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Tajikistan: Istaravshan Old Town

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Istaravshan Old Town | Tajikistan | Asia

[Visited: June 2010]

After an early rise and an interesting visit to the market, I walked to the old town of Istaravshan. Here, the crowds were gone; instead, I found empty streets. When I saw a lovely minaret, I decided to try my luck at finding the old town of this city that has existed at least 2,500 years and has seen Parthians, Alexander the Great and the Russians as rulers. The street I walked into, had big tubes attached to the exterior of the houses, running the entire length of the street. A few boys decided to walk with me, and they led me to the 15th century medressa of Abdullatif Sultan.

Picture of Istaravshan Old Town (Tajikistan): View of a typical street in the old town of Istaravshan

The medressa is still very much alive, and when I showed up at the open gate, a crowd of boys came running outside from the courtyard. They all wanted their picture taken, posing in all kind of spontaneous ways for my camera, before their master called them inside to give me some peace. I followed the young students into the lovely courtyard, with plenty of flowers, and finally got a view of the Kök Gumbaz or Blue Dome which, to me, seemed more green than blue. The classrooms I passed erupted in enthusiastic shouting as the students inside spotted me, and when I reached the prayer hall right under the dome, I was followed by a crowd of boys. I felt sorry for the teachers, and sat down with the boys who fell silent when an old man entered and prepared to pray. They all assumed solemn poses, and I found myself surrounded by quietly praying young Muslims.

Picture of Istaravshan Old Town (Tajikistan): Kök Gumbaz seen from below

But not for long: as soon as the old man had finished praying, the boys started to run around, pressing themselves in front of my lens, and dragged me to the tower where I climbed to the roof. When I stepped outside, I found myself right under the famed dome and realized how big the calligraphy on its exterior actually is. From here, I was taken by the caretaker to the Hauz-i-Sangin mosque. It was closed when we arrived, but soon the caretaker arrived with a key. The small mosque has superbly painted wooden ceilings in bright colours, while the inside has wooden pillars with a painted ceiling, contrasting with the remarkably modest mihrab. A blind man was the only worshipper, who continued praying after we visited the outside empty pond with the tomb of Shah Fuzail ibn-Abbas. After this visit, I continued strolling through the mostly empty streets and alleys of the authentic old town of Istaravshan, peeking into courtyards of houses whenever I found an open door, being greeted by the very friendly people, before my desire for a hearty lunch took over and I returned to the modern part of Istaravshan.

Picture of Istaravshan Old Town (Tajikistan): Dried hauz in the Hauz-i-Sangin mosque
Picture of Istaravshan Old Town (Tajikistan): Close-up of the tiled artwork in the Blue Dome or Kök Gumbaz
Picture of Istaravshan Old Town (Tajikistan): Calligraphy and geometrical design on the dome of Kök Gumbaz
Picture of Istaravshan Old Town (Tajikistan): Painted beams of the ceiling of the Hauz-i-Sangin mosque
Picture of Istaravshan Old Town (Tajikistan): Delicately painted ceiling of the Hauz-i-Sangin mosque
Picture of Istaravshan Old Town (Tajikistan): Grey wall with blue door in the old town of Istaravshan
Picture of Istaravshan Old Town (Tajikistan): Empty street in the old town of Istaravshan
Picture of Istaravshan Old Town (Tajikistan): Minaret in Istaravshan
Picture of Istaravshan Old Town (Tajikistan): Kök Gumbaz inside the Abdullatif Sultan Medressa
Picture of Istaravshan Old Town (Tajikistan): Street in the old town of Istaravshan
Picture of Istaravshan Old Town (Tajikistan): Kök Gumbaz: detail of the prayer hall
Picture of Istaravshan Old Town (Tajikistan): Hauz-i-Sangin mosque: the mihrab
Picture of Istaravshan Old Town (Tajikistan): Wooden pillars and colourful painted ceiling of Hauz-i-Sangin mosque

Around the World in 80 Clicks

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