Ferghana Valley, a Unique Centre of Artistic Culture

Issue #3 • 2012

Ferghana Valley is one of the most ancient centres of civilization and culture. Davang was the name given by the II c. BC – V c. AD Chinese sources to the nation that existed in the Ferghana Valley. The expedition of the Chinese ambassador and traveller Zhang Qian to Davan facilitated the discovery of the Great Silk Road, which was to connect different nations, countries, cultures and traditions for many centuries. In the centuries that followed, Ferghana becomes a key point on the highways connecting China with other countries. For many centuries Ferghana has not been influenced by any of the great empires of the Achaemenids, Alexander the Great, or the Seleucids, which effected the development of its culture and art.
As evidenced by archaeological research, agricultural development in the Ferghana Valley began in the late Bronze Age, from the last quarter of the II millennium BC (1, p. 25). Since the first farming culture monument in the Ferghana Valley was found in Chust, this ancient culture became known as that of Chust, with more than 80 monuments known to date, including ancient settlement sites of Ashkaltepa, Dalverzin, Chust, Dekhkan, Osh, and Hojambag. The development of urban culture in Ferghana in the late Bronze Age is evidenced by an advanced defence and citadel infrastructure (2, pp. 23-28, 186-190).

The establishment of urban culture and statehood in Ferghana dates to the V-IV cc. BC, when manufacturing and trade were developing rapidly. According to Zhang Qian, in the II century BC, Davang had more than 70 large and small towns (3, pp. 149, 187). The Davang territory covered the whole of the Ferghana Valley, with capital in Ershi city. Davang was a patriarchal slave-owning nation controlled by the king and the council of elders; a kind of union of towns and oases. The population of Davang, according to sources, ranged from 300,000 to 600,000 inhabitants. Besides farming, people engaged in cattle breeding, trade, viticulture, and horse breeding, as well as cottage industries such as pottery, weaving, metal-working and jewellery-making. The farming culture of Davan interacted closely with the culture of nomadic tribes from mountain and foothill areas surrounding the Valley. At the same time, Fergana had trade contacts with Bactria, Sogdiana, Parthia, and China.

Ancient terracotta figurines found in the Ferghana Valley suggest that local people worshiped female goddesses of fertility and the sun; animalistic cult was also present, notably that of a horse, which ancient sources referred to as heavenly.
Marghilan, one of the oldest cities in Central Asia, saw the invasion of Alexander the Great who had gone all the way from Khojent to Uzgen and back through the city that was later named Marghilan.
The Ferghana Valley gives rise to a peculiar interpretation of Buddhism associated with the city of Quva, whose name comes from the Turkic tribe Quva known among Kyrgyz and Uzbek people. The exact date when the city was founded is unknown, yet archaeologists studying the ancient settlement site date it to the III century BC. Research based on Arabic texts of the VII-X centuries suggests that the Medieval settlement was known as the city of Quba situated on the ancient caravan route connecting the Valley with Kashgar. Quba once was the second largest city in the area after Akhsiket, the ancient capital of the Fergana Valley, destroyed during the Mongol invasion in the early XIII century. The ancient city consisted of a citadel, a shakhristan (inner city), and rabad (residential quarters). In the Middle Ages, Quva played an important economic and political role in the Ferghana Valley, with its developed cottage industries, especially pottery, jewellery-making, and metal-working.
As for Buddhist monuments and the likelihood of the Buddhism propagation in Ferghana, in the Quva site they discovered a temple (VII-VIII cc.), which most scholars call Buddhist, following its researcher V. A. Bulatova

(4). The temple consisted of two chambers with platforms and wall-side raised supports for Buddhist clay statues, incense burners, and lamps. Excavations uncovered a piece of a large Buddha statue, fragments of other statues and multi-coloured murals, as well as sculptures of Buddha’s antipodes – gods whose appearance was meant to avert the believers from earthly passions. Particularly interesting is a black-painted head of goddess Sri Devi. The goddess is depicted as a furious female wearing horrible necklace and a crown of human skulls; she is escorted by dakini Makaravaktra (with the face of a sea monster) and dakini Simhazaktra (with the face of a lion). Numerous hymns hail Sri Devi as a powerful and just votress of faith (5, p. 241).
Iconographic analysis of sculptural fragments Bulatova discovered during the excavations suggests that the temple belongs to the new current in Buddhism, which began to evolve only in the second half of the I millennium AD, the Vajrayana. At an early stage of its development the trend spread widely in Khotan, and perhaps from there it propagated to Ferghana. Thus, the emergence and existence of Buddhism in Ferghana was to be the result of connections with the East Turkistan rather than neighbouring historical and cultural regions of Central Asia.

In the VI-VIII centuries, Ferghana Valley area was strongly influenced by both the Sogdians and the Turks. The presence of Turkic settlements in the Fergana Valley is evidenced by Turkic runic inscriptions on utility objects, as well as by burial mounds of Turkic warriors. The Ferghana Valley, perhaps even more than other regions, was affected by ‘turkization’. Many Turks lived in the Maverannahr even till the XI century, more of them in Shash and Ferghana, fewer in Zarafshan and Kashkadarya river valleys (6, p. 269). In the VIII-IX centuries, Turkic penetration was particularly intense in Ferghana and Shash area, which contributed to the ‘turkization’ of language and culture. At the end of the VII and early VIII centuries, Fergana became an independent principality headed by the local ruler, ikhshid. Throughout the VIII century, the land was captured by Chinese armies twice.
The Arab invasion could not but affect the Ferghana Valley, too. Thus, Kuteiba, the governor of Khorasan, also fought in Ferghana and went as far as Kashgar, reinforcing Arab garrisons, posting Arab governors, and collecting tribute everywhere. During the marches, as everywhere else, propagation of Islam was given great importance. The Arab invasion and islamization of the Ferghana Valley lasted about a century. In the Middle Ages, the Ferghana Valley becomes one of the key principalities of Maverannahr, and its urban culture development progresses. Strong impact on the development of the Ferghana Valley cities was produced by the Great Silk Road. Thus, in the X century, Marghilan was the largest city in the Fergana oasis, famous for its silk fabrics exported by merchants to Egypt, Greece, Baghdad, Khorasan and Kashgar along the Silk Road. In Marghilan, the monuments of Islamic period have survived since the late XIX century. These are the Chakar mosque and Saeed Ahmad Hoja madrasah (XIX c.).
The first written mention of the Havokand (Kokand) city is found in the X century chronicles as of a city that lay on the Silk Road and was famous for its handicrafts. In the XIII c. it was destroyed by the Mongols. The modern-day Kokand grew from a fort built in 1732. In 1740 it became the capital of the Kokand Khanate: in the first half of the XIX century its territory covered much of the present-day Uzbekistan, part of Southern Kazakhstan, Kyrgyzstan, Tajikistan and China. Over the time the Khanate existed, it saw 29 rulers. The city had more than 35 madrasah and about 300 mosques.

Of all the rulers of Kokand, the most remarkable one was the last khan Khudoyar. In 1845, at the age of twelve, he became the ruler of the nation and reigned until 1876, when the Khanate was annexed to the tsarist Russia. Over that period, four times Khudoyar lost and regained his throne. During his reign the city saw major improvements: the construction of guzars, mosques, madrasahs… The most significant building of that period is the Khudoyarkhan Palace (1871-1873); Mir Ubaidullah is named to be its designer and architect. It is known that to build the palace, not only masters from Kokand, Kanibadam, Chust, Namangan, and Uratyube were engaged, but also the Kashgar masters. The total area of the palace is four hectares; its foundation is raised to 9.84 feet. For this reason, a ramp was constructed on the east side to facilitate the entrance to the main gate. The upper part of darvozakhona features an inscription in Arabic ligature, reading ‘The Great Saeed Muhammad Khudoyarkhan’. The original building was 138 metres long and 65 metres wide. It consisted of seven courtyards and 119 chambers. At that time, urda was surrounded by inner and outer fences, which have not survived; only 2 courtyards and 19 chambers remained. The 70 metres long facade dazzles the viewer with colourfulness and rich ornamentation of geometric designs, arabesques and vegetable motifs. The structure represents traditional mastery and skill of the Ferghana Valley artisans (7, p. 134).
Andijan, the former capital of the medieval Fergana, emerged after the Mongol invasion of Maverannahr during the time of a Chagatai ruler Duva-khan. Yet other sources claim that already in the first century Andijan was part of the Kushan Empire. While the city was conquered by the Arabs, it was known as major trade center on the Silk Road, and in the IX-X centuries was part of the Samanid state. In the XIV century, during the reign of Timur, manufacturing industries grew fast in the city. In the XV century chronicles the city is mentioned as Andigan, now ruled by Zakhiriddin Muhammad Bobur, great statesman, scholar, poet, historian, and the author of the famous book, ‘Babur-nama’, who later became the founder of the great Mughal Empire in India. By that time, the city center was fenced by a fort wall. In the XVI century the city was conquered by the Saheibanids, and later became part of the Kokand Khanate.

Here is what Zakhiriddin Muhammad Babur wrote of his native Andijan: “There are seven cities in Ferghana, five of them on the southern bank of the river Seyhun, and two on the northern. One of the southern bank cities is Andijan, the one situated in the middle. It is the capital of Fergana Province. Bread and fruit are abundant there, and melons and grapes are good… In Maverannahr, except Samarqand and Kesh, there is no fort greater than Andijan. The city has three gates, and the Andijan ark is located on the south side. Water comes to the city over nine canals; the most amazing thing is that it never comes out anywhere… The residents of Andijan are all Turkic; there is no man in the city or in the market place who would not know Turkic. The dialect people speak is similar to the literary one; the compositions of Alisher Navoi, although he grew up and was educated in Herat, are written in this language…” (8, p. 29-30). Among the cultural heritage monuments of Andijan is Jami compound covering an area of 1.5 hectares, which includes a madrasah, a mosque and a minaret.

Jami madrasah (1883-1890) catches the eye by its impressive look and dimensions. It has a symmetrical layout and faces east; in the centre of the facade there is a traditional Fergana portal with a lancet niche, arched gallery, and two ornamental towers with ornamental lanterns. Domed classrooms are located at the corners of the building; between them are two levels of hujras. The plane wall of the ground floor is cut through by rectangular screened windows. The upper level hujras are underlined by the rhythm of lancet arch niches with exits onto a terrace-roof, which lends splendour to the facade.

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