Uzbekistan Culture

The culture of Uzbekistan is vibrant and unique—it was formed over thousands of years, incorporating the traditions and customs of the peoples who at various times inhabited the territory of modern Uzbekistan.

The ancient Persians, Greeks, Arabs, Chinese, Russians, and nomadic Turkic tribes have all contributed to Uzbek culture, which is considered the epitome of Central Asian, crossroads cultures. The traditions reflecting the multinational nature of Uzbekistan are omnipresent in its music, dance, painting, applied arts, language, cuisine, and clothing. Each region of Uzbekistan has its own unique shades as well, which are most clearly manifested in national dress and local dialects.

To get acquainted with such richness and diversity, one must travel around the whole country, but the festivals of Uzbekistan are a great events for those who want to see the whole palette of culture in this country in one place. The festivals attract creative souls from all regions of the country, and here that you can see the full assortment of Uzbek dances, music, applied arts, etc.

Uzbek Fine Art

Oriental craftsmen always were renowned for own peculiar fine talent, which is shown in full in decoration and adornments of magnificent palaces, mausoleums and other religious buildings. As a rule, general fine art works include ornament, patterns and calligraphy. Islamic traditions forbid to image people and animals, therefore craftsmen started developing more abstract directions, bringing them to perfection. Later a new direction appeared in Uzbekistan fine art. It was the miniature, small bright colorful pictures lacquered, which decorated palaces and rich houses.

Uzbekistan fine art was in unbelievable flourishing during the general cultural boom in 14-15th centuries, the epoch of Timurid Dynasty. Ancient Samarkand mausoleums preserved details of wonderful landscape paintings. Some palaces of Amir Temur were decorated with scenic pictures of Tamerlane, his wives, sons and associates and scenes of rich feasts. The great medieval artist was the inimitable master of oriental miniature Kamoliddin Behzod.

The next rise of Uzbekistan fine art dates back to the 19th century. The miniature art reaches its highest flourishing. It is glorified by Akhmad Donish (1827-1897), Abdulkhalik-Makhmum and others.

Uzbekistan fine art of 20th century developed under the influence Russian painters Itinerants. Their outstanding works furthered the development of oriental school of portraits and landscapes, development of realism genre in painting art. You can get acquainted with the works of modern masters by visiting the Gallery of Fine Arts, the most modern exhibition hall in Tashkent. The Art Museum, whose Grand Duke Nikolai Konstantinovich Romanov’ s collection of pictures of European painting lay the foundation of the richest expositions, as well as many other art galleries and museums of Uzbekistan.

The judges of art must visit the Savitsky Art Museum in Nukus, displaying over 90,000 exhibits including a collection of Russian avant-garde, fine arts of Uzbekistan, arts and crafts of Karakalpakstan and art of Ancient Khorezm.

Uzbek Literature

At the development basis of modern Uzbek literature is rich folklore – speakings or oral folk arts. The people wrote and handed down heroic epics, whose characters were heroes, presented in the images of evil forces, who were fighting against their oppressors and enslavers. This is the way how epics of Uzbek folklore, such as “Koroghlu” and “Alpamysh” were created.

Alpamysh, which tells the story of courage and bravery of the Uzbek warriors, survived centuries and became a real monument of oriental literature.

Another genius of people’s art is a cycle of latifas – tales and legends about Effendi – Hodja Nasreddin, a deft, witty dodger, who gives lesson to the greedy rich and the powers that be with his mischievous pranks.

The XI century featured a host of works, based on religious norms of Islamic morality They are the insightful poem “Kugadau Bilig” (“Knowledge of Grace” or “The Science of Happiness”) (1069) by Yusuf Khas Khadjib Balasaguni (Yusuf Balasagun), the poem “Hibat al-Haqa’iq” (“The Gift of the Truth”) by Akhmad Yugnaki, and, of course, “Dictionary of Turkic Dialects” (1072-74), compiled by Makhmud Kashgari.

The golden age of Uzbek literature fell on the historical epoch of Amir Timur and his dynasty. Its popularity is attributed to the fact that the works become more secular and free from excessive religiosity. It is that period, when the great oriental poet, philosopher and politician Alisher Navoi, who is considered to be a classic of Uzbek literature and founder of the Uzbek language, was flourishing. His immortal works –“Chordevon” and “Khamsa” are included in the thesaurus of world literature and translated into hundreds of the world’s languages.

The last of the Timurid dynasty, the founder of the Great Mogul state in India, which existed for two centuries, Zahiriddin Mukhammad Babur was not only a talented ruler and commander, but also notable as an outstanding poet of the time. His epic poem “Baburnama” which describes his biography, and history of the peoples of Central Asia, Afghanistan and India, became a chef-d’oeuvre of Uzbek literature, valuable historical and literary monument of the time.

Uzbek literature of the XVIII-XIX centuries is lyric and mainly devoted to love. During this period were flourishing such poets as Nadira Uvaisi, Mashrab, Khorezmi and so on.

At the end of the XIX and beginning of the XX centuries, after the annexation of Turkestan to the Russian Empire began a new modern period of Uzbek literature; which was presented by outstanding persons such as poet Mukimi and writer, poet and satirist Furqat. The Soviet era gave us such talents as poet and playwright Hamza Hakimzade Niazi, poet and writer Sadriddin Ayni, the first Uzbek novelist Abdullah Kadiri, writer and philosopher Fitrat – both of them were repressed under Stalin. Their literary traditions were continued by Oybek, Gafur Gulam, Abdulla Kahhar Khamid Alimjhan, Uygun and others.

Traditional Uzbek Music

Music connects the cultures of the world and is a window into the ethos of any country. Likewise, Uzbek music is one of the keys to understanding Uzbek culture.

Traditional Uzbek music has ancient origins; during archeological excavations in Samarkand and Termez, frescoes depicting musical instruments similar to modern string and wind instruments of Uzbekistan were discovered. Traditional musical works were often centered on folklore or built around the poems by famous Uzbek poets such as Alisher Navoi, Jami, Mukimi and others—cultural connections and traditions truly run deep.

UNESCO even included Shashmaqam, a unique genre of music from Uzbekistan and Tajikistan, on its list of Masterpieces of Oral and Intangible Cultural Heritage of Mankind. Shashmaqam translates as six maqom or “modes”. Each of the six modes has its own order, rhythm, and value, and the result is a uniquely Uzbek sound. This style of music is performed by a group of singers and musicians and uses the traditional stringed dutar, gijak, and tanbur as well as the doira (drum) as instruments. Shashmaqam schools can be found around Uzbekistan and Tajikistan.

Uzbek folk music more generally is often associated with dutar and bakhshi. Dutar is a simple instrument with two silk strings and bakhshi is a musician playing this instrument while singing folk songs. Uzbek festive music is performed on a karnay (wind instrument), surnay (flute) and doira, the sounds of which can be heard for hundreds of meters, inviting locals and tourists alike to join in the celebration.

In the 19th-20th centuries, after Uzbekistan became part of the Russian Empire and Soviet Union, a school devoted to classical music opened in Uzbekistan. Uzbek folk motifs permeated the classical music creating a unique, Eastern flavor. After independence, Uzbek pop music came about in a similar way, and native genres saw a revival. 

In Uzbekistan today, guests can hear modern Uzbek pop music, folk music, Uzbek neoclassicism, as well as shashmaqam and lazgi. Live music is heard during holiday festivals, weddings, at the Tashkent Conservatory, and at folklore shows like the one at Nadir Divan-Begi Madrasa. Additionally, there is a bi-annual music festival in Samarkand called “Sharq Taronalari”. Here, the national music from countries around the world is performed.

Traditional Uzbek Dance

Uzbek dance, a vivid personification of the beauty of Uzbek culture at large, is uniquely expressive. An emphasis on complex, demonstrative hand movements and rich facial expressions differentiates this country’s dance traditions. Within Uzbek dance itself, there are two common types: traditional classical dance and folk dance.

Classical Uzbek dance is an art that is cultivated in special dance schools and then demonstrated on a large stage. There are three distinct Uzbek dance schools: Ferghana, Bukhara and Khorezm. Each of these schools has its own unique features, aesthetics, and choreography.

Nearly every region of the country is represented in Uzbek folk dance. The wide variety of traditional dances, which have been passed from generation to generation, comes alive during local and national festivals and other cultural events. The folklore show in the Nadir Divan-Begi Madrasa in Bukhara, which is held almost daily during the tourist season, is a great place to enjoy such a show. Visitors can also get acquainted with the history of Uzbek dance in the museum of Tamara Khanum.

Khorezm Dance

The traditions of Khorezmian dance go back hundreds of years. The central philosophy of this dance is to express the love of life, beauty of nature, and a dedication to work. These themes are reflected in the choreography, with eccentric gestures mimicking the movements of birds, workers, and so on. Another characteristic of this dance style is a sharpness of motion and paused poses, although rotational movements are quite uncommon unlike in both Bukhara and Fergana dances. The main difference between the dances of Khorezm and other regions of Uzbekistan, however, is the bright temperament and enthusiasm. The most famous and popular dance of Khorezm is Lazgi, which is similar to the famous Lezginka.
 
Bukhara Dance

Bukhara dances have one obvious similarity to Khorezm dances—there is also energy and passion here. The traditionally graceful, swaying movements and slow rotations of Bukhara are completely different, however. Another unique feature here is the emphasis on the upper body: arms, shoulders, neck, and chest are all at the forefront. Bukhara dancers also tend to use only two simple musical instruments during their performances: “kairaki” (metal plates similar to castanets) and “dangers” (spherical bells worn in the form of bracelets on the wrists and boots).
 
Fergana Dance

Smooth hand motions and playful, almost flirtatious movements of the head characterize dance in Fergana. A flowing, lyrical style of dance, it differs from Khorezm and Bukhara’s strict choreography by allowing extensive improvisational freedoms. There is one special rule, however: in Fergana, it is customary to keep the hands turned up; in other dance schools, the palms can be in any position. Also, in contrast to the imitations of the animal world in the Khorezm dances, Fergana dances depicts human relations while often exploring lyrical, romantic themes.

 

Uzbek Handicrafts and Applied Art

The applied art of Uzbekistan is original and exclusive creative work of national craftsmen and masters, passing their skills from generation to generation. Putting their hearts and souls into works, for many centuries, they have created unique pieces and articles: housewares, house adornment, inimitable fabrics for dressy dresses, colorful tableware. 

The works of Fergana, Samarkand, Bukhara, Khiva and other masters have been historically notable outside the country and still continue to stir interest of lovers of the beautiful from all over the world. Many schools of suzané embroidery and ceramics, skullcaps of different type and purpose, national pichak-knives for every occasion, silk and woolen carpets, silk and chasing – the wonderful works, produced by local masters for centuries, make a unique exoticism of Uzbekistan.

Sui generis centers and schools of folk arts and crafts were formed in the territory of Uzbekistan for centuries. Each region has its own direction. Chust, Namangan region, is widely known for its skullcaps and knives; Rishtan, Fergana region, turquoise ceramics; ancient Margilan, satin with iridescent play of colors; sacred Bukhara, gold embroidery.

Uzbekistan has been developing arts and crafts from century to century, handing down the unique works of famous and unknown artists, which strike with the wealth of artistic imagination and perfection of shapes.

Uzbekistan's Best Souvenirs

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Tashkent

Dried fruits, nuts, and local sweets Tyubiteyka hats, Leather and modern clothes made of traditional fabrics from local designers, Wood carvings

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Samarkand

Paper at Konigil factory, Silk carpets, Dried fruits, nuts, and local sweets Wine, Clothes from local designers

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Bukhara

Suzani – decorative embroidered textiles, Ceramics, Handmade bird scissors, Silk, and wool carpets, and rugs, Wood carvings

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Khiva

Handmade camel wool socks, Wood carvings, Wool carpets, Handmade hats (called chigirma), Handmade ceramic figurines

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Fergana Valley

Blue ceramics - the signature of the Rishtan ceramics school, Chust knives, Handmade silk textile.

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Margelan

Ikat fabrics, Silk textile