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Tashkent makhallas

Date of Submission: 30/12/2021
Criteria: (ii)(iii)(v)
Category: Cultural
Submitted by:
National Commission of Uzbekistan for UNESCO
State, Province or Region:
Tashkent city
Coordinates: 41.337458° 69.239421°
Ref.: 6578

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Property names are listed in the language in which they have been submitted by the State Party


The name "makhalla" (community), derives from the word "mahal", meaning "place" and "time, moment". This duality has always been characteristic of the makhalla. A makhalla is not only a territorial and administrative unit, a community of people living in a certain territory in a city or district, but also a way of life, a type of thinking and a centuries-old tradition.

Makhalla is a unique phenomenon of the Uzbek nation, combining the patriarchal features of rural life, when all residents know each other, and the realities of a modern city. This is also a specific form of eastern democracy, which gives a person the opportunity to develop methods of interaction with society and the state. In general terms, makhalla is an association of people connected by invisible ties of the commonality of the territory in which they live.

In Tashkent, the makhalla concept is many-sided. The makhalla is both a traditional quarter in ancient Central Asian cities (including cases when it functions as an architectural monument), and a form of the organisation of community life, full of rituals regulating human life from the cradle to the grave. Finally, the makhalla is both a Soviet and a modern institution of power, more precisely, a place where the state and society meet at the local level. Sometimes these meanings complement each other, sometimes they conflict, but they all exist in the context of the inexorably accelerating rhythm of change, globalisation and transformation of urban space.

In ancient times, the boundaries of a makhalla were simple to identify - by the voice of a muezzin who from a minaret called the residents of the neighborhood to prayer. Those residents who heard his voice were considered neighbours living on the territory of the same makhalla. At all times, chiefs of makhallas were the most respected people in the neighbourhood: formerly they were called aksakals (literally gray-bearded) or elders, now chairmen or raises. Both in the former times and today, they have been elected at a general meeting of residents.

In Uzbekistan, the makhalla has always been considered the support of a state and the basis of governance: in a community like this people are interconnected not only geographically and through neighborhood ties, but also by their internal attitudes, moral norms.

The makhalla as an institution that in the Islamic East ensures local self-government, has deep roots. So poet and writer Nasir Khosrow reports about a makhalla in Cairo in the 11th century. In his work Safar-nameh ("Notes of a traveller"), which he wrote 1043 - 1052 during his tour of the countries of the Middle East, he reports that "the city of Cairo consists of 10 makhallas."

Often a makhalla was an association of artisans, and in this case they were named accordingly. So, for example, in Tashkent makhallas had the following names: Zargar (jewellers' quarter) or Degrez (casters' quarter), Ukchi (where arrow or bullet makers lived), as well as those for weavers, builders, potters and so on. There are many examples of how makhallas were named after towns, cities and villages, from where people moved to the makhalla: Toshkandi, Urguti, Dahbedi and so on.   

Over time, as cities grew, makhallas began to form on a national basis - Turk makhalla, Tajik makhalla, Uzbek makhalla and so on, reflecting the diversity of ethnic groups that inhabited Central Asia since ancient times. The Jewish Juhut makhalla, which, according to available data, was located near the Takhtapul gate of old Tashkent, is a good example of this. 

The number of makhallas in Tashkent changed over time, as did the number of households in a makhalla. Each makhalla had its own centre, guzar, (sometimes one centre served several makhallas). It usually included a mosque, a school within the mosque, a tea house and a hauz (pond). Often, a hauz was the only source of drinking water in makhalla. There were also several grocery stores offering dairy and meat products and miscellaneous things like tobacco.

Currently, there are 505 makhallas in Tashkent, with over 10,000 across Uzbekistan. The role of makhallas in preserving social and spiritual values, passing them to the next generation and bringing up young people, has increased in recent years.

The industrial relations, lifestyle, construction techniques and climatic conditions determined the functional structure of the makhalla as a community settlement, as a residential area organised according to the spatial principle (a system of courtyards surrounded with buildings). The traditional Uzbek house does not provide a direct exit to the city, but through a series of intermediary spaces of makhalla streets. The logical system of transition from a city through a street, alley, courtyard, iwan to an individual room - an intimate corner that a person has always been and will always be in need of - is what characterises the Uzbek house and constitutes its main architectural value.

Using spatial elements such as galleries and iwans, folk masters achieved a harmonious connection between individual volumes of a courtyard complex. All the artistic features of the architecture of a residential building are most fully revealed in the internal space of a courtyard.

Tashkent makhallas are open-air architectural reserves that preserve the invaluable experience and wisdom of the people. 

Justification of Outstanding Universal Value

Criterion (ii): Tashkent makhallas are a vivid example of a Central Asian medieval urban quarter, with distinctive features and elements of the influence of the Fergana-Kashgar traditional architecture.

Reflecting the influence of the change of values common to all mankind at the stage of its historical development and the beginning of the European urbanisation of Central Asia in the 19th century, the architecture of Tashkent makhallas, at the same time, preserves the national traditions of architecture and urban planning.

The makhalla institution at the present stage is considered as a unique historical practice of building a civil society in Central Asia.

Criterion (iii): Makhalla is the keeper of Uzbek traditions. This is an integral system of relations between residents of one quarter, which has existed on the territory of modern Uzbekistan for many centuries and has significantly influenced the development of Uzbek traditions and everyday life. Older generations in makhallas have cherished and multiplied folk traditions.

Over centuries, the makhalla in Uzbekistan has established itself as a proven means of evolution of lifestyle, preservation of crafts and traditional methods of construction, tolerant coexistence of different peoples, cultures and faiths. The traditional structures of makhallas, as well as priceless examples of the traditional Uzbek house with its architectural, planning and spatial organisation, material features, structural elements, interior and exterior decoration items, has been in harmony with the surrounding urban landscape and nature.

The architectural structure of the Tashkent makhalla gives an idea of the life, whose urban context and moral values associated with community, family and earthly relations have been preserved to this day.

The makhalla is unique in its traditional structure and architecture meant for a very specific form of life, in the way people live together and how they meet and exchange ideas with other people. The city and houses affect the movement and well-being of people, and they are also formed by people themselves, willingly or unwittingly, for various reasons. The makhalla has transformed along with generations of its inhabitants and become an integral part of human existence from birth to death.

Currently, the makhalla in the modern urban landscape of Tashkent forms its inseparable part. It is an exceptional example of preserving the unique spirit that makes the Uzbek capital individual and original based on historical continuity and maintaining its strong identity and aura of freedom. 

Criterion (v): Tashkent makhallas reflect patterns that have developed over the centuries: climate and topography influence behaviour, traditions and religions, they are tools people use to reflect and address their human existence and find a collective form for it. Geographical and human factors, at the same time, are crucial in how individual urban residents live and co-exist in a community. Patterns and similarities become visible in a uniform representation of layouts of cities and houses. 

One of the Tashkent makhalla's basic features was a transformable house (kashgarcha), common in the cities of the Ferghana Valley adjacent to Kashgar, where spaces were used differently: from the open courtyard to the open iwan in front of the house, next to the winter iwan (dahliz) with lift walls (rovon) making, if necessary, the room closed or open, and further to warm residential winter rooms (khona). The varieties of compositions are numerous, but they are all aimed at achieving one goal, which is to adapt to the sharp changes of seasons in the continental Central Asian climate, for example, as compensation for the pleasure of living outdoors, in green courtyards, in summer. Rational and progressive techniques used in the structure of the Tashkent makhalla: roofed courtyards with vertical ventilation - shiypan, soyvan and hashtyak - and seasonal transformation techniques used in the house.

Statements of authenticity and/or integrity

The urban structure of the central part of Tashkent contains all elements reflecting the phenomenon of the makhalla as a unique object of tangible heritage driven by the intangible aspirations of the ancient capital. Visual interconnections, panoramas, open spaces, topography, and the urban structure of makhallas show a certain degree of authenticity.

The nomination area consists of different historical quarters. Visually and spiritually, this is an integral part of the historical city, which has clearly distinguishable signs of several periods: the Russian Empire (1864-1918), the Soviet period (1922 - 1991) and the Republic of Uzbekistan with modern additions. Several districts bearing traces of the traditional residential architecture, traditional life and ethnography of historical Tashkent have been preserved in the old part of the capital. These valuable authentic buildings of the 19th and early 20th centuries, including a number of old makhallas, certainly require further careful study and high-quality preservation. They are surrounded with a wide circle of numerous other less authentic, integral or important structures and groups of buildings dated to the Soviet period that help preserve the character of the city.

The preserved historical urban structure of the Tashkent makhalla seems to offer a trip to the past. The streets there are spatial channels between the blind facades of residential buildings enclosing courtyards, with side alleys often having dead ends. The irregular geometry of these quarters is highlighted by the uniformity of the colours of the walls plastered with clay or modern materials. The interiors of houses, on the contrary, are a sharp contrast: all architectural energy is concentrated on the interior of the house, its courtyard and rooms. This is supported by the elaborately decorated doors and gates leading to a spacious courtyard, often in the form of a well-kept garden surrounded by various residential structures.

They give an idea of a life whose urban context and values related to the community, family and relationships have been preserved in a unique interweaving.

The makhalla is authentic both as a medieval urban structure and as a piece of architecture featuring specific layouts, forms and materials used (clay, wood, stone and other).

Attributes expressing the outstanding universal value are city blocks with the best preserved examples of traditional Uzbek architecture, where the structure of the traditional Uzbek makhalla with all its elements is maintained.

The architectural style of makhalla residential buildings, typical of local geography, also bears the characteristics of traditional Uzbek residential architecture. What makes this place unique is not only individual buildings, but also the harmony between the houses and between them and the environment.

In addition, the materials, techniques and craftsmanship used in the construction of makhalla houses are components of traditional technologies that continue to be in use.

The four historical parts of old Tashkent - Kukcha, Sibzar, Sheikhantaur and Beshagach - have been preserved almost unchanged. These large districts were divided into guzars grouped around small neighborhood mosques, which, in turn, were divided into autonomous urban communities – makhallas.

Such historical makhallas as Hazrati Imam, Koshtut and Guzar Boshi are among the most authentic places in the city, which have not yet been changed in order to attract tourists. 

The industrialisation of the 1950s led to changes in the urban environment; changes also affected the internal use and segmentation of houses. Nevertheless, most of the houses on these sites have retained their original material form, containing information about the form, materials and traditions of the urban life of the late 19th- early 20th centuries.

The integrity of the entire historical centre, its individual monuments and the surrounding landscape is maintained through effective protective measures enforced by the national laws on the protection and use of cultural heritage objects (Law of the Republic of Uzbekistan No. 269-II, 30 August 2001) and on citizens' self-government bodies (Law of the Republic of Uzbekistan No. ЗРУ-350, 22 April 2013), as well as by regional and municipal regulatory acts and management mechanisms aimed at ensuring its preservation.

Currently, historical makhallas face certain threats, which are primarily associated with the increasing pace of technical, economic and social changes that have engulfed our world.

One of the threats is the pressure of a developing modern city, since the city's urbanisation is steadily speeding up, and the issues of preserving the makhalla as an integral space raise growing concern.

Comparison with other similar properties

Cultural heritage is a widely recognised phenomenon, which can be found in various aspects of human civilisation. Houses with courtyards are widespread all over the world, and examples can be found both in the west and in the east. For example, chorizo, colonial houses with patios in Buenos Aires are the result of an effective separation of large colonial farms - manzana - and are refered to as "semi-yard houses" because of the position of the yard along the boundary wall. The type found in the old part of Delhi, Shahjahanabad, is known as the haveli courtyard house. Residential units of this kind are grouped in mohallas, whose population ranges between 1,000 and 1,500 people.

Tashkent makhallas have shaped the people's communal way of living for many generations. As the main neighbourhood unit, the courtyard house is found not only in Tashkent, but also in other cities across Uzbekistan and Central Asia, and, in numerous variations, defines the structure of a city. So the old parts of Samarkand, Bukhara, Shakhrisabz and Khiva included in the UNESCO World Heritage List in different years are examples of preserved historical residential buildings. 

The makhalla of Tashkent is also similar to those in the historical cities of Turkestan and Shymkent. All these cities have retained the layouts of historical residential quarters and architectural and decorative features of their houses.

Courtyard houses demonstrate numerous cultural and regional variations, which have partly resulted from the agglutination of spaces seen, for example, when comparing Uzbek and Iranian houses. While the courtyard house in Iran features a regular orthogonal layout, with the courtyard in the centre and the structures along the perimeter, houses in Central Asia are the result of the accumulation of various elements whose layouts and spaces of which are determined by the boundaries of the site, which leads to a great variety of combinations of indoor and courtyard spaces.

In Turkestan, for example, the house is an organically growing structure, which is the result of the evolution of a certain family, where function is more important than the spatial ideal.

In Uzbekistan, the house grows out of one or more rooms. When the youngest son marries and brings his wife into the house, the expansion of the living space depends on the size of the plot and often leads to the addition of a second storey (also used as an open terrace for storing dried fruits and nuts or hay for animals).

Unlike in other cities of Uzbekistan, in Tashkent the layouts of houses were freer: the sides were not oriented to a specific point of the compass, the courtyard was rectangular and surrounded with one-storey structures along the perimeter. The second storey could be in the form of an open gallery above living rooms or auxiliary rooms above a group of rooms in the entrance part of the house (darvazakhana) or low passages to the courtyard (dalon), and could be used as storage rooms or haylofts. The facade of the house could be a two-storey space, while the residential part was mostly one-storey, which was more typical of Tashkent.