At the heart of the silk road Fascinating Uzbekistan

| May 4, 2011

Cox & Kings’ Alix King recently travelled to Uzbekistan and was impressed by the country’s stunning architecture and beautiful handicrafts.

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For centuries Uzbekistan, at the heart of the ancient Silk Road, was a hub of trade and cultural exchanges, as travellers and their caravans from Europe, Arabia, Persia, China, India and Mongolia passed through on their journey between the Mediterranean Sea and the Pacific Ocean. This activity directly impacted on the development of Uzbekistan’s arts, handicrafts and architecture, and today travellers visit the country to see the legendary mosques and madrasas of Samarkand, Bukhara and Khiva, which have been recognised by UNESCO as having architectural importance for their grand designs and colourful tile work.

The blue ceramics of Uzbekistan, which you often see in brochures and books, are seen everywhere from tourist sites to traditional homes. Ceramic production is one of the most ancient and honoured traditions of the Uzbek people and today the blue ceramics have become an important part of their cultural heritage. Some of the architectural highlights during my own journey across Uzbekistan were the Kalta-Minor minaret in Khiva (Uzbekistan’s only half-finished minaret), the Chor-Minor madrasa in Bukhara because of it’s unique design and four minarets and, of course, Registan Square in Samarkand, which is probably one of the most impressive sites in Central Asia.

Before returning home, many visitors like to buy something as a keepsake reminiscent of the country they have visited. So what to choose? Here are a few of my suggestions:

As mentioned above, ceramic production is the oldest of Uzbek crafts and the country is ideal for those who love to collect decorative ceramics. Bright, bold colours are always used in Uzbek embroidery, traditional Uzbek suzane tablecloth, carpets and rugs and visitors are often invited to watch how carpets are weaved in Khiva. 

When travelling around Uzbekistan you are likely to see many different examples of wooden art and, happily, the ancient craft of woodcarving has been highly valued and respected by local craftsmen. If you want to buy some traditional women’s jewellery, head to the jewellers of Tashkent, Samarkand and Bukhara, and if you can’t resist buying a man’s scull-cap or a woman’s duppi (a similar type of hat), the colourful Siab bazaar next to Samarkand’s Bibi Khanum Mosque is a good place to visit.

As a final thought, if you live in London or visit regularly, it is worth taking a trip to the British Museum and the V&A before or after a trip to Uzbekistan. Both museums showcase fine examples of Islamic art of the sort typically produced and found along this section of the Silk Road and provide a fascinating insight.

View Cox & Kings' tours to Uzbekistan.


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