18 September 2010

Faces of Old Samarkand

The Sherdor Madrasah, c. 1870 (by Vasily Vereshchagin)

The name Samarkand summons up images of the exotic Orient, the city of Marco Polo's Silk Road and and the capital of Timur the Lame. The city, in modern-day Uzbekistan, was founded in around 700 B.C.E. by the Persians, but Samarkand now has a population of over six hundred thousand. It has been conquered by Alexander the Great, Islamic warriors, the Mongols, and, finally, those Great-Gamers, the Russian Empire. Samarkand became part of Russian Turkestan in 1868. The city has several famous examples of medieval Islamic architecture, and is a great place to visit, except it's as hot as hell in the summer.

1903 map of Russian Turkestan - the province of Samarkand is on the center-right.

The photos below, most courtesy of that friend to blog-men and -women everywhere, Wikimedia Commons, capture the people and places of "Old Samarkand" at turn of the twentieth century. The majority were taken by the Russian photographer Sergey Prokudin-Gorsky (read more about him here and here) from 1905 to 1915. Surprisingly, they are in full (artificial) color, the result of a three-color process that I won't even try to explain.  So, enjoy!

Some people hanging out by a wall.

A (lost?) woman stands by a wooden door.

Jewish children with their rabbi-teacher.

Street view from the Jewish Encyclopedia (1901-05).

A policeman on his beat. Man, people really loved to stand outside by buildings back then!

A fabricmonger. There is a framed page of the Koran above his stall.

A Tajik (the predominant ethnic group in Samarkand) standing in a woods outside of town. I'm not sure what that is behind him and to the left. Reed yoga mats, anyone?

A greengrocer just hanging out, selling some sort of pumpkin-watermelon hybrid. Maybe that stall roof is the same as those mats in the background of the last picture.

Taken by Leon Barszczewski for National Geographic, c. 1885

Two men trying to find some shade.

The Bibi-Hanim bazaar, taken before 1900. Nice ruins, but poor spelling.

A Russian rendering of the defense of Samarkand in 1868 (from 1872)

A late nineteenth-century painting by Gigo Gabashvili called Bazaar in Samarkand

Illustration for the Jules Verne novel Claudius Bombarnac of a Samarkand marketplace.

Ruins of the Gur Emir Mausoleum, c. 1870

The Ulug-bek Madrasah (named after a sixteenth-century ruler of Samarkand)

It is my most fervent wish that you have enjoyed our (mostly) photographic journey through fin de siecle Samarkand. As always, beware of overeager carpet-mongers in the bazaar!

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