Central Asia—an ancient country, an enormous land full of nature's contrasts. Desert sands stretching for vast distances, orchards and vineyards, snow-capped mountain summits and green valleys. Age-old cities with magnificent masterpieces of architecture are still continuing to grow and develop. Modern cities built during the Soviet period. Towns which have preserved only the mighty millenium-old ramparts and the ruins of their old buildings. The history of many towns and individual buildings is full of legends reflecting the struggle of the people against invaders and the great feats of their heroes. Thanks to the achievements of Soviet science and history and of the extensive archaeological research carried out in Central Asia, major scientific discoveries have been made, and the ancient culture which existed before the Arab invasion of the seventh and eighth centuries and before the Mongol invasion (early 13th cen.) has been revealed.
Among these discoveries are the splendid three-tower palace of the rulers of Khorezm (3rd cen.); numerous keshkl, the forbid¬ding-looking castles of the local feudal lords (6th—8th cen.); the temples and the houses of the nobility in Penjikent near Samarkand (7th cen.); the palace in Varakhsha (7th—8th cen.); the building with wall paintings at Afrasiab (7th cen.) and others.
All these structures were built of clay and unfired brick, with characteristically simple forms and austere and laconic aspect. The interiors were decorated with painting and sculpture, with carving on wooden columns, and on the alabaster stucco of the walls.
During the Arab conquest of the country in the seventh and eighth centuries many of the ancient structures were destroyed. The violent imposition of the Islamic religion by the Arabs, the hostile attitude of the invaders towards the ancient customs and traditions of the local population led to the destruction of magnificent wall paintings, of sculptures and representations of living beings as contradicting the canons of Islam. Towards the end of the ninth century the local feudal dynasty of the Samanids succeeded in uniting the bigger part of Central Asia and setting up a state politically independent from the Arab Caliphate.
During this period extensive building work was carried out: mausoleums, mosques and minarets, caravanserais, and baths. Monumental buildings appeared. Fired brick was used widely, which meant the construction of solid buildings; it was also used for intricate ornamentation. The dome supported by an octagonal drum became the predominant form in the exterior aspect of buildings and in their interiors. In the twelfth century certain regions of the country adopted a new method of facing the facades with terracotta tiles with carved ornamentation. After the spread of Islam the manner of design has changed: representational subjects gave way to stylised floral and geo¬metrical patterns and inscriptions. Up to the second part of the twelfth century the architecture in Central Asia remained mono¬chrome. In the twelfth century blue enamelled bricks became popular.
The eleventh and twelfth centuries were a period of construc¬tional progress, of the grand art in harmonious compositions, unique ornamentation with a great variety of designs carved in terracotta, alabaster or wood, and monumental ornamentation with the use of figured brick courses.
The development of architecture, like the entire cultural deve¬lopment of the nations in Central Asia was halted by the Mongol invasion of 1220—1221. The country took a long time recovering after that. Thirteenth century construction has not left any remarkable examples, but some of the buildings con¬structed in the first half of the fourteenth century are from the architectural and artistic points of view ranked among the mas¬terpieces of Central Asia. The architecture of this period has a decorative quality, which is enriched by the polychrome enameled revetment. The predominant hues were turquoise and blue.
In the 1370s, in the time of Timur (Tamer lane), there was a great deal of building in Samarkand, calculated to uphold the idea of the all-powerful ruler. In the time of Timur the huge buildings were constructed to impress the viewer. The decorative techniques were extremely varied; enameled bricks, majolica tiles and glazed carved terracotta combined to create poly¬chrome facades.
Early in the fifteenth century, in the time of Ulug Beg, Timur's grandson, who was a world-famous scholar, astronomer and mathematician, an observatory and three madrasahs (colleges) were built near Samarkand. Features of the architecture in the time of Ulug Beg were: harmonious colouring, restrained deco¬ration and mobility of form. The fact that Ulug Beg promoted the development of secular sciences evoked resistance from Islamic leaders. In 1449 Ulug Beg was murdered. In the sixteenth century there was much construction work in Bukhara. Beside the religious building, secular structures were erected: bazaar buildings—domed takis and Urns, bath-house's, caravanserais, sardobas—water reservoirs, and bridges. Com¬pared with the structures of Timur's period these were smaller, more modest in form and simpler in decorative detail. Domed structures were highly developed, they were varied, light in construction, consistent and expressive in their tectonics. In the eighteenth century, with the political and economic conditions prevailing in the country as a result of favourable economic prerequisites, only the architecture in the Khiva Khanate preserved its monumentality and its unique spatial compositions and ornamentation. The architecture in other regions of Central Asia was no longer at the high level of pre¬ceding centuries.