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The Grove Encyclopedia of Islamic Art and Architecture What is This? Provides in-depth historical and cultural information on over a thousand years of Islamic art and architecture


    Republic in Central Asia bounded by Uzbekistan to the west, Kyrgyzstan to the north, China to the east and Afghanistan to the south (see fig.). The capital Dushanbe in the west was transformed from a village after 1929 when it was connected to the Transcaspian Railway.

    The history of the territory reflects its position as a gateway to the Transoxiana plains. From the 6th century BCE it was part of the Achaemenid empire until taken by Alexander the Great c.334 BCE. Thereafter it fell within the Greco-Bactrian orbit (mid-3rd century–2nd BCE) until overrun by Yueh-chih and possibly also Saka (Scythian) nomads c.145 BCE. Subsequently the Yueh-chih/Tokharians and one of the Yueh-chih tribes, the Kushanas, held sway: the Kushanas were powerful from the 1st to the 3rd century CE when Ardashir I (r. 224–41) incorporated the region into the Sasanian empire. The Sasanians were overwhelmed by the Huns in 425. Significant Turkic invasions followed, and in the 6–8th centuries the Turkic Khaqanate was dominant. Major pre-Islamic sites have been excavated at Pendzhikent and Khodzhent. The Arab conquest was succeeded by the Tahirids, Saffarids, Samanids and then by the Qarakhanids in the 10th century, the Saljuqs in the 11th and 12th and the Mongols in the 13th and 14th. Despite a sequence of Turkic overlords, the Tajiks themselves remained Iranian, not Turkic, a distinction preserved by their sedentary rather than nomadic existence. For the rest of their history the Tajiks were closely tied to the Uzbeks but maintained a de facto independence on the edge of Uzbek territory. Russian interest in the area in the 18th and 19th centuries led to the taking of Ura tyube and Khodzhent, while the emirate of Bukhara took Karategin and Darwen in the 1870s, so that the area was effectively divided into two parts, north and south, both in the hands of external rulers. After the 1917 Revolution the Russian lands were included in the Turkestan SSR. The nominally independent Bukhara was taken by the Red Army in 1921, and in 1924 the Tajik ASSR, comprising both Russian and Bukharan lands, was created within the Uzbek SSR. In 1929 the area was renamed the Tajik SSR and gained Khodzhent, then part of the Uzbek SSR. As a result of the break-up of the USSR Tajikistan declared independence on 9 September 1991.

    I. Architecture. II. Painting and sculpture. III. Decorative arts.

    I. Architecture

    Fortified structures in Tajikistan, such as the citadels in Hissar, Khodzhent and Isfara, incorporate medieval traditions. Religious buildings (two madrasas in Hissar, dating from the turn of the 18th/19th century and from the mid-19th century respectively) repeat the forms of earlier periods. Tajik architects concentrated on the construction and decoration of town buildings and rural mosques and housing. The widespread and varied use of wood (beamed roofs resting on columns with figured bases and capitals; plank ceilings with lofty cornices) encouraged the development of such kinds of architectural detail as deep relief carving and polychrome tempera painting on wood. Walls were decorated with carved and painted ganch, a local type of stucco distinguished by its white color, and an impression of great richness was created by patterns done in the kundal technique (painting in bright colors, including gilt and silver, on relief ganch ground). Local schools of architectural ornamentation were formed in Ura Tyube, Khodzhent and Isfara, as well as in Samarkand and Bukhara, with their sizeable Tajik populations.


    Map of Turkmenistan; those sites with separate entries in this encyclopedia are distinguished by Cross-reference type

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    In Soviet times the patriarchal life of dilapidated old towns and villages was destroyed by the rapid construction of factories, power stations, railways and planned towns. The capital of Soviet Tajikistan, Dushanbe, was built from scratch on the site of a small village. In the 1930s and 1940s, and again in the 1960s, uniform plans formed the basis for the reconstruction of old towns such as Khodzhent, Kurgan-Tyube, Kanibadam, Isfara, Ura Tyube and Kulyab, while the new industrial towns of Nurek, Tursunzade (Regar) and Yavan were founded in the 1950s and 1960s. Until the late 1960s the architecture of Tajikistan, despite attempts to use traditional local architectural elements, remained a provincial version of general Soviet styles, and projects were usually designed by foreign architects. In the 1970s, given the complex mountainous terrain, high seismicity and hot climate, construction projects tended increasingly to accord with the national heritage (e.g. a school in the resort of Obigarm, 95 km from Dushanbe, 1200–1300 m above sea-level; by M. Bobosaidov, 1980–82; 500-bed sanatorium in a high mountainous gorge at the resort of Khodja obi Garm, 48 km from Dushanbe, 1800–2000 m above sea-level; by Eduard Vladimirovich Ersovsky (b. 1938) and others, 1984).

    II. Painting and sculpture

    The figural arts of Soviet Tajikistan were initially (in the 1920s) bound up with Samarkand, then the capital of the Uzbek SSR, which included the autonomous republic of Tajikistan. After the formation of the Tajik SSR (1929), its purpose-built capital, Dushanbe, became the artistic center, and the painters Eremey Grigorievich Burtsev (1894–1942) and Porphiriy Ivanovich Fal’bov (1906–67), together with the Moscow artists Piotr Nicholaevich Staronosov (1893–1942), Igor Alexandrovich Ershov (1907–74) and others, moved there. In the 1930s the Tajik artist and portrait painter Abdullo Ashurov (1904–77) and the landscape painter M. Khoshmukhamedov began to work. Most artists followed the tradition of Russian Realism, but a few (e.g. P. I. Fal’bov) turned to Expressionism and Revolutionary art. During World War II a series of propaganda posters (e.g. for the Okna Tadzhik TA (“Windows of Tajikistan”), the Tajik telegraphic agency, modeled on the Okna TASS)—colored posters designed by famous Soviet artists and poets—were printed in Dushanbe. In post-war years and in the 1950s the increased number of professional artists, including many who had studied in Leningrad (now St. Petersburg), led to a strengthening of the links between Tajik art and the Russian SFSR and prepared the ground for a more intensive artistic growth in Tajikistan itself. In the 1960s and 1970s many individual talents emerged, including those of the painter Zuhun Nurdjanovich Khabiboulayev (b. 1932); the sculptors Orif Abdur-raufovich Akhunov (b. 1936) and Valimad Odinayev (b. 1945); the monumental artists Asror Tashpulatovich Amindzhanov (b. 1930), Sukhrob Usmanovich Kurbanov (b. 1946), Savzali Negmatovich Sharipov (b. 1946), Murirat Dambunayevich Beknazarov (b. 1943) and Zieratsho Davutov (b. 1946); and the tapestry artist Dot Abdusamatov (b. 1941). Their work, using contemporary forms and methods, but preserving national aesthetic traits, is evidence of the formation of an independent school of contemporary Tajik art. Work of the 1980s shows a wide variety of styles, techniques and subjects, together with heightened interest in the national heritage and a free use of the repertory of world art. The main collections of Tajik art are housed in the Republican, Historical, Regional and Fine Arts Museum in Dushanbe.

    III. Decorative arts

    The Tajiks, who from the earliest times had practiced various kinds of urban crafts, had developed many types of decorative art throughout their territories by the late feudal period. Tajik potters, carvers, gilders, weavers, embroiderers, gold embroiderers, engravers and jewelers worked in Bukhara and Samarkand. In Khodzhent, Isfara, Kanibadam and Ura Tyube, they made ceramics with greenish-blue and brownish-yellow underglaze painting with the portrayal of flowers and Chini-safol (“Chinese motifs”). The expertise of jewelers is shown in the abundance of small lively details and cascades of elegant design, distinguishing women's ornaments (for foreheads, tresses, chests, shoulders, heads etc.) using silver and electroplating, with insets of cabochons of precious stones and hardstones, and fish, bird, half-moon, palm and arch motifs (see also Central asia, §VIII, F). Fabrics exhibited diversity: in Khodzhent more than 60 types of silk and cotton fabrics—striped, patterned and with a bright picture of abr (“cloud”)—were made, while in Ura Tyube a firm and light material (tibit), from sheep's wool and goat and camel hair, was produced. Printed fabrics were widely popular, with images printed in terracotta and black with wooden rollers. In the mountain villages and the valleys the main decoration for the national costume was embroidery with satin-stitch, tambour stitch and a dense small cross-stitch. Many other items were embroidered: bedspreads, towels, personal veils, room friezes, prayer-mats and wall panel-hangings.

    After Central Asia had become part of Russia (c.1860–80), the flow of imported machine-made articles appreciably reduced the local production of fabrics and embroidery by hand. Acquaintance with the output of Russian centers resulted in the appearance in Tajik ornament of foreign decorative motifs, and the introduction of aniline dyes led to coarser, harder coloring. However, these changes did not affect all aspects of art: some branches of traditional handicrafts continued to develop and flourish in the 20th century. In the Soviet period, national artistic traditions took on a new life in the creative works of the masters of ornamental painting (Mirzorahmat Alimov (1891–1971), Yuldashbek Baratekov (1890–1967)), wood-carving (Sirodzhiddin Nuritdinov (b. 1919)), ganch—a type of stucco work, hand embroidery (Zulfiya Bakhretdinova (b. 1922)) and painted ceramics (Ashurbay Mavlyanov (1908–69), Safar Sakhibov (b. 1926), R. Khodzhiev (b. 1914)). In addition to traditional national industries, various decorative arts that were new to Tajikistan developed: tapestry weaving, artistic working of stone and metal and the making of porcelain and contemporary ceramics.


    • Enc. Islam/2: “Tādjīkistān”
    • L. Aini: Iskusstvo Tadzhikskoi SSR [Art of the Tajik SSR] (Leningrad, 1972) [in Tajik, Rus. and Eng.]
    • N. Yunusova: Tadzhikskaya vyshivka [Tajik embroidery] (Moscow, 1979)
    • N. Bellinskaya, M. Ruziev and N. Yunusova: Po zakonam krasoty [According to the law of beauty] (Dushanbe, 1981)
    • V. G. Vecelovskiy, R. S. Mukimov and M. Kh. Mamadnuzarov: Architektura Sovetskogo Tadzhikistana [Architecture of Soviet Tajikistan] (Moscow, 1987)
    • L. S. Aini: Izobrazitelnoye iskusstvo Tadzhikskoi (Moscow, 1990) [album]
    • A. I. Maniakhina and N. N. Negmatov: Katalog fondov Severo-Tadzhikistanskoi arkheologicheskoi kompleksnoi ekspeditsii (Dushanbe, 1997) [Catalogue of the finds of the Northern Tajik archaeological expedition]
    • N. Z. Yunusova: “Tajik Skullcap,” J. Cent. Asia, xx/1 (1997), pp. 1–27
    • N. Nekrasova, P. Clark and A. J. Ahmed: Treasures from Central Asia: Islamic Art Objects in the State Museum of Oriental Art, Moscow (London, 1998)
    • A. Rajabov, P. Dzhamshedov and M. Mamadnazarov: Ancient Cilivization [sic] and its Role in Formation and Developing of Central Asian Culture of Samanides Epoch (Dushanbe, 1999)
    • B. I. Marshak and V. A. Livshitz: Legends, Tales, and Fables in the Art of Sogdiana (New York, 2002)
    • G. Maitdinova and N. N. Negmatov: Istoriia tadzhikskogo kostiuma (Dushanbe, 2003) [History of Tajik costume]
    • R. M. Masov, S. G. Bobomulloev and M. A. Bubnova: Osorkhonai millii bostonii Tojikiston/Natsional’nyi muzei drevnostei Tadzhikistana/Musée National des Antiquités du Tadjikistan/National Museum of Antiquities of Tajikistan (Dushanbe(?), 2005)
    • M. Dinorshoev: “Tajikistan,” Towards the Contemporary Period: From the Mid-nineteenth to the End of the Twentieth Century, ed. M. K. Palat and A. Tabyshalieva, vi of History of civilizations of Central Asia (Paris, 2005), pp. 289–303
    • R. S. Mukimov and S. M. Mamadzhanova: Arkhitekturno-khudozhestvennoe nasledie TSentral’noi Azii [Architectural and artistic heritage of Central Asia] (Dushanbe, 2006) [Russian; Summary and table of contents in English]
    • A. Rajabov and R. S. Mukimov: Ocherki istorii i teorii kul’tury tadzhikskogo naroda (Dushanbe, 2006) [Notes on the history and theory of the culture of the Tajik people]
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