Museums are said to be the mirror of history. And the history of Uzbekistan is tightly connected with the history of the Great Silk Road, which for millenniums crossed the territory of the country.
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The exposition of one of the biggest museums in Tashkent – State Museum of History of Uzbekistan – contains more than 250.000 exhibits, including the most valuable numismatic, archeological and ethnographical relics, which tell about culture and traditions of peoples, populating territory of the country, about formation and development of the state system and evolution of ethnics of the Uzbek people.
Of great interest is the collection of coins from antique states, once situated on the territory of modern Uzbekistan. These are the coins of Hellenic state of Seleucids (3rd century B.C.), Graeco-Bactrian drachmas of the 3rd – 2nd centuries B.C. and coins of Kushan Kingdom that existed from the 1st century B.C. to the 2nd century A.D. Sogdian, Bucharan, Khoresmiam coins dating back to the first centuries AD are displayed next to the coins from Parthia and Sassanid kingdom, states of Yuezhi and Chang’an, Chinese coins of Tan dynasty. All of them vividly testify to strong trade connections between East and West on the crossroads of the Great Silk Road caravan trails.
In the State Museum of History of Uzbekistan there are exhibited Zoroastrian ossuaries, Sogdian and Baktrian wall paintings, Buddhist sculptures, Halchayan ceramics and artifacts of the Temurid dynasty, which tell about the rich spiritual and material heritage of the Uzbek people. One section of the museum is devoted to modern history of independent Uzbekistan.
In the center of the Uzbek capital, in the building crowned with the huge blue dome, which reminds ancient domes of Samarkand structures, there was accommodated the State Museum of Temurids. The interior of the museum is faced with marble; the cupola-shaped ceiling is ornamented and decorated in the best traditions of the Uzbek art with gold leaf; the walls of the show-rooms are decorated with frescos made in the style of oriental miniature paintings, which tell about the life of Amir Temur and historical periods of the country from the ancient times to the present days.
Exposition of the museum is devoted to one of the most significant periods in the history of Uzbekistan – the epoch of Temur and his descendants, the Temurids. In the second half of the 14th century – beginning of the 15th century Amir Temur united isolated principalities and created a powerful state – Movarounnahr, with capital in Samarkand. The frontiers of the huge empire stretched from the Caucuses to the western remote areas of China. During his rule many towns were built and developed, irrigational systems were constructed, sciences and arts prospered. There have preserved up to present days magnificent architectural monuments of Temurid’s epoch: Bibi-Khanum mosque, Gur-Emir Mausoleum and Ulugbek Madrassah in Samarkand, Ak-Saray Palace in Shakhrisabz, Akhmad Yasavi Mausoleum in Turkistan (Kazakhstan) and many others. The reanimation of the trade at that period of time gave impetus to the further development of the Great Silk Road. Temur’s victories over Turkish Sultan Bayazed and Golden Horde khan Tokhtamish were regarded by the Old World as deliverance from Asian conquerors and contemporaries called Temur the "Liberator of Europe".
Thousands of exhibits connected with the name of Sakhibkiran – carved wooden columns of the 15th century, articles of clothing, weapons, and ancient manuscripts, convey to the visitors the flavor of Temurid’s epoch.
The State Fine Arts Museum of Uzbekistan is the oldest museum in the republic. In 1918 there was nationalized the collection of pieces of art that decorated the palace of great Duke Nikolay Konstantinovich who lived in Tashkent. The collection included paintings, drawings, and sculptures by western and Russian artists, decorative furniture, articles made of crystal, porcelain and bronze. All this formed the basis for the museum. At the beginning of the twenties of the last century some pieces of art were handed over to the museum from the Tretiakov Gallery, Hermitage, Russian Museum and Pushkin Art Museum, as well as from the Moscow Rumiantsev Museum, which by that time had been closed. Later the collection of museum was enriched by acquisitions from private collections.
Today the halls of the State Fine Arts Museum are adorned with the portraits by such famous Russian artists of the 18th century as F.Rokotov and D.Levitsky, the magnificent canvases by the artists of the 19th century V.Tropinin, K.Brulov, I.Ayvazovsky and I.Repin, K.Korovin, I.Levitan and K.Makovsky, the works of the founder of abstract painting V.Kandinsky. Of special interest are the paintings of one of the witnesses and "chronicler" of the capture of Turkestan by tsarist Russia – V.Vereshiagin.
The Museum has a vast collection of paintings from Italy, Spain, Germany, Flanders, England, France and Holland. The real gems of the exposition of West-European sculpture are several magnificent marble statues by A.Canova.
The section of Oriental art presents samples of medieval decorative-applied art from China, India, Iran and Japan.
Several show-rooms of the museum are assigned for the exhibits representing fine art of Uzbekistan. Here one can admire the paintings by Uzbek classical artists U.Tansykbaiev, N.Karakhan, the creator of "Pomegranate choyhona" A.Volkov, portraits by R.Ahmedov and B.Djalalov, works by R.Chariev, Ch.Ahmarov and D.Umarbekov.
The decorative-applied art is represented almost in every museum of Uzbekistan. But for those who really fancy folk crafts the visit to the Museum of Decorative and Applied Art of Uzbekistan can bring much pleasure. Before 1917 the building belonged to Polovtsev – a big industrialist and connoisseur of traditional oriental architecture. The interior walls of the museum are decorated with ancient ganch (kind of alabaster) carving and magnificent ornamental painting. The exposition of the museum offers the best samples of local folk crafts representing virtually all the regional schools and artistic trends of the 19th – 20th centuries. Here one can see "blue ceramics" of Rishtan and Gurumsaray craftsmen, pottery made by Shakhrisabz, Khiva, Gijduvan, and Tashkent hereditary potters – kulols.
The special sections will tell the visitor about carpet weaving, hand embroidery and famous Bukharan gold embroidery. In some show-rooms of the museum the shimmering of the patterns on copper and brass engraved articles rivals the glittering of gold and precious stones of national jewelry. Part of the museum is assigned for exhibiting hand weaving articles and different elements of clothing and headwear.
However, what makes the Museum of Decorative and Applied Art of Uzbekistan differ from the rest of the museums is the regular organization in the museum halls of various exhibitions and sales of works of art by modern artisans.
The cultural traditions of Uzbekistan have roots in remote past. The best way to feel this connection of the times is to visit the Afrosiab History Museum in Samarkand. It is situated at the approach to the town, on the hills that hide ruins of Marakanda – the ancient capital of Sogdiana. It is known from the historical sources that when Alexander the Great occupied Sogd in 329 B.C., Marakanda was a big well fortified, prosperous town. For centuries there flourished here various crafts. It was one of the main trade centers on the Great Silk Road. It had many beautiful palaces and temples. Marakanda – Samarkand was completely destroyed and burnt to ashes in 1220 by the army of Ghengiz Khan. After these dreadful events the life in the city came to a standstill. However, the new town, modern Samarkand, was built a few kilometers from it.
Exploring the twelve-meter cultural layer of Afrosiab, scientists discovered multiple objects of Sogdian and Hellenic cultures, statues of Zoroastrian goddess Anahita and small terracotta heads of Athena, bronze articles and carved Greek gemmas, arrow heads, antique coins, ceramic and glass vessels. The excavation works carried out in the second half of the last century brought to light monumental paintings in the palace of the Sogdian rulers which date back to the beginning of the 7th century and magnificent stook panels in Samanid’s residential structures of the 9th – 10th centuries. All these treasures are now exhibited in the Afrosiab History Museum.
One of the most famous museums in Uzbekistan, a real phenomenon of "museum in the desert" as it was called by the leading art connoisseurs and experts, is the Karakalpak State Art Museum in the town of Nukus. It is named after its founder and the first director Igor Savitsky. The archeological exhibits of the museum tell about the intellectual wealth and culture of the ancient state Khorezm – the cradle of Zoroastrian doctrines, about trade relations of the Khoresmians with the antique world. The museum has a big collection of unique medieval ceramics, national Karakalpak silver and cornelian jewelry, traditional carpets.
But what makes the museum known world-wide is the collection of Russian avant-garde art of the twentieth-fortieth of the last century. According to its world significance it is second only to the collection of the Russian Museum in St-Petersburg. In the halls of the Karakalpak State Art Museum there are exhibited early works by A.Volkov and U.Tansykbayeva, the canvases by famous artists-impressionists who lived in Uzbekistan P.Benkov and Z.Kovalevskaya, Russian avant-garde artists of the beginning of the 20th century P.Kuznetsov, A.Kuprin, N.Ulianov, V.Rojdestvenskiy. Some of the masterpieces from the museum collection have been exhibited in Switzerland, France, and Italy.
In April 2002, when Termez was celebrating its 2500th anniversary, the Termez Archeological Museum opened its doors to visitors. This specialized museum is the only one in its kind in Central Asian region. The collection of the museum includes archeological artifacts, articles of numismatics, paintings, sculpture, photographs, household staff, etc.
There are various expositions here: exposition of Stone and Bronze Age, exposition of the Hellenic and Ancient Bactria period, exposition of Kushan’s culture of Northern Bactria, exposition of Northern Tokharistan in the early Middle Ages, exposition of the age of khanates, numismatic exposition. Thousands of exhibits tell about the many-century history of the region.
The scientific library and the stores of the Termez Archeological Museum hold more than 16,000 unique books, periodicals and historical records. Among them there are valuable manuscripts and lithographic publications in Arabic, Persian and European languages.
Today in Uzbekistan there are more than 40 museums. Almost half of them are located in the capital of the country. And each of them, whether it is the Tashkent Museum to the Victims of Political Repressions or the Andijan Museum of Literature and Art, the Bukhara Architecture and Art Museum-reservation or the Archeological Museum in Termez, all of them possess really unique exhibits which are of everlasting historical and cultural value, and which tell about Uzbekistan – the country on the "golden sector" of the Great Silk Road.