Uzbekistan - post 1 - Khiva

I’m back after a trip to Uzbekistan (and Istanbul).

This first post about the trip will be rather long as I imagine most of my readers may not be too knowledgeable when it comes to Uzbekistan and some information about the country may hopefully be of interest.

Here is first a map with some (very) approximate borders. We are in Central Asia. The country is surrounded by a number of ‘stan countries: Kazakhstan, Kyrgyzstan, Tajikistan, Turkmenistan, Afghanistan.

I travelled by plane from the capital Tashkent to Khiva (via the nearby airport at Ourguentch), by bus to Bukhara, again by bus to Sharisabz, by car to Samarkand, by train back to Tashkent.

Here we can see that the country is largely occupied by deserts and step land. Rivers offer some greener land. Irrigation projects, especially during the 1960’s and 70’s, linked to cotton production, has led to the more or less total disappearance of the Ural Sea and general high soil salinity.

The history of the country is closely linked to the Silk Road, which during centuries assured the transmission of trade and culture between the West and the East – until the sea routes took over. The Silk Road took many ways, but Bukhara and Samarkand were always some kind of concentration points. 

Some history facts about Central Asia and Uzbekistan:  In ancient times the region was dominated by sedentary and semi-nomadic Iranian civilisations. Alexander the Great tried to conquer the region around 300 BC. Between the 5th and 10th centuries there was an expansion of Turkic peoples, including the Uzbeks, but also the Arabs arrived during the 7th century. Genghis Khan and the Mongols invaded – and devastated – the region during the 13th century. A Turko-Mongol tribal chieftain, Timur (Tamerlane) was at his death in 1405 at the head of an empire which covered also present Iran, part of Iraq, Afghanistan, Pakistan… Timur was known for extreme brutality, but also imitated a Perso-Islamic culture and many of the architectural – restored - masterpieces we can see today date from his period.  He also patronized physicians, scientists, artists… Timur is today somehow considered as the Father of the Uzbek Nation and his statue is to be found at many places. Descendants of the Khan-Mongols, split in different emirates, ruled until the arrival of Russians during the 19th century followed by the Bolsheviks after the Russian Revolution and Uzbekistan and its neighbour countries were incorporated into the Soviet Union. Uzbekistan declared its independence in 1991.  Uzbek is the official language but Russian is widely used.

The climate is of course very continental - hot summers, cold winters. Tourism is concentrated to spring and autumn.

Uzbekistan is a leading producer and exporter of cotton and gold and has great resources of gas, oil, coal, copper, silver, uranium… Unemployment is quite high, “saved” by strong family solidarity. 

The country has some 30 million inhabitants. Close to 90% are Sunni Muslims, but obviously very moderate – you hardly see any burkas.

People are smiling, friendly and the selling of local products to tourists is done in a relaxed, non-aggressive way and with an impressive use of different languages.

Well, there is a lot more to be said, but I must stop now. 

This first report will thus concentrate on Khiva.

Arriving by a local flight from the capital Tashkent to the city of Ourguentch, a thirty minutes’ drive will bring you to this old city and its central part, surrounded by a wall with foundations from the 10th century, but basically from the 17th century. 

From the top of the wall, you have some excellent views of the town center (see also top picture). 

Here are some further views of different mosques, madrasas (educational institutions), mausoleums… I refrain to tell you about the names and story behind all of these, but please notice the large “tower” which actually is the beginning of a gigantic minaret, which never has been completed. Although most buildings have been built, rebuilt, during the 18th 19th centuries and restored more recently, there are of course traces of older structures. The hypostyle (roof supported by columns) Djuna mosque contains 112 columns taken from ancient buildings.

There is a statue of Al-Xorazmy, a mathematician, astronomer and geographer (c 780-850) who obviously was born in or close to Khiva. Latin translations of his works during the 12th century introduced the decimal system to the Western world. He is considered as the original inventor of algebra. 

Water supply is of course “modern” (although tourists should rather consume bottled water), but you can find some old dwells still in use.  

An example of the local bread production.

In a museum you can see some examples of old costumes… Men still often wear the traditional Uzbek hats.

Some photos of local people.

Especially early mornings you can see a number of women sweeping the streets. In general, you can notice how streets and public places in Uzbekistan are extremely clean – no cigarette butts to be found on the ground.  

In a next episode we take the road to Bukhara.      


I'm off again for a little while...

I will be absent from blogging until the end of the month. I will spend some time in Uzbekistan (Samarkand, Bukhara - the Silk Road...) and a few days in Istanbul on the way back. I hope to bring you some souvenir pictures. In the meantime, I made a post about the Pasteur Museum in Paris - see below.

See you again (rather) soon! 

The Paris Pasteur Museum

Louis Pasteur (1822-95) is of course known for different vaccinations, microbial fermentation, pasteurization… How many lives have been saved thanks to his research, his discoveries?

He was the founder of the Pasteur Institute which opened in 1888. Today the Institute occupies a large area in the 15th arrondissement.

The workforce is of some 2400 (60 nationalities) + some 500 students. … and there are today some 32 Pasteur Institutes worldwide. The Pasteur Institute is a leading biomedical research organization. It has offered solutions or improvements of methods to fight against diphtheria, tetanus, tuberculosis, poliomyelitis, influenza, yellow fever, plague… The Institute was the first to isolate HIV (AIDS virus). Ten of the Institute’s scientists have been awarded the Nobel Prize. It’s a private, non-profit organisation. The funding include donations, licensing royalties, French government subsidies…

The Institute was created thanks to fund raising. The donators also wanted to offer a decent place for the Pasteur couple to live in and the apartment can be visited. Louis Pasteur’s wife lived here until her death in 1910.

The apartment was more or less empty until 1935, when his grandson, who had kept all family furniture and objects, offered it all to the Institute. Since 1936 this is now a Pasteur Museum

Here we can see Louis Pasteur on a photo (by Nadar) and on a famous painting (by Albert Edelfelt) – one in the apartment, one at the Orsay Mauseum. We can also see a photo of his wife, Marie-Laurent. She was not only the mother of their five children, whereof only two lived to an adult age, but also by some considered as his best and very active collaborator.  There is also a portrait that Louis Pasteur made of his mother. He made a number of excellent portraits and other paintings until the age of 20, when he gave it up. 

Some photos from the apartment in one of the original buildings - many have been added since. I could draw your special attention to the portrait of Pasteur + grandchild, offered by the owner of the Carlsberg Breweries. They owed great thanks to Pasteur for his help with beer fermentation methods.

One of the rooms is displaying tools used by Pasteur in his different laboratories.  

Louis Pasteur was offered great national funerals at the Notre Dame. The wish was to give him a grave at the Paris Pantheon, but his wife insisted on having him buried in the basement of their home. This is some kind of extravagant mausoleum decorated with mosaics  see also top picture. 


Square Louvois

There is a quiet little square in the 2nd arrondissement, close to the Bibliothèque Nationale (National Library) with the name Square Louvois. (The Marquis de Louvois, minister under Louis XIV, had once a residence here.) In the middle of the square (prepared by the usual Paris “park team”, Alphand and Davioud)  you can find an imposing fountain – the day of my visit the water was however missing – created in 1844 (or 1839?) by Louis Visconti - also known for the tomb of Napoleon (see my post here) and for other great fountains, the Saint-Sulpice one (see my post here), the Molière one (see my post here) … and a lot more. For this one he was helped by the sculptor J-P-J Klagmann, who created the four ladies representing four French rivers, Seine, Loire, Saône, and Garonne.

(The building in the background is the National Library.)

There are four tritons, mounted on dolphins.

These twelve mascarons should normally spout water.  

The fountain is beautiful, was last time renovated in 1974 and may now need some new refreshing.

So, where the fountain now stands used, as aid above, to stand the Paris home of the Marquis de Louvois. But the place is particularly known for something else; it used to be the place of one of Paris’ opera houses. There have been many opera buildings in Paris since the first one was created during the 17th century, some for very short periods. Many of them disappeared by fire, others were demolished…  Today we have the Opera Garnier (see previous posts) and the Opera Bastille (see previous post). I posted about another disappeared one, the one preceding Opera Garnier, here
The opera house which stood where we now have Square Louvois was in operation between 1793 and 1820. It’s known with many names – also due to the fact that France then lived a period with a number of changing regimes – revolution, Napoleon, royalty… : Théàtre National, Théâtre des Arts, Théàtre de la République et des Arts, Salle de la Rue de la Loi, Salle de la Rue de Richelieu (the street name changed), Salle Montansier... after Mademoiselle Montansier who actually originally created the theatre, but lost it to the state in 1794. (You should read about her here, she had a remarkable career.)

Some events are linked to this theatre. Bonaparte, then first consul, escaped in 1800 from an attack on his way to the opera – 22 dead and 56 injured. In 1820, the Duke of Berry was mortally wounded (by an anti-royal bonapartist), when leaving the theatre. He was the son of the future King Charles X and the one who could still potentially offer a heir, a future King, to the House of Bourbon. However, his wife was pregnant and seven months later a son was born, who however finally failed to become a King (under the name of Henry V) when in 1830 Louis-Philippe of the Orleans branch took over. (Since then there is a dispute between the Bourbon and the Orleans branches about who should be considered as King, if France decided to bring back royalty to power – which of course is doubtful. J)

The murder however completely upset the royalty and it was decided to demolish the theatre where the attack took place. Instead an expiatory monument, a memorial, was built, which however soon disappeared and was replaced by the present fountain. 

There was actually another theatre on one side of the square, Théâtre Louvois, which was demolished in 1825, but which for a very short period, after the destruction of the Théâtre National, was used for operas.

Here is what the area looked like in 1816 … and today.  


"In Situ" art festival

Fort Aubervilliers is a former fortress, built 1842-46, for the defense of Paris. The site is now subject for renewal, although the plans seem no yet quite clear. One problem is that radio-activity research took place here during the 1920’s and although decontamination has been undertaken there seems to be some worries. The latest decades part of the area has been used for industrial activities including car demolition. The place is now emptied and before preparing for new projects, the area was this year opened for street art.

Some 50 international street artists were invited to participate: Guy Denning, Dan23, Lavalet, Ripo, Borondo (top picture), 13Bis, Jef Aerosol, FKDL, David Walker, Faucheur, Mosko, Jana&JS, Kenor…  .

When you take the little road to the former industrial area you are guided by CyKlop’s works.

Buildings and walls are all covered. 

The car demolishers who used to work here, obviously left a few cars for the artists.

Maybe a special mention for this 1200 m2 painting by Jorge Rodriguez Gerada. It must be seen from the sky. (I just copied a photo of a photo.)

There is even a chance to get restored.

The last chance to see this is now, in September (during weekends).

Here is where it’s located, just north-east of the Paris city border. This is also where the Bartabas – Zingaro horse shows take place.  You can see one example of what has been planned for the area. Will it be this one?