Remember shoegazing, that 1980s genre? Well, had any of those musicians been in Ulug Beg Madrasa, in Samarkand, they’d have missed this.
Sometimes it’s useful to be walking with one eye to the heavens and one to the floor. Especially in places such as Bibi Khanum mosque, where toddlers chase each other at ground level and masonry has a habit to fall from above. Tamerlane wanted it great and done quickly: he might’ve been the destroyer of Delhi and Baghdad, but even him ended up ripped off by the contractors.
Move over to the opposite side of town. A leafy boulevard, with not much but for a decent restaurant and a club pumping hardbass music behind blackened-out windows at 2PM. Enter the Orthodox church on the corner, stand in front of the altar and look up. You can almost hear the valzer. Da-da-da-da-daaa-daa…
Not far from there – it’s just a couple of wide alleys, odd statues and suicidal pedestrian crossings – it’s another place of worship, at least judging by the elderly ladies praying. But this is no church or mosque. It’s Tamerlane’s mausoleum. The tomb of the destroyer of so many Muslim cities is now a place of pilgrimage by devout Muslims. Sod orthodoxy.
Again, outskirts. Bukhara, this time. Centuries before Islam, the prophet Job happened to pass by and found Bukhara in the midst of a terrible drought. He saw the suffering and decided to do something about it. He struck his walking stick in the ground and – right there! – a sweet water spring appeared, as if by magic. Today the spring – Chasma Ayub – is still there.
The Ark, despite its architectonic quirks, gave me a distinct impression of oppression, stale air, meaningless gestures, threat. Still, looking up at the ceiling of its in-built mosque one wouldn’t feel anything but this.
There’s yet another mosque next to the Ark, past the rather stinky (I guess that makes it authentic) Bolo reservoir, or hauz. Bolo Hauz mosque. Warm tones on the outside – wood, ochre, orange, red velvets – and on the inside… this. Picture me surprised, but in a nice way.
There’s a road, in Naples, called strada dell’anticaglia. It could be translated as “road of old tat” and its name is due to the amount of Roman architecture that sprouts out of everywhere in that street, evidently in the way of the exasperated locals who just wanted to build their homes without digging up yet another amphora. If these ceilings have given you the same feeling – old cupolas, old domes, Tamerlane, old old old – then I’ve got a partying gift. Chorsu Bazaar, Tashkent. Say hello to God knows how many meters of tangible Socialism.