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Museum of applied art

Possibly the best-looking museum in Tashkent, the Museum of Applied Arts is situated in the former home of Imperial Russian diplomat Alexander Polovtsev. This museum is as popular for its setting as for its many beautiful exhibits. Polovtsev was an avid collector of handicrafts and his personal possessions still form the heart of the museum's superb collection of decorative arts. Tsarist diplomat expressed his appreciation of Uzbek architecture by having his residence built by masters from Bukhara, Samarkand, Khiva, Ferghana and Tashkent. He was transferred before completion in 1907, so never saw the finished courtyard of verandas and reception halls, vibrant with colour, ganch and wooden carving. The first public exhibition was held here in 1927, and it was classified as a national collection a decade later.

The mihrab niche in the main hall points in the opposite direction to Mecca as Polovtsev desired decorative not functional Islam. Omar Khayyam quotes frame two doorways: 'The world is a great caravanserai with two doors: one entrance and one exit. Every day new guests come to the caravanserai.'

As photographs on display inside show, the facade of the building has changed surprisingly little since its construction in the early 20th century: the gardens have matured, but the delicate columns and the pale blue colour scheme are original. In the museums central hall, it is the building itself that is the attraction: it is a stunning space with an ornately carved and vividly painted ceiling. The wooden doors and their frames are particularly elaborate, as are the decorative pillars supporting the roof. The walls are painted and tiled with so many contrasting designs that in any other context they'd make your eyes go funny. Here, however, they look exquisite.

Among the store of 19th-20th century embroidery are many items essential to a bride's dowry (traditional wedding rites empowered them to protect the young couple from evil): suzaine wall-hangings and variants such as oi-palyak, lunar sky, and gulkurpa, flower blanket. Dopillar (skullcaps) display similar diversity in stitching, motifs and symbolism. Carved wooden furniture includes tables and laukhi, folding book stands, by Kokandian master Khaidarov. Other halls feature regional ceramics, metalware, and musical instruments for festive occasions, such as karnai pipes and doira drums, and jewellery sets weighing up to 20 kilograms. The website offers a good online guide to the museum.

Other galleries are arranged by the type of item on display, and their exhibits include fine ceramics, crystal and glass, clothes and embroidered textiles, musical instruments, jewellery and carpets. Though there are items of considerable note in each of the galleries, our particular favourites are the contemporary glassware and the textile rooms, where you can see not only the finished garments and carpets but also the hand-carved stamps and other tools used to create the distinctive designs.

Two workshops at the museum restore antique pieces and give classes in various crafts, whilst two shops sell a refreshing selection of handmade items, prints and vintage clothing.


Address: 15, Rakatboshi Str., Tashkent
Phone: (+998 71) 256 39 43

Working hours: 09:00 – 17:00
Day off: open every day
Guided tours: in Uzbek, Russian, English, German and French