Old Tashkent - a neighborhood where time stands still


Access to the old Tashkent in Uzbekistan

Stumbling on adobe walls, narrow nameless alleyways and natural gas exterior conduits - as if those pipes were the only nexus of the facades with modern times, or the safety net that prevents their fall - was one of the most pleasant surprises during my days in Tashkent.

It may sound strange to you, but I needed something to reconcile the idea of ​​Uzbekistan as a former peripheral republic of the USSR, the romantic notions about the Silk Road and what they had been seeing my eyes for three days, a planned and outdated city.

And I didn't find it until, returning after my last currency exchange in the capital to the house where I was staying, I decided take a blessed shortcut instead of the most direct route.

I did not expect to find that you breathe a static small town air a short distance from points of interest such as the crowded Chorsu Bazaar or the solemn Telyashayakh Mosque attached to an important religious complex.

It is the old Tashkent, which, occupying hundreds of square meters, condense what little is left today, in spirit and in small houses, of the ancient city.

Car in alley in Tashkent in Uzbekistan

Man walking in Tashkent in Uzbekistan

Tashkent was once a typical eastern city, protected by a wall with twelve doors and towers. Inside the enclosure, adobe brick houses, a single height and topped by a flat roof formed small neighborhoods called Mahalla, with unpaved streets.

At the beginning of the 20th century, in the old city there were 21,000 of those houses totaling almost 280 Malhalla. To facilitate its management, several Malhalla they were grouped in a Daha, counting on its own administration.

Tashkent was made up of four Dahas, Sheikhantaur in the east side, Beshagach In the south, Kukcha in the West, Sibzar in the north. The convergence of the four was made at the foot of the largest hill in the city, Shahrist, where the central market was located, epicenter of public life, and so it remained for centuries.

Children playing in Tashkent in Uzbekistan

Door in Tashkent in Uzbekistan

If the Revolutions are never peaceful, not only bloodshed caused that of 1917 in what was then the largest industrial city of the Turkestan. Flying the red flag of modernization and secularism, was razed with buildings and neighborhoods and with them they left, at least on the surface, the traditional forms of culture and life.

The thirties of the last century saw political and cultural figures disappear under the paranoia of Stalin, but also the construction of factories and the creation of urban centers practically out of nowhere.

Some did not rise on barren land, but forced industrialization took centuries-old monuments ahead. In what was the Daha from Sheikhantahur, for example, only 3 of the 16 monuments survived ancient there present in the nineteenth century.

And what little man had respected, Nature almost took him ahead.

Accustomed to earthquakes, during the 2000 years of the city's existence, the population had learned to live in single-story adobe houses, but the brick had gradually replaced them. In 1966 almost 4 houses turned into rubble when an earthquake shook the Uzbek capital.

As I said at the time, the energy of the reconstruction of Tashkent was not only reflected in an orthodox planning of Soviet lines, but also in the destruction of the few ancient monuments that were still standing. The city wall disappeared completely and with it did the twelve doors - dabazas -, through which the interior of the eastern city was accessed.

Today, with the logical evolution and growth of the population and their needs, what was the old market and urban social center has moved north of the city, far from the monument to Amir Temur, the Novoi Theater or Mustakillik Square.

Almost by chance, returning from Chorsu Bazaar, I enter an alley perpendicular to Zarkaynar Street and leave behind the Tashkent that is advertised in the brochures.

Elderly woman in Tashkent in Uzbekistan

Facade of houses in Tashkent in Uzbekistan

A network of electrical and telephone cables it orbits rooftops and labyrinthine lanes. Under the daggers of the midday sun, only a few passers-by dare to stroll along the street, the few who necessarily have to abandon the freshness of their homes and the foreigner willingly clueless.

In those rare moments when we cross, we balance to politely yield, while trying to expose the smallest surface of our body outside the shadow that walls and walls give us.

The walls open occasionally and provide surprises. Watermelons, tomatoes, apples or eggs, all of them homemade products, They are for sale not in a street stall but in the covered access to a house where the vehicle that should be parked is absent.

Turning meaningless or in a hurry when the road forks, or when I see a side access, I confirm what I had already read: it's easy to get lost in the maze of right angles and low constructions. And it is desirable.

A walk through the streets of old Tashkent has become one of the three essential activities - along with visiting Chorsu Bazaar and traveling by Metro -, for those who visit this city of Central Asia. Each corner is the prelude to a new intersection, inviting you to lose yourself in time and lose it to find us.

Photos | Avistu