword. Otherwise, how else to explain that in honor of the barren and by that time old wife Tamerlane called the mosque, which according to his idea was to eclipse everything that he saw in the conquered lands? The great wife Sarai-Mulk survived Timur for just a few months - most likely, she was poisoned over the fears of struggle for the throne.

Bibi-Khanum is really the largest mosque in Central Asia even in our time: its size is 167 by 109 meters (according to other sources, 76 by 54 - then it is inferior to Bukhara Kalyan mosque), its two main portals are the size of a good high-rise building (height 36 meters, width 46), and the main dome is 40 meters high and 30 m - in diameter. There are reports that its minarets were the highest in the world, almost up to 90 meters, and it was made literally from everything in the world: the dome recreated the cathedral mosque of Damascus, collapsed during the fire caused by assault, hexagonal minarets repeated Qutb-Minar in Delhi , bricklayers came here from Transcaucasia, marble was brought from India by a hundred elephants, and for the delivery of brick from Bukhara the human conveyer was made - as the convoys often got stuck due to bad road, a live chain lined up between the two cities, which passed every brick from hand to hand. The construction was conducted on a practically Stalinist scale, in the end Timur and Hussein regained Samarkand not just from Mogulistan, but from the persecuted "Persian Communists" Sarbadars. Besides, they say that Timur repeatedly demanded to change everything in the middle of construction and as a consequence executed someone. Nevertheless, one of the largest buildings of those times world was built in just 6 years, in 1399-1405:

But frankly speaking, it is not an architectural gem - bulky, soulless, with flat minarets like factory pipes. Tamerlane was a very educated person, he often spent the evenings listening to the reading of historical chronicles and scientific treatises, he knew rubai (verses) for all occasions and was able to inspire the soldiers, but combination of gigantomania and artistic taste is extremely rare. I will even say that the architecture of the 16th-17th centuries in Central Asia, with the exception of some details like the ribbed dome, is more perfect than the one in Timurids era. The idea of ​​"building a capital on envy for the whole subjugated world" was attempted by the great conquerors with an enviable regularity, taking for example the Karakorum of Genghis Khan, but almost all this luxury is dispelled by the blunder: bringing the best masters from all over the world is not the same as to create your own architectural tradition, which is not only traditions in art, but an engineering school that accumulated many centuries experience of construction in the local conditions. As the result Bibi-Khanum began to spontaneously collapse in the 15th century, and every earthquake was crushing either a "dome like the sky", or an "arch like the Milky Way", or another minaret ...

So, to some extent the current Bibi-Khanum is in a sense a monument of Soviet architecture, which restored the mosque in 1968-2003 (but most actively in the 1980s) with the use of heavy machines and cranes from the state of grandiose ruins. Perhaps, from the numerous Great Soviet restorations this is the most controversial, it has almost more opponents than supporters. 

By the way, 70-90 meters of height is attributed to these faceted minarets of the main building, but it is hard to believe. But the right minaret behind is the only authentic:

The landmark of the mosque is a giant marble Koran holder, that was intended for the most ancient Koran in the world, also known as the Qur'an of Othman – to his largest construction site, a monument to his conquests, Timur also invested the most valuable from the point of view of Islam from his trophies. The holder was made by the order of Ulugbek, and was originally standing under the dome, and was moved to its present place in 1875. Locals widely belief that creeping under the holder will make the wish come true or help cure infertility:

In the excavations of the gallery the base of numerous columns made of felt pressed into a stone were revealed - there were 480 of them in total, almost twice as much as in the fantastic Juma Mosque of Khiva.

The hall under the main dome is closed for the entrance (view through the lattice) and not restored yet: 

The general view of the Bibi-Khanum complex against the backdrop of the Zerafshan range from the Khazret-Khizr Mosque, standing on the slope of Afrosiab. Note that between the front minaret and the portal you can see the distant Registan, and to the right of the mosque the quadrangle of the khokimiyat (local executive authority) on the site of Kuk-Sarai palace:

In front of the mosque there used to be a symmetrical madrassa, from which only a contour of walls is left and the main element - the mausoleum of Bibi-Khanum, the burial vault of Tamerlane's female relatives, starting from Saray-Mulk herself:

There is also a beautiful decoration, which is not rare in Samarkand

But no matter how huge Bibi-Hanym, and yet it is much smaller than the Siab bazaar in the triangle between the mosque and the streets of Shakhrisabz and Al-Bukhari. The square at their crossroads, that is, from the opposite side of the Tashkent street, is built up in a very recognizable style - whether the traditional architecture of the Arab East or functionalism:

It is the main hub of city transport, and many shuttle buses stop right under the bridge of Al-Bukhari Street:

From here is quite near to the main entrance of the Siab bazaar against the background of the Bibi-khanum dome:

There are a lot of bazaars in Uzbekistan, that always were a center of city life, they still serve as the centre of public catering and bus stations, but to become the place of interest on its own perhaps only two can be named - the Tashkent Chorsu and the Samarkand Siab. On the one hand, these are real bazaars, where local residents come to shop for themselves, but on the other hand these are tourist attractions, besides Chorsu also has impressive architecture. In other words the bazaars of the two largest Uzbek cities provide not only bread, but also a circuses. Siab bazaar, that grew up apparently at the end of the 19th century at the entrance to Samarkand from Tashkent (and named after the Siab River in the Afrosiab), is inferior to Chorsu in terms of architecture, but surpasses in the splendor of both sellers and buyers, and assortment.

Fruits in the Siab market are mostly secondary - local traders buy them from wholesalers in Urgut with its huge and cheapest bazaar in the country. Fish (carp, pike perch and less often carp) mainly from Lake Aidar and Kattakurgan reservoir:

And sacks of cereals, spices, beans and nuts:

And lot of sweets

Porcelain teapots and saucers with a blue-and-white "cotton" pattern - their mass character in Uzbekistan is certainly amazing:

And somewhere in the backyard there are farmers aisles... but not the ones where farmers sell their fields and pasture products, but the one where they buy a shovel, a sickle, or a horse harness.

Tools for making bread, especially interesting chikichi – pattern ‘stamps’ on the bread:

And here pay attention not only to the tambourine, but also to wooden and plastic gizmos like smoking pipes: this is "Uzbek diapers" invented a long time ago - they are put on the infants genitals to drain liquid and are still very popular. All the same, how does this centuries-old, old-fashioned way of life still impresses...

Between Siab Bazaar and Bibi-Khanum there is a square with drinking fountains:

Nearby, on the edge of the bazaar, is some unknown mausoleum and a small Mahalla mosque typical of Samarkand construction:

Meanwhile, the name Siab clearly points to Afrosiab, which we will cover in the next part.

Courtesy to varandej

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Did you know?

Uzbekistan is one of only two countries in the world to be ‘double landlocked’ (landlocked and totally surrounded by other landlocked countries). Liechtenstein is double landlocked by 2 countries whilst Uzbekistan is surrounded by 5!

Did you know that Uzbekistan lies in the very heart of Eurasia, the coordinates for Uzbekistan are 41.0000° N, 69.0000°

Uzbekistan is home to the Muruntan gold mine, one of the largest open pit gold mines in the world! The country has 4th largest reserves of gold in the world after South Africa, USA and Russia

Uzbekistan is the world capital of melons. They have in excess of 150 different varieties, which form a staple part of the local diet, served fresh in the summer and eaten dried through the winter.

It is Uzbek tradition that the most respected guest be seated farthest from the house’s entrance.

Tashkent’s metro features chandeliers, marble pillars and ceilings, granite, and engraved metal. It has been called one of the most beautiful train stations in the world.

The Uzbek master chef is able to cook in just one caldron enough plov to serve a thousand men.

When you are a host to someone, it is your duty to fill their cups with for the whole time they are with you.  What you must not do, however, is to fill their cup more than half-full.  If you do that as a mistake, say it is a mistake immediately.  Doing it means you want them to leave.  Wow!  Amazing, right?

To Uzbeks, respect means a whole lot.  For this reason they love it if, even as foreigners, you endeavour to add the respectful suffix opa after a woman's name; and aka after a man's.  Example: Linda-opa and David-aka.  You could also use hon and jon respectively.

Having been an historic crossroads for centuries as part of various ancient empires, Uzbekistan’s food is very eclectic. It has its roots in Iranian, Arab, Indian, Russian and Chinese cuisine.

Though identified with the Persia, the Zoroastrism probably originated in Bactria or Sogdiana. Many distinguished scholars share an opinion that Zoroastrianism had originated in the ancient Khorezm. Indeed, today in the world there were found 63 Zoroastrian monuments, including those in Iran, India, Afghanistan and Pakistan. Thirty-eight of them are in Uzbekistan, whereas 17 of these monuments are located in Khorezm.

One of Islam's most sacred relics - the world's oldest Koran that was compiled in Medina by Othman, the third caliph or Muslim leader, is kept in Tashkent. It was completed in the year 651, only 19 years after Muhammad's death. 

Tashkent is the only megapolis in the world where public transport is totally comprised of Mercedes buses. And due to low urban air polution it is one of the few cities where one can still see the stars in the sky.

You would be surprised to know that modern TV was born in Tashkent. No joke! The picture of moving objects was transmitted by radio first time in the world in Tashkent on 26 of July 1928 by inventors B.P. Grabovsky and I.F. Belansky.

Uzbekistan is the only country in the world all of whose neighbours have their names ending in STAN. This is also the only country in Central Asia that borders all of the countries of this region

Uzbeks are the third populous Turkik ethnicity in the world after Turks and Azeris (leaving both in Azerbaijan and Iran)

Did you know that there was silk money in Khiva? Super interesting right? Of course, but the best part of having silk money was that it could be sewn into your clothing.

Famous Islamic physician Ibn Sina (Avicenna in the Latin world) who was born near Bukhara was the one of the first people to advocate using women’s hair as suture material – about 1400 years ago.

Uzbekistan has a long and bloody history. The most notorious leader of Uzbekistan was Timur (or Tamerlane) who claimed descent from Genghis Khan. His military campaigns have been credited for wiping out some 5% of the world’s population at the time.

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Uzbekistan was once a rum producig country. There is still a real arboretum in Denau (city near Termez on the border with Afghanistan), grown from a selection station that studied the prospects of plant growing in the unusual for the Soviet Union subtropical climate of Surkhandarya region: only here in the whole of the USSR sugar cane was grown and even rum was produced!

Uzbekistan has been ranked one of the safest countries in the world, according to a new global poll. The annual Gallup Global Law and Order asked if people felt safe walking at night and whether they had been victims of crime. The survey placed Uzbekistan 5th out of 135 countries, while the UK was 21st and the US 35th. Top five safest countries:

  • Singapore
  • Norway
  • Iceland
  • Finland
  • Uzbekistan
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