Shoira Nurmukhamedova. Life Dedicated to Science. (Celebrating the 100th anniversary of V. L. Voronina (1910 – 2000))

Issue #4 • 1293

Man cannot live forever,

Though happy is the one
Wwhose name will be remembered
A. Navoi

V. L. Voronin and E. V. Rtveladze The span of human life is very short on the history scale – just a brief moment between the past and the future. Yet for an individual it is a long and challenging path that everyone must take on his own. It depends on the person to make this lifetime journey interesting, eventful and memorable. One deserves to be remembered for dedicating one’s life to science, especially if that one is a woman who for many years has researched the history of Central Asian architecture.

Veronica L. Voronina is a scholar who contributed her in-depth research to the architectural studies in Central Asia, allowing her to rank among other merited researchers. Regular participation in archaeological expeditions to the ancient lands of Central Asia, such as Khorezm, Sogdiana, Ustrushana and Shash, enabled Voronina to collect extensive material, based on which some fundamental works on architecture of different time periods were created. The range of the scholar’s professional interests is huge, covering issues related to building materials and structures, as well as to the development of ancient and early medieval towns, fortifications, pre-Islamic cult buildings, traditional architecture, etc. These issues have been covered in more than 300 academic papers. As a result, considerable material was amassed to make scientific generalizations on Central Asian architecture.

The temple of the ancient Penjikent. Reconstruction by Voronina. VI-VIII cc. Voronina participated in the following field work expeditions: to Ak-Tepe near Tashkent (Institute of History and Archaeology of Uzbekistan branch of the Academy of Sciences (AS) and UzNII [Research Institute] (1940-1941); Farkhad archaeological expedition of the USSR’s LIIMK of the AS and the State Hermitage Museum to Munchaktepa excavations near Begovat (1944); Khorezm Archaeological Expedition of the USSR’s AS (1945-1946); Tajik-Sogdian archaeological expedition of the LIIMK of the AS and the Academy of Sciences of the Tajik SSR, excavations of Pyanjikent ancient settlement on Zerafshan river (1946 and subsequent years); and archaeological expedition of the State Hermitage Museum and the Fergana Regional Museum of local lore (1968).

Voronina paid particular attention to everything related to construction equipment, from Antiquity to advanced Middle Ages, as she believed that “Specificity of Central Asian architecture is in the harmonious unity of art and technology” (1, p. 3). The research was not merely theoretical; it also suggested several options for building arches of different configuration and some ideas with regard to their prevalence across regions of Central Asia. When describing the ancient construction technique, Voronina proved it rational, clever and justified, rather than primitive, expressed in the wall work and in the curves and designs of archways and vaults.

Traditional architecture had always been given a special emphasis in Voronina’s academic work, and for this reason she chose Uzbek residential architecture to be the topic of her candidate degree thesis (08.05.1963). Voronina believed that of all structures, residential buildings were “the most responsive to geographical and temporal variations and always most representative of local trends”. The scholar identified compositional specificities of traditional architecture in Fergana, Khorezm, Surkhandarya and Kashkadarya regions and in Tajikistan, and the compositional analysis thereof enabled her to draw analogies to the architecture of residential buildings in places such as Greece and Rome (similar layout and three-dimensional composition techniques); Azerbaijan and Tatarstan, and some oriental countries, namely China and Japan (for example, Voronina found the layout of a Chinese home to be similar to one in Fergana); India (external similarity); Afghanistan (common features, such as flat roof and similar structural components); Iran, Turkey and Egypt. These numerous parallels enabled Voronina to classify Uzbek dwelling as a special type of true architecture and describe it as “poetic”, “soft” and “harmonious”, clearly identifying the great variety of compositional techniques, architectural modulations, and decorative and progressive innovations. In all this, beyond doubt, Voronina could recognize sound architectural judgment of traditional arts masters of Central Asia.

Pillars from the Fatmev village. IX-X cc. Voronina’s attention was drawn to the VI-VIII cc. architecture. She believed that the study of it, “like a litmus test”, would help highlight key developments in architecture (2, p. 157). The study looked into the formation of early medieval Central Asia towns: their evolution, design and fortifications, buildings and utilities. Examining the early medieval towns in Central Asia in historical perspective and comparing them with the cities of the Middle East (Iran, Mesopotamia), Voronina proved that they had their own development pattern determined by the layout of ancient settlements.

Rejecting the “Muslim Architecture” concept as such (which is so popular overseas), Voronina argued that many shapes found in mosques, madrasahs and mausoleums, which, on the face of it, were determined by Islam, were actually based on local roots and traditions. In Central Asian architecture Islamic influence manifested itself in the emergence of special cult buildings, moderate use of pictorial ornamentation and the encouragement of geometric designs and epigraphy: “Contribution of Islam to symbolism is of an entirely different kind: the notions of nature, time and space are treated in a system of cosmogony, geometry and mathematical numbers” (3, p. 258).

Pillars from of Obburdon. IX-X cc. The scientist was particularly known for drawing extensive geographical and epigraphic parallels in architecture: when addressing major problems, such as identification of local construction schools, Voronina carefully studied rather unremarkable architectural monuments without any particular merits, yet typifying local construction schools and filling the gaps in architectural chronology in Central Asia (for example, Hoja Magyz, Posho Pirim, and Bustan Buva mausoleums in Margilan). Another example of these parallels is her long-term (more than 10 years) study of the ancient Pyanjikent settlement (Tajikistan) with intact building remains dating to pre-Arabic period, which, apparently, was the only systematically studied Sogdian city by that time. The entire town-complex was studied: residential (three types of houses), public, cult (temples) and burial structures, their design and ornamentation were examined in sufficient detail. Using the example of the ancient Tajik settlement, Voronina was able to demonstrate cultural originality of Central Asian nations and their highly developed architecture.

A. Y. Jakubowski noted that Tajiks and Uzbeks are connected in their past “not only by the centuries of living side by side, their common culture and lifestyle, but also ethnically…” (4, p. 7). Thanks to these extensive parallels Voronina managed to draw an analogy between Samani dynasty mausoleum and monuments in the West: the mausoleums in Cairo (Saba Banat, 1010), India (Mahmud Shah mausoleum in Mandu, 1450), and Gol-Gumbaz in Bijapur (1660), where besides the square plane and five domes, “the main feature common to all of them is an arched gallery belt around the walls” (5, p. 194). This makes it possible to conclude that medieval kiosk-type structures were common in the area stretching from the Ganges to the Atlantic.

Khoja Isa Mausoleum. XI-XII cc. As new data on Central Asian monuments amassed, the scholar’s academic interests expanded through her studies of architectural details and ornamentation of Central Asian monuments, which served as another source of information about pre-Islamic beliefs that existed on the territory of Central Asia. Again, Pyanjikent played a major role here: it was the site where the Sogdian-Tajik archaeological field work team (1946-1947), with Voronina’s immediate engagement, for the first time discovered the most ancient (pre-Islamic) wood carving artifacts: the Obburdon, Kurut, Fatmev and Urmitan columns, as well as Iskodar mihrab, testifying to the presence of a farming cult and water-related symbolism; there items were included in the annals of Central Asia wooden sculpture. Voronina noted the presence of a “sign system” in pre-Islamic symbolism, rooted in antiquity and related to the world of plants or animals. These symbols turned out to be so enduring, both in time and geography, that they were used throughout the vast Islamic territories – even as far as Atlantic shores.

It should be noted that before Voronina, the issues of architectural ornamentation were addressed by B. P. Dennike (6), G. I. Gaganov (7), and L. I. Rempel (8). Voronina herself identified two main areas in the classification of ornament: by content (vegetable, geometric, zoomorphic, architectural), and by function, i.e. the ornament position on the building (a panel, a mural, a tympanum, or ribbon designs). It is interesting that being knowledgeable about the forms and ornamentation of the East (Iran, Egypt, Jordan), she “assessed many specimens not in the light of individual associations and borrowings, but as an integral art phenomenon” (9, p. 193).

The Samanid Mausoleum and its Western analogies. The present author believes that Voronina managed to develop some good insights into the secrets of medieval architects. Exploring aspects of architectural composition such as tectonics, aesthetics, combinations and chiaroscuro in Central Asian architecture, she aspired to reveal the secrets of artistic expression in medieval architecture and identify their primary characteristics. Her studies looked at closely interconnected geometry and function, shape and environment, tectonics and dome-support systems – that is, “an architectural structure as an integrated organism where all parts interact”. For example, Voronina clearly identified the value given by the architects to the play of light and shadow, which revealed the wall tectonics. For greater effect, they constructed special vertical elements that made the fa?ade surface appear smoother with the play of light and shadow; in the XII century these elements were replaced by a relief pattern or carved terracotta. Having examined a large number of monuments, Voronina discovered that medieval architects took into account positive and negative effects of daylight and, accordingly, “invented a number of plastic shapes: rounded and peaked domes with ribbed shell, ways to frame the portal arches, and expressive details”.

With the passage of time buildings vanish and the names of their creators and explorers gradually become obscured. But there comes a time when one needs to remember their names and pay tribute to scholars whose academic work we keep referring to, and who dedicated their life to science.

We hope that a new generation of researchers will carry on the work of the truly outstanding scientists with an equal dedication for the benefit of domestic science and promotion of Central Asian architectural treasures worldwide.

1. Воронина В. Л. Древняя строительная техника Средней Азии // АН, 1953, № 3.
2. Воронина В. Л. Ислам и архитектура (на примере Средней Азии) // АН, 1984, №32.
3. Воронина В. Л. Доисламская символика в архитектуре Средней Азии и зарубежного Востока // АН, 1985, № 33.
4. Якубовский А. Ю. Введение // МИА СССР, 1950, № 15.
5. Воронина В. Л. Мавзолей Саманидов и его зарубежные аналоги // АН, 1985, № 33.
6. Деннике Б. П. Архитектурный орнамент Средней Азии, 1939.
7. Гаганов Г. И. Геометрический орнамент Средней Азии. АН, № 11, 1958.
8. Ремпель Л. И. Архитектурный орнамент Узбекистана, 1961.
9. Воронина В. Л. Архитектурный орнамент Средней Азии (вопросы классификации) //АН, 1980, № 28.

Shoira Nurmukhamedova

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