Chorsu Bazaar (Eski Juva), Tashkent

Chorsu Bazaar, Tashkent

The most exiting oriental market in Tashkent The traditional ideal of an oriental bazaar as a place of abundant merchandise, bright colors and a lively bustle finds its embodiment in Uzbekistan. A perfect bazaar is crammed with produce, has a motley appearance and allows loud voices and exclamations; it is a place in which bargaining is intrinsic. There are 15 such large bazaars in Tashkent.

Eski Juva bazaar is the biggest and oldest, not only in Uzbekistan but in the whole of Central Asia. This bazaar is located in the very heart of the so called Old Town of the capital, next to Chorsu square. Eski Juva has been operating on nearly the same spot for over two thousand years. Tashkent is known to have been founded in the 2nd - 1st century B.C. in a fertile oasis, to act as an important trade center at an intersection of the Great Silk Road caravan routes. Initially, there was a group of four small settlements, which in a later period formed four of the city's districts: Beshagach, Shaikhantaur, Sebzar, and Kukcha. In ancient times, on a big vacant lot between these settlements, a fair was set up where local farmers, nomads and touring merchants exchanged their goods. For hundreds of years, this place was the crossroad of eastward, westward, southward and northward caravan routes, used for carrying goods into and out of Tashkent. It was called Chorsu - 'a crossroad'. You might find it interesting to know that some of the names of the streets in this area of Tashkent still bear the names of the directions of the Great Silk Road: Samarkand-Darbaza ("Samarkand Gate"'), Chagatay (gate on the road to Chagatay), and so on.

Tashkent repeatedly experienced enemy attacks: it was destroyed by the Arabs in the 8th century, burnt down on order of the ruler of Khorezm in the 13th century, and conquered by the Kokand Khanate at the beginning of the 19th century. But despite all these events the bazaar went on functioning. In the 19th century near the bazaar, a citadel with turrets was built, one of which was used as an arsenal. This building gave its name to the bazaar itself: Eski Juva ("Old Tower").

An oriental bazaar is not only a marketplace but also a kind of a club where one can meet friends and acquaintances; it is a public entertainment center, a place where news is spread by word of mouth. No wonder it gave life to the well-known expression uzun kulak ('the long ear'). Here linger those who love mixing with crowds, who enjoy the flavor of the Orient. In the East, a bazaar also acts as a barometer of social life: while the stalls are open - everything is all right; if they close at an untimely hour, disorder is likely to occur.

The fact that Eski Juva bazaar was built in close vicinity to the majestic Friday Jami Mosque and the Kukeldash Madrassah, dating back to the 15th - 16th centuries, is evidence of its peculiar role as center of the city's social life.

In the 1980s Eski Juva was reconstructed. Today, the stalls of the ancient bazaar stand under seven huge domes covered with colored glazed tiles. As you enter the biggest domed building, a cloud of spice aromas envelopes you. What abundance! There is saffron and brown tree bark, red and black pepper, thyme and cloves, nutmeg, cardamom… - over 60 varieties of spices and cooking herbs. Next to them are sacks with rice, sparkling crystals of navat sugar, and white balls of kurt - dried cottage cheese. Vying with each other, salesmen loudly offer raisins and dried apricots, almonds and pistachios, walnuts and peanuts. Here you can buy a special national delicacy: peanuts boiled in sugar or honey and covered with sesame seeds.

In all seasons the fruit and vegetable stalls impress with an abundance and diversity of produce. But in summer and autumn the oriental bazaar is particularly amazing. What has been through hard work grown by Uzbek farmers is now on offer: rosy apples and honeydew pears; bunches of black, pink and amber sweet grapes; smooth and slightly furry peaches; prunes and yellow figs wrapped in green leaves; pomegranates with ruby seeds; reddish-orange persimmons… Impressive are the piles of huge watermelons and melons which exude a pineapple aroma.

Everywhere at the bazaar are heard the greetings exchanged by salespeople, shoppers or just acquaintances coming across each other: Assalom aleykum! "Yakhshimisiz?" ("Hello! How are you?"). The salespeople try to attract shoppers, asserting: "Over here are the cheapest grapes!", "My peaches are sweeter!" If a shopper, uoon asking the price, immediately walks away from the salesman to another, the former might get offended: 'Brother! Why don't you bargain? It's the bazaar!' Bargaining will always reduce the price considerably.

At Eski Juva there is also a row of workshops under small domes. Inside, craftsmen make and immediately sell their works: jewelry and the painted cradles called beshik; gold embroidery; Uzbek chests with metal decorations; embroidered suzanes (thin tapestries) and jiyak - lace for trimming the lower edges of women's wide trousers; quilted men's (chapan) and women's (yashmak) caftans; kurpacha quilts and pichok knives in leather or brass sheaths; wicker baskets and trays of various sizes and designs; national musical instruments. There are also workshops of whitesmiths and blacksmiths, carpenters and wood-carvers. Potters offer lyagan dishes and kosa bowls with blue and turquoise painted patterns. In the carpet row you will find carpets from Khiva, Samarkand, Bukhara, Afghanistan, Turkey, and even Belgium - and you cannot help remembering that you are in the very heart of the Silk Road.

Today's bazaars in Uzbekistan are quite different from their former selves of 15 - 20 years ago. Realizing that bazaars play an important role in the trading system, the Uzbek government adopted a program of reconstruction of the existing bazaars and construction of new ones in the capital and in the provinces soon after the country became independent. The program has been successfully completed. Residents and guests of Tashkent can now appreciate the reconstructed bazaars of Eski Juva, Oloy Bozori, Mirobod Bozori, Yunusobod Bozori, Parkent Bozori and others. Their vast trading grounds are now in excellent condition; they are protected from the sun and precipitation by domes. Many new stalls have appeared under the huge shelters and in the spacious pavilions. The bazaars are equipped with powerful refrigerators, storage areas, and small scales; good sanitary services are also available.

In the past, local farmers used to bring their produce on camels and donkeys, so there used to be caravanserais (Silk Road hotels) near bazaar trading grounds for people, and earthen corrals for animals. Today, salespeople and shoppers come to the bazaars by car. Therefore, guarded parking lots and modern hotels have been set up around all the bazaars.