In Uzbekistan, literary house museums are also monuments to interior design

The museum of the house Hamza in Kokand. Photo by Zafar Atajanov, used with permission.

In Uzbekistan, famous writers’ houses are also monuments to traditional Uzbek interior architecture. 

Uzbek culture developed around legendary cities on the Silk Road such as Bukhara and Samarkand. This explains why interior design always played an important role in the daily life of Uzbek people, who became sedentary much earlier than other neighboring nations such as the Kyrgyz or Kazakh, who remained predominantly nomadic until the early 20th century. 

One of the best ways to discover the late 19th to early 20th century heritage of intricate interior design is to visit the homes of famous writers and artists. The Soviet Union developed a tradition of opening house museums (“дом-музей”) or apartment museums (музей-квартира) of writers who were sympathetic or supported Socialist values before and during the Communist period (1917–1991). Typically such a museum where the artist lived at some point would display daily life artifacts, editions of books and translations of the writer's work, photos and personal items such as clothes, glasses, pens, as can be seen in this video showing the home of Russian and Soviet writer Konstantin Paustovsky:

After the fall of the Soviet Union, the tradition was continued, welcoming formerly censored authors who were previously considered “anti-Socialist,” across the 15 post-Soviet states. 

In Uzbekistan, where some public figures were celebrated while others imprisoned, deported and killed in the 1930s for alleged anti-Communism, house museums are also popular and often include gardens. Indeed Uzbek families tend to be large and multigenerational, and include large gardens for producing fruits and vegetables, but also for providing a green and cool space in a country known for long, dry and extremely hot summers.

One such museum in the city of Kokand in the Ferghana Valley in the southeast of Uzbekistan is the house of Hamza Hakimzade Niyazi, popularly known simply as Hamza. He is what can be considered a “red martyr” in the political sense: as a writer, he wholeheartedly supported Communist power in Soviet Uzbekistan and, as a result, was stoned to death by conservative Muslims. He is considered the main playwright of Uzbek literature and a key language reformer. 

The house museum is small but displays typical interior design from the late 19th–early 20th century that is still regarded as an inspiration by some in Uzbekistan today. Indeed, during the Soviet period from the 1920s to early 1990s, Socialist urban architecture and design were considered the model to follow, and many abandoned traditional decoration, at least in apartment blocks. Today there is a return to Uzbek cultural identity and more people, including in urban settings, try to emulate traditional interior design.

The following photo gallery illustrates some of the key elements of this traditional architecture displayed in the Hamza literary house museum in Kokand.

Here is the entrance to the house museum displaying intricate wood carving on the main door.

Entrance of the Hamza literary house museum in Kokand. Photo by Zafar Atajanov, used with permission.

This is the main room that served to receive guests in a culture that is very sensitive to hospitality rules, which shows a typical feature of traditional interior architecture: intricate built-in shelves surrounded by a frame, often used to display more refined pieces of dishware and teaware, books and small objects. The outer frame is traditionally made of wood that is later painted in the same color as the wall. There are called “mehrob” in Uzbek, in reference to the mihrab, a niche in a mosque showing the direction of Kaaba for prayers.

Main room of the Hamza literary house museum in Kokand. Photo by Zafar Atajanov, used with permission.

Here is another example of the same traditional style of built-in shelves in another room of the museum:

Bedroom of the Hamza literary house museum in Kokand. Photo by Zafar Atajanov, used with permission.

Another key component of interior design is the painted wooden ceiling combining wood carving and vivid colors. This is also widely used in Tajikistan.

Painted ceiling inside Hamza literary house museum in Kokand. Photo by Zafar Atajanov, used with permission.

This room shows how furniture is used in traditional design: thick carpets cover the floor on which people sit, cross-legged. On top of the carpets are thin mattresses filled with cotton to make the seating more comfortable. These are called “to'shak” in Uzbek, and can be seen piled up in one of the back alcoves. A small table is used for food and tea drinking mostly. Large wooden chests are used to stock clothes or objects of value. The middle alcove here hosts traditional string instruments that are also part of the home decoration.

Room inside the Hamza literary house museum in Kokand. Photo by Zafar Atajanov, used with permission.

Here is another example of the combination of carpet, to'shak, and small table covered by the traditional Suzani embroidery common to many cultures of Central Asia:

Room inside the Hamza literary house museum in Kokand. Photo by Zafar Atajanov, used with permission.

Here is an example of delicate wood carving applied to doors:

Door inside the Hamza literary house museum in Kokand. Photo by Zafar Atajanov, used with permission.

And another example of wood carving applied to chests, called “javon” in Uzbek:

Carved wooden chest inside the Hamza literary house museum in Kokand. Photo by Zafar Atajanov, used with permission.

As Uzbekistan maintains the tradition of home museums and opens new ones, Uzbeks as well as visitors are given a unique glimpse into a valuable part of the cultural history of the country.

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