It’s the Thought that Counts

For a good cause

Zakāt, or giving alms, is an important part of of many religions and cultures and is frequently left on tombs of historic figures throughout Central Asia. 200 Uzbek Som (UZS), the 3rd largest bill of the state, is worth about $0.07 USD at 2850 UZS to the dollar (black market rate). One hopes their prayers were picayune and laconic…

The Pious Payout

The Gurbanguly Haji Mosque in Mary Turkmenistan

When Turkmenistan’s President Gurbanguly Berdymuhamedovmade completed his first Hajj, it was the perfect time for citizens of Mary to ask him for the funds needed to finish the building of Mary’s mosque. The money was awarded and the inauguration of the Hajj Gurbanguly Mosque commenced two years later. The President proclaimed its’ opening was “evidence of an unbreakable and firm civil accord in the Turkmen society” and it marks the beginning of a “triumphant a new epoch of reviving indigenous customs and traditions of the nation.” It’s honorable that he at least put a large picture of its founder and his predecessor Saparmurat Türkmenbaşy out front.

The Sincerest Form of Flattery

The Entry Courtyard to the The Ertugrul Gazi Mosque in Ashgabat

The Ertuğrul Gazi Mosque, said to be patterned after the Blue Mosque in Istanbul, sits at the end of a grand boulevard of parks that are almost as empty as the mosque itself. Large enough to hold 5,000 worshipers, it sees only a small fraction of that since it’s ‘unlucky’ or ‘haunted’ due to a number of deaths during its construction. In that respect, it seems that some comparisons are only skin deep.

Pendulum of Reflection

Persian Mosque Krezrety Omar in Ashgabat
Most Persian-style mosques are famed for their ornate surfaces and the interior of the Krezrety Omar mosque in Ashgabat certainly lives up to that rich history. What really catches the eye though is the unusual chandelier underneath the central dome. Oscillating, mesmerizing, and constantly reminding the faithful that the sumptuous surroundings are a mear diversion of focus to something much larger.

Xian: The Gateway to the Silk Road

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Gateway to the Silk Road – Bell Tower in Xi’an, China

One of the best ways to see history in person is by visiting the  cities along the Ancient Silk Road.  Religion was the driving force behind many of history’s greatest battles, and the force which leaders used to expand their empires.  The faces numerous cities and villages  reflect the styles,  ideals and philosophies of the dominant empires that have come and gone.  Their sacred places of worship in major Silk Road trading cities – usually the cathedrals, temples and mosques – are the first places to look at when in search of history.

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Caravans linked lands and their people  from the east to the west as the roads grew longer and trade grew stronger.  The various caravan roads of the Silk Trade Route not only brought goods but also new ideas, philosophies, art, food,  and religion. The Han Dynasty (141–87 BC) began it all in the 1st Century AD when it opened up its doors to the West from its capital Chang’an just northwest of  Xi’an in  central China.  It was the center of the world and a perfect location for China’s capital city.

Xi’an quickly became Asia’s gateway to Europe

The Han established Chang’an as the starting point of the Silk Road, but it was the  Tang Dynasty who used the route to expand China’s empire and to advance their society politically, intellectually and commercially.  The population during the Tang Dynasty (618 – 907 AD) grew to over 2 million – making this period the high point in Chinese history.  Chang’an was up there with other cosmopolitan  cities such as Constantinople and Rome.   The capital city welcomed foreigners with people coming from Persia, Arab Nations, India, Malaysia, the Middle East and  Near East to study and trade.
China’s Trade  and influence expanded  into Central Asia as they continually battled with the Turks for territory.  Chinese art and culture – particularly Buddhism and poetry – began to proliferated into the western ends of the Silk Road and other parts of Asia.  Many came to Xi’an to both trade and study.  This is where the woodblock printing process first developed making the written word available to all.   This technology is one of the many that began here and travelled to other parts of Asia and to the west via the  Silk Road.

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The Tang fought to keep control of its vast empire as wars broke out through the centuries.  Natural disasters and rebellion gave a fatal blow to the Tang powerhouse. The anemic ruling party survived for a little while but was much to weak to make a full recovery.  Their monopoly on the salt trade kept them going for a bit but the countryside was full of bandits who constantly undermined the weakened Tang military force.  The king of the bandits and former salt smuggler, Zhu Wen, ended the Tang Dynasty by disposing its last emperor, Ai of Tang in 907.  He established the Later Liang Dynasty.
Xi’an is more than the Terracotta Warriors found outside the city.  Visitors should take the time and discover the beauty and peacefulness of the The Great Huajuexiang Mosque, eat some non-traditional chinese food in the Muslim Quarter and take advantage of one of the best free museum tickets at the Shaanxi History Museum in the land that charges you for everything.
Visitors travelling here on the overnight train from Beijing get dropped off right in front of one of the main gates that leads into the walled city.  There are many things a traveler can’t miss when visiting.  Here are three things any traveler can’t miss while in Xi’an besidesWalmart:

Eating streetfood in the Muslim Quarter:

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Restaurant in the Muslim Quarter in Xi’an China

even if you don’t know what’s in it

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Mapo Tofu in Xi’an

Visit the Huajeuxiang Mosque which has both beautiful Chinese and Islamic design work:

The Great Mosque of Xi'an
The Great Huajuexiang Mosque of Xi’an
HUAJUEXIANG MOSQUE in XIAN, CHINA
Inside the Huajuexiang Mosque in Xi’an
HUAJUEXIANG MOSQUE in XIAN, CHINA
The Huajuexiang Mosque in Xi’an China
HUAJUEXIANG MOSQUE in XIAN, CHINA
The Huajuexiang Mosque in Xi’an China
HUAJUEXIANG MOSQUE in XIAN, CHINA
Xi’an China – Terracotta Warriors

And of course the Terracota Warriors after you have visited the Shanxi History Museum: After I left the site where the terracotta figures where housed, I wondered how many of them were authentic if any. Still amazing to see and the museum does a good job educating visitors before trekking out to see them. Get out there as early as possible since the picture light is more direct and there’s less people.

Xi'an China - Terracotta Warriors
Terracotta Warriors…yeah..some actually look fake but they still are an amazing site
Shanxi History Museum
Shanxi History Museum
Xi'an China - Terracotta Warriors
Warrior waiting to be liberated

A Far-Flung Silk Road connection – the Great Mosque of St. Petersburg Russia

St. Petersburg’s skyline says it all. From the banks of the Volga the views include the golden cathedral towers of the Peter and Paul Fortress and the pointed towering Minerats and bright blue tiles of the mosque dome just to the right of it. Peter the Great wanted his capital to reflect the cultural make up of his vast empire.

The Mosque - St. Petersburg
Central Asian-style St. Petersburg Cathedral Mosque

Russian southern cities which lie on the Caspian Sea were the only real Russian ports  linking the nation to the Silk Road trade.  St. Petersburg is just up the Volga River from the trading post village of Novgorod. Russia supplied furs, honey and slaves to Muslim lands as far as Baghdad.  The original route connecting the Volga River to the Caspian Sea until the 11th century. By the 13th century, another route linking the Black Sea to the Byzantine and Persian Empires replaced the original.  This is the route workers travelled when Peter the Great invited all Russians  to help construct their new capital St. Petersburg.  This included the first large number of Muslims to travel to this part of the country.  They were the Tatars from the Volga Region.

The Russian Empire connects the east to the west making it more Eurasia then Russia and covers almost one sixth of the earth’s surface. This being said – there has always been a rich cultural, linguistic and religious diversity among all of its people.   Peter the Great had genuine interest in the affairs of the muslim community since Russia was beginning to extent it’s empire into Ottoman territory.  Among many things, he personally ordered the first Russian language Qur’an to be published in 1716 to help welcome in Russia’s new subjects.  It wasn’t until much later that a proper mosque was built for those how made St. Petersburg their home.

The Mosque - St. PetersburgSt. Petersburg wasn’t established as Russia capital until the early 18th century but today is home to one of the largest and northern most mosques in Europe. Csar Nicolas I gave the Emir of Bukhara permission to buy land near the tombs of the Romanovs in the Peter and Paul fortress island to build a mosque for muslim worshippers in the city. This location was important to the Emir because he wanted to show respect for the rest of Russia and to symbolize the Muslim citizens loyalty to the Russian Empire. The mosque wasn’t completely supported by all of the city but it was able to collect money from donors from inside and outside of Russia and was completed in 1920 after ten years of construction.

The Mosque - St. Petersburg
The Mosque – St. Petersburg

The mosque has suffered a lot over the centuries. It was shutdown by the Bolsheviks – like most religious institutions – and later used as a storage warehouse during World War II. The mosque’s doors remained locked through 1956 but didn’t get any major renovations until the 1980’s.

The Mosque - St. Petersburg
The Mosque – St. Petersburg

Today, nearly where a half a million residents and many descendants of the Tatars.  The Great Mosque with its tall blue dome is hard to miss even on a foggy day.   Most non-muslim visitors can only view the mosque from the outside gates since it is a working mosque. The exterior was originally designed to resemble Tamerlane’s Gur Emir Mausoleum in Samarkand, Uzbekistan. The inside design is a combination of both the art nouveau popular in the beginning of the 20th century and traditional mosque motifs. I didn’t see but pictures show the interior filled with blue and green tiled ceilings and scripted passages of the Qur’an.  The outside views are amazing and maybe the inside will be open for visitors next time.

Its something worth seeing while in St. Petersburg and not too far away from other wonderful sites like the Peter and Paul’s fortress and the former Bolshevik headquarters – Kshesinsky Palace.  It’s just a short walk across the river or an easy tram ride from most parts of St. Petersburg.

Efim Rezvan, deputy director of the Peter the Great Museum of Anthropology and Ethnography states it best:  “There is no panorama of the center of St. Petersburg that does not show two minarets. And this symbol is not only of St. Petersburg. This reflects the country itself, and the dramatic history of the mosque reflects the dramatic history of the country.”

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The top of the Mosque dome in St. Petersburg Russia
The Mosque - St. Petersburg
Detail of St. Petersburg Mosque dome

Pictures of Shiraz: First visit to the Vakil Mosque

The first visit to the Valik Mosque located or attached to the Valik Bazaar. The mosque, built between 1751 and 1773, is the best example of architecture constructed during the Zand Dynasty when Shiraz was the capital of Persia. It has withstood many earthquakes and invasions. The mosque is now a registered historical site and is no longer a working mosque. Many worshipers still come and pray here despite this and who can blame them. It’s one of the most beautiful and peaceful places in Shiraz and it shouldn’t be missed when visiting.

Vakil Mosque
Entryways of the night prayer room at the Vakil Mosque in Shiraz
Vakil Mosque
Main Prayer hall inside the Vakil Mosque. Its night prayer hall (Shabestan), with an area of approximately 2,700 square meters, contains 48 monolithic pillars carved in spirals, each with a capital of acanthus leaves.
Vakil Mosque Colorful Ceiling Tiles of one of it's Iwan's
Bees Nest or ceiling of the pishtaq of Valik Mosque
Vakil Mosque
Shabestan ceiling
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Pishtaq (decorated entrance) of the Valik Mosque
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Minbar that is made of a single piece of solid green marble at the Valik Mosque