Tashkent of the XIX Century (A Stranger’s View – Photo 1976)

Tashkent of the XIX Century

The image of Tashkent of the XIX Century…

The process of accumulating scientific knowledge is long, complex and sometimes contradictory. Along with scientists, tradesmen, travelers, writers, artists, who left travel sketches, notes, drawings, contributed to it. Although the information provided by these sources is not always authoritative and often inaccurate, and requires close and critical reading, it is impossible to recreate a real picture of the era, to plunge into the atmosphere of a bygone life, and to feel its uniqueness.

The 19th century is the century of major changes and events in the history of Tashkent, which fundamentally changed the look of the city and the life of its inhabitants. The circle of people, who visited the fertile and mysterious land of Central Asia, was gradually widening. It especially grew after the conquest of the region by the Russian Empire and the construction of the railroad.

At the turn of XVIII and XIX centuries. Tashkent was visited by the miners (mining officials) Timofei Burnashev and Mikhail Pospelov, who came at the request of the ruler of the city Yunus-Hoja to search for minerals and discover ore mines. The descriptions they left behind provide detailed information about Tashkent and the surrounding areas. They also report on some historical events of the previous period.

Telling “About the location, climate and abilities to the works of the land in general”, the authors, noting the favorable conditions of the Tashkent oasis, emphasize that this land belongs to the best part of Asia, the climate of which is “very able to inhabit”.

A special section is devoted to the description of Tashkent. “The authors say that the city of Tashkent was a vast garden, which was hiding low buildings and was seen in spite of the surrounding wall… It was surrounded by a wall, which was 26 meters high and 3 feet thick above and 6 feet below, and its circumference was about 18 versts. In case of leaving the city six wooden gates were made, which are guarded at night, but there is no moat or any other outside fortification”.

Note that the area of the city, the size of the wall surrounding it, the number of gates and passages in it are covered differently in different sources. Philip Nazarov, who visited Tashkent twice in 1813 and 1814, on his way to Kokand and on his way back, said that the city wall was 15 versts long, had 12 gates, that the citadel was separate from the city at a distance of ¼ verst.

Describing the layout of the city, T. Burnashev and M. Pospelov reported: “The order of the streets in the houses is partly noticeable, but more they are mixed together indiscriminately. The streets are extremely narrow and uneven, and only horse-drawn carriages and carts are used for riding”. Thus, they note the small width of the streets, the chaotic nature of the building, as do many other visitors, not familiar with the history of the development of the eastern city, accustomed to a certain regularity, typical of the development of some Western cities.

However, as we know, there is a certain system here. As the architect W.A. Nielsen writes, all the dead ends as if flowing into alleys, that is, into wider streets, and the latter – into the main radial arteries, which necessarily lead either to the city center or to the city gates. The volume-planning structure of the city is extremely typical. All of its radial-centric layout clearly shows the gradualism of the city. As it grew, the development of the suburbs adjacent to Shahristan and the bazaar increased, and the city territory and roads approaching the city and bending turned into radially directed streets leading to the new gates. Because these streets were formed from the rural road along with the increase in the residential areas flanking them, they were narrow (6-8 m), curved. Even narrower and curvier were all the secondary streets, countless alleys, dead ends, the number of which increased without end due to the fragmentation of private estates, due to the growth of the family, the appearance of new buildings inside the quarters.

A retrospective look at the history of the 19th century allows us to see how these events caused significant changes in the layout of the city, in the construction of buildings and the number of its inhabitants. Thus, the Kokand khan, seizing Tashkent, in order to ensure the stability of his power in the city, erected a new Urda (fortress) on the banks of the Ankhor, which changed the appearance of the city. F. Nazarov described it this way: “This fortification is surrounded by two high stone (adobe brick) walls and two deep ditches, and to the city by one wall and a deep channel up to 50 sazhens wide (Ankhor). They entered the fortification by a narrow path. In the middle of the fortification on the hilltop there is a castle surrounded by high walls and three ditches of 7 sazhens (citadel). In this castle lives a commander in chief, who has full power to execute by death without reporting to the ruler (khan) … The castle of the former owner (Yunus-Khoja) was destroyed to the ground, and we saw piles of stones in that place.

This location of the fortress, when the rulers were separated from the main territory of the city by a channel and powerful walls, was not accidental. It indicated that they wanted to dominate the city militarily and to be able to evacuate quickly if necessary.

Contemporaries assessed the number of buildings and population of Tashkent at the beginning of the 19th century differently. “According to the approximate calculation”, – mountain officials T. Burnashev and M. Pospelov point out, – it is possible to believe that there are about 10 thousand houses and up to 40 thousand male inhabitants in all the city”. Colonel Meyendorf who visited Tashkent in 1820, wrote, that there were at least 3000 houses surrounded by a clay wall. There are ten madrassahs in Tashkent: three of them are built on the model of Bukhara. Baron Humboldt, for his part, noted: “This city is large and may be up to 30 versts in circumference, but it is not built correctly with cramped streets. It has up to 15,000 houses, about 100,000 inhabitants, and up to 320 mosques.”

Residents were settled in mahallas. In the middle of the 19th century there were 52 mahallas in the Sheikhantaur section, 38 in the Sibzar section and 38 in the Kukchi section.

The importance of Tashkent as a trade and military point was noted by A. Vamberi, who visited Persia and Central Asia in 1863: “After Kokand, Tashkent, the main trade center of the khanate, deserves mention, where at present, as I heard from many people, there are many wealthy merchants, conducting significant trade with Orenburg and Kyzyl-Dzhar (Petropavlovsk). Tashkent, which maintains a transit trade with Bukhara, Kokand, and Chinese Tatarstan, is one of the most important cities in Central Asia; the Russians are sneaking up on it; their last outposts (Kale-Rakhim), as already noted, are only a few days’ journey from it. Having this militarily important point, Russia will easily seize Bukhara and Kokand khanates, because what the Russian bayonets could not achieve, the flames of discord, fanned between the two khanates by St. Petersburg, will accomplish.

After the conquest of Tashkent by the tsarist troops in 1865, notes left by the military appeared. Cossack officer A.P. Khoroshikhin was sent to Turkestan in 1865, where he wrote essays about Kokand, Tashkent and Samarkand based on his observations. In the essay about Tashkent, he noted that the gardens surround it on all sides by a ribbon several versts wide. However, they are cut down for buildings and firewood, because with the foundation of the Russian quarter there was a great need. He goes on to say that “along the ravines, of which there are many in the city, there are crowds and mills clattering about, often amidst very picturesque scenery. At times you pass through small squares lined with shops with livestock; at times the streets are dark with poplars and willows overhanging the walls of neighboring gardens; at times you come across lonely monuments (mazars) over the graves of saints or heroes, and mosque buildings towering in the streets. The city is surrounded by a solid clay wall, which has twelve gates, why the nomads call Tashkent twelve-fold”. Khoroshikhin gives a detailed description of the Tashkent bazaar, noting that it is very large and original. “The caravanserais of Tashkent are full of cotton, which constitutes the main object of Tashkent’s own wholesale trade. Carpets, palats and all other articles of Central Asian manufactures are more convenient to buy in these sheds first-hand…There are not many craftsmen in Tashkent, compared to merchants, but crafts still have representatives here as well”. Noting the skill and sensitivity of the locals, he names tailors, shoemakers, blacksmiths, carpenters, dyers, plasterers and even a self-taught watchmaker.

In the travel diary (1883) of Lieutenant Colonel V. V. Krestovsky, who served as an officer on special assignments under the Turkestan Governor-General, attracts attention with his description of Eski-Tashkent. “The station,” he writes, “is nothing more than an ordinary… kishlak with two or three caravanserais, offering their hospitality, for a known fee, of course, to the caravans passing along the way. But once upon a time, in ancient times, as the legends say, the city of Tashkent stood here, on this spot, and only later, gradually occupying more and more areas of land in a north-eastern direction with its suburbs and gardens, as if moved imperceptibly during several centuries to its present place, leaving the old deserted city with only the name of the Old Tashkent”.

After the conquest of Turkestan by Russia, the construction of the new part of Tashkent began with the demolition of defensive and military structures on the banks of the Ankhor. The Kokand Urda was demolished, and partially the walls of the old city. New buildings, which were built in the summer and autumn of 1865, were of a military nature. The main structure was a new fortress. For its construction the ground from the old ruined walls of the city was used. The first building of European architecture was a small house of General M.G. Chernyaev with thick walls of mud brick and small windows.

When Tashkent was given the status of administrative capital of the governor-generalship and the first Governor-General von Kaufman arrived here a huge influx of different people. The city began to rapidly build up. In 1877 it was one square verst., in 1904 – 25 square verst. – About 30 square versts. In 1877 there were about 100 thousand natives in Tashkent, and in the Russian part – 4 thousand people, not counting military ranks and their families. The exact data on the number of population was given by the First All-Russian Population Census (1897). According to its data, the city had 155673 inhabitants.

Tashkent became “the most significant city of the Aral-Caspian countries and even one of the first cities in the entire Russian Empire,” notes Elise Reclus, “this city is not inferior even to Tiflis in terms of population. Spread over the same vast space as Paris, it is 13 km. long and 7 to 8 km. wide, but Tashkent has, however, a small number of inhabitants compared to the extension of the square it occupies; the houses are almost all low, covered with verdure, so that from afar the city looks like an entire forest; only the roofs of the high buildings of Russian construction, and some mosque domes are raised above the poplars, willows, and other trees growing on the edges of the channels”.

Travel notes, essays of travelers, as a rule, give a description of the external appearance of the visited places, notice the most exotic pictures, unusual for his eyes. Only a person who has lived in the area for a long time and actively participates in local life can give an accurate, emotionally imbued description of what is happening. These descriptions are especially vivid in a talented, inquisitive person who has an artistic gift. Because of this, works of fiction often give us psychologically more authentic descriptions of a bygone era. Among such authors, immersing the reader in the realities of that era, and N.N. Karazin. His books, written under the laws of prose fiction, are still reliable evidence of how to build the Tashkent, which would later become the largest city in Central Asia. “Beautiful single-storey white houses were bordered by alleys of young, recently planted poplars. Almost everywhere,- the author writes, – wherever one could see, one could see ugly mixed forests of newly built constructions; vast squares were covered with construction materials. Almost in the center, from behind a huge tent with a cross on top, which temporarily replaced the church, one could see the brightly lit windows of the stores. The paved, straight and wide streets were bustling with life: carriages, horsemen, and pedestrians scurried about. During the day all life hid from the unbearable heat, but in the evening, when the heat gave way to a refreshing, fragrant cool, everything that could move came out into the streets.

The new, sprawling city spreads out as if it had grown out of the ground, but everything in it, you couldn’t help but notice, was strikingly unfinished. It is a city-camp, and this peculiar stamp will stay on it for a long time to come…”.

Tashkent is a major commercial city. Even T. Burnashev and M. Pospelov wrote about it as an important hub on the trade route from Russia through Central Asia to India and China. In the 1930s, Tashkent attracted 44% of all Russian imports of Central Asian goods to its markets, and in the 1950s almost half. This quota continued to increase thereafter. The city, in turn, sold 85% of all Central Asian exports of dried fruits to Russia in the 1950s.

One of the first foreigners to visit Tashkent after the conquest of the region by Russia was Eugene Schuyler, who stayed there long enough and left descriptions of the city and its inhabitants.

The visitor was greatly impressed by the city’s numerous bazaars. He described them in an Impressionist manner, giving picturesque pictures of bazaar life in large strokes, allowing you to visually see the hot sun, the busy rows of vendors, people hustling and bargaining, the smoke from shashliks, the cries of animals. “Tashkent fully meets the ideal of an Asian city, having a large Juma mosque where the entire population of the city gathers on Fridays and where all 32 guilds of artisans (kasabs) working in the bazaar are represented. Each alleyway is dedicated to one type of trade; here you will find silk shops, there – jewelry shops, and here they work with copper. Suddenly there’s a big gate in front of you, behind which you can see the courtyard of a caravanserai, where the visitors are housed and the goods are stored.

Henry Lansdell echoes him. “As to imports and exports from Tashkent,” he writes, “we may get an idea of this from the fact that in 1876 goods were brought in from Russia, Bukhara, and Semirechye on 2,369 camels, 804 carts, and 1,355 horses. From Tashkent, 2,323 camels carried goods, half of which were exported to Russia, and half to Kokand and other cities of Central Asia.

There were autumn and spring fairs in Tashkent, and the bazaars were notable for their variety and selection of goods. Lansdell, who visited the bazaars everywhere, recounts, “There we bought fine fruit. But we were looking for antiquities and objects that embodied national characteristics. We saw Bukhara and Kashgar rugs and mats spread out, priced at four and two pounds respectively. I saw a very beautiful Uzbek chodir (tent) made from local silk that would have looked great on an English lawn. It only cost £12. But I wanted to buy things that wouldn’t take up much space. My attention was drawn to “chalwar,” a pair of chocolate-colored leather pants covered with embroidery in all the colors of the rainbow. I happily bought several purses in local styles, handkerchiefs, and skeins of local silk. There were also skullcaps for sale, which Muslims wear all the time, even indoors. Some skullcaps from Shakhrisabz and Bukhara were made with great taste and skill.

Embroidered slippers similar to those I had seen in the Caucasus were also sold there. Magnificent fine muslin handkerchiefs and shawls embroidered in multicolored silk were sold. They were extraordinary work, for they had no distinction between the front and the wrong side.

I bought a typically Asian piece, a chilim, for the British Museum. But the most beautiful thing I came across was pillowcases embroidered with multicolored threads, made of soft leather, and an embroidered tablecloth beautifully handmade. Thus, the freshness and colorfulness of perception inherent in the view of a visitor contributes to recreating a complete picture of the history of the city in the 19th century.

In conclusion, we note that the significant changes that occurred in the life of Tashkent during the period under study are clearly reflected in the sources, some of which are still waiting for their researchers.

Today, when historians have important tasks to intensify scientific research and in-depth analysis of historical processes, special attention should be paid to the study and comparison of different groups of sources, supplementing the reconstructed picture of the information from the fiction, created on the basis of events that took place at important turning points in history.

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