Spread out beneath the shadow of the imposing edifice of the Soviet-era Hotel Uzbekistan, Amir Timur Square is located at the very center of Tashkent. In the center of the square, in the center of the the capital city, sitting majestically on horseback, is the hero of Uzbekistan, the 14th century Turco-Mongol conqueror, Amir Timur. The square, which is actually more of a circle, is ringed by a traffic circle into which all other major roads of the city empty.
The brainchild of Mikhail Chernyayev, second Governor-General of Russian Turkestan, the square was laid out in 1882 in front of the headquarters of the Turkestan Military District, and named Konstantinovsky Square after Chernyayev’s predecessor, Konstantin Petrovich von Kaufman.
The square was laid out in quarters, crossed by two major roads of the city which had recently been renamed for Moscow, and Kaufman. Trees were planted along the walkways of the new park to provide shade for pedestrians. The square, other than being at the center of the new imperial colonial outpost, was also the intersection of the ancient caravan route to Kashgar. In effect, the square quite literally became the crossroads of the silk road.
The pedestal at the center of the square has played host to a variety of monuments since first being graced by the epic likeness of Kaufman who other than being first Governor-General of Russian Turkestan, is best remembered for, along with Chernyayev, forcing the various Khanates in the territory that is today known as Uzbekistan to capitulate to the Russian Empire.
After 1917 and the rise of the Bolsheviks when Tashkent almost immediately fell to the Reds, Kaufman’s square was renamed Revolution Square, but the monument of Kaufman remained until being dismantled in 1919 when it was replaced by the revolutionary flag ringed by cannons.
Later in 1919, the symbol of communist constructivism, in the avant garde style of the Hammer and Sickle appeared in place of the temporary, simple flag monument. Authorities replaced this artistic interpretation of Soviet national symbolism with a more traditional obelisk in 1926 commemorating the 10th anniversary of the Bolshevik Revolution. Inscriptions paying tribute to the revolution in Uzbek script and Cyrillic were engraved on the monument, but the script was removed in 1929 and replaced with latin text.
After the death of Vladimir Lenin in 1924, Soviet planners began to mass produce busts and statues for shipment to all major cities of the USSR. Four years after the obelisk commemorating the Bolshevik revolution was erected, a new bust of Lenin assumed the honored position in the center of the square by 1930 accompanied by an inscription of the famous phrase “five year plan in four years!” Ironically, less than five years later, in 1935, the pedestal and Lenin bust were removed from the center of the square and turned into a traffic intersection for the two main roads, which were renamed for Friedrich Engels and Karl Marx.
Following the events of the Great Patriotic War, in 1947 a statue of Stalin was erected in the center of Revolution Square. Commissioned by the Uzbek State Planning Agency, the statue was by famous People’s Artist of the USSR, sculptor-monumentalist Sergey Merkurov.
Joseph Stalin died in 1953, and at the 22nd Communist Party Congress which was held in October 1961, it was decided that all monuments to the former leader should be dismantled, at which point he was unceremoniously removed from his pedestal and destroyed. The remaining pedestal was used to inscribe the key theme of the Party Congress platform in two languages, Russian and Uzbek. The monument was known by the informal name “Russian Uzbek Dictionary” by locals until being replaced once again during the reconstruction effort follwing the 1966 Tashkent Earthquake.
In 1968, a granite torch replaced Stalin’s pedestal. For the torch’s flame, a stylized head of Karl Marx with wavy beard and hair symbolizing the fanning flame of communist ideology was installed. This monument to one of the founding fathers of communism lasted until the collapse of the Soviet Union.
The central position of the square in the most important city of the Uzbek Soviet Socialist Republic meant it also served as a venue for unauthorized political statements and rallies, as well as a gathering place for rest and relaxation. The shade provided by the trees planted in the late 19th century were a welcome respite from the brutal heat of Tashkent summers. Revolution square was also the site of a popular cafe where patrons could enjoy mineral water and Uzbek wine, as well as vendors selling ice cream along the shaded footpaths.
After the declaration of Uzbek Independence in 1991, it took less than three years for the monument to Karl Marx to be dismantled. Uzbek President Islom Karimov, on the third anniversary of Uzbekistan’s independence on the 31st of August 1994, proclaimed the square renamed Amir Timur Square, complete with an impressive new monument of the new square’s namesake on horseback appearing to ride into the future along with the new nation.
With the new monument came sweeping changes by the new authorities to the park, including removal of all cafes and vendors, followed in 2009 by removal of all the square’s ancient trees in an effort to beautify and rejuvenate the area. The removal of so many trees also had the coincidental side effect of making the new monument to Amir Timur more prominent, and offering unobstructed views of new projects such as the Palace of International Forums completed in 2009, and the Amir Timur Museum which had already been open since 1996.
While today citizens relax in shaded parks elsewhere in the city, the monumental square with such a tumultuous history remains a focal point of life in the Uzbek capital city. The new pedestal in Timur Square features an inscription in four languages; Uzbek, Russian, English, and Arabic Script – “Strength In Justice” – in a throwback to inscriptions on earlier monuments in Tashkent’s premier location for state sponsored motivational messages. The square which was designed to featured a monument to General Konstantin Petrovich von Kaufman who was instrumental in crushing the last remnants of Timur’s legacy, now glorifies the founder of the once great Timurid empire.