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Photograph: Matej SanitrarTashkent City

With a population of 2.3 mln inhabitants the Uzbek capital, once the fourth largest city in the former USSR, is Central Asia's hub. Unfortunately following an earthquake in 1966 and the subsequent enthusiasm of Soviet planners, little remains of the city's 2000-year history.

The wide spread city is located in the Chirchik valley in the foothills of the Western Tien Shan mountains. Tashkent (stone city) is known from the 2nd century B.C. as a settlement with a well developed fortification system. En route into the Fergana valley and the mountain passes it has seen much of the Silk Road traffic between China and Central Asia. At the end of the XIX century Tashkent became the administrative centre for Turkestan Governor of the Russian Empire. In 1930 Tashkent was proclaimed the capital of Uzbek Soviet Republic.

Eki Shakhar / Old city Kukeldash Medressa Kaffal Shashi mausoleum
Chorsu Bazaar Mustakillik / Independence Square Amir Timur Square
The Museum of Fine Arts The Museum of Applied Arts Navoi Opera & Ballet Theatre

Eki Shakhar / Old city

It's worth taking a stroll around the remnants of the old town, eski shakhar. This maze of narrow dusty streets lined by low, mudbrick houses, mosques and medressas (Islamic academies) seems to have been spared by Soviet planners to show what things would have been like without the glories of socialism.

Kukeldash Medressa

Kukeldash Medressa is a grand 16th century academy undergoing restoration, whose plaza overflows with worshippers on warm Friday mornings; the tiny 15th century Jami mosque nearby was used during the Soviet era as a sheet metal workshop.

Kaffal Shashi mausoleum

Kaffal Shashi mausoleum was constructed in honour of a 10th century philosopher and medician and dates back to 1542. The mausoleum was followed by most of the other constructions around Khasty Imam Square.

Built by a descendant of Timur Barak Khan Madrassah is a complex of two mausoleums with attached Madrassahs of later construction. The building serves now as the residence of the Maufti, the Head of Islam for Central Asia.

Chorsu Bazaar

Chorsu Bazaar, a huge open market beside Kukeldash, draws crowds of people from the countryside, many in traditional dress.

Mustakillik / Independence Square

Mustakillik / Independence Square initially known as Cathedral Square for the Orthodox Church & bell tower built here by General Kaufmann, the first Russian Governor General. Destroyed in 1930, the square became later Tashkent's Red Square, and since independence venue for various festivities. This is also where extremists attempted a bomb attack on Uzbekistan's president in 1999.

Amir Timur Square

Amir Timur Square with the enormous Uzbekistan hotel as one of the finest examples of Soviet architecture displays a monument to the ruler.

The Museum of Fine Arts

The Museum of Fine Arts has a fine collection of the art of pre-Russian Turkestan, including Zoroastrian artefacts, serene 1000-year-old Buddhist statues, and Sogdian murals.

The Museum of Applied Arts

The Museum of Applied Arts opened in 1937 as a showcase for turn-of-the-century applied arts. The building was owned by Alexander Polovtsev, a wealthy tsarist diplomat - designed in traditional Tashkent style. The museum displays an excellent collection of Uzbek textiles, jewelry and ceramics and a replica of the Osman Koran. There are other museums devoted to History, antiquities, literature, geology and railways.

Navoi Opera & Ballet Theatre

Navoi Opera & Ballet Theatre is the venue for some of the world's cheapest classical opera. The characterful building dates back from 1947 and was mainly built by Japanese prisoners of war.

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© 2001-2010 STANtours last modified April 24, 2002