Reviews

Devised in the aftermath of an expedition organised in 1992 in the framework of the UNESCO’s “Silk Road” programme, this work is introduced by its author as an attempt at taking into account the territory of “cultural Iran [Iran-e farhangi] (p. 5)” in the pre-modern history of sacred architecture in the Middle-East. The book is divided into three parts: a general introduction on the historical geography of Transoxiana (Vararud); a chapter on the historical monuments of Samarqand; and another one on those of Bukhara.  The first part begins with a quick overview of ancient Greek geographers on the Asian continent, followed by an Orientalistic, strictly philological (and derogatory) approach of classical ‘Turan’ (including developments on a fanciful Iranian etymology of the word turk, out of the Pahlavi turik), an overview of current definitions of ‘Turkistan’ in classical Arabic and Persian geography, and an enumeration of Turkic-peopled regions of Central Asia, ending with a chronology of “the assault of the Turks against Iran for slaughter and pillage (32 ff.)”.  The next chapter of the same part deals with visions of the Amu-Darya, Syr-Darya, Zarafshan, and Ili Rivers as conveyed in works by geographers of the Islamic era.  It is followed by a historical chronology of the history of Transoxiana, from the Hegira to our days (55-176); a narrative of the Arab conquest of the region on the exclusive basis of the Futuh al-buldan; an quick evocation of the sultan Abul’l-Khayr’s policy toward Russia; a short narrative of the Russian conquest of Transoxiana and Khwarezm; and a slightly more convincing succession of brief notices on pre-modern great figures of Islam in Central Asia, based on a small selection of classical hagiographic literature—with few interest, if at all, in recent methodological innovations in the use of this specific kind of source.

The part of the book dealing specifically with architecture is introduced with a short glossary of the “Tajik” vocabulary of construction; a comparative study on the respective decoration of the Malik Caravanserai of Marv and of the Maghak ‘Attar Mosque in Bukhara; an panoramic paper on the history of fine arts in Transoxiana; and another one on cooking in the same region.  Descriptive and illustrated chapters on the architecture of Samarqand and Bukhara are devoted to individual buildings, from the most famous to the most obscure, with a special attention to holy graves (mazars) on the basis of the classical Samariyya as far as Samarqand is concerned, and the Ta’rikh-i Mullazada as to Bukhara.  A lot of items are studied through descriptions available in the Soviet albums in English language.  A hotchpotch of poorly interrelated short global studies based on a very limited amount of sources, the book is organised on the model of modern Iranian works in geographical history (a fashionable sample of which is provided by a number of works on the “Kavir civilisation” by the exceptionally prolific historian from Kerman Mohammad-Ebrahim Bastani-Parizi).  As such, the book bears testimony of the state of Central Asian studies in Iran—a country where this region of the world continues to be seen from afar, through the long-lasting stereotypes of classical didactical literature.

Stéphane A. Dudoignon, National Centre for Scientific Research, Paris
CER: I-4.3-363