Central Asia has one of the deepest and richest histories of any region on the planet. First settled some 6500 years ago by oasis-based farming communities, the deserts, steppe and mountains of Central Asia were subsequently home to many pastoral nomadic confederations, and also to large scale complex societies such as the Oxus Civilization and the Parthian and Kushan Empires. Central Asia also functioned as the major hub for trans-Eurasian trade and exchange networks during three distinct Silk Roads eras. Throughout much of the second millennium of the Common Era, then under the control of a succession of Turkic and Persian Islamic dynasties, already impressive trading cities such as Bukhara and Samarkand were further adorned with superb madrassas and mosques. Many of these suffered destruction at the hands of the Mongols in the 13th century, but Timur and his Timurid successors rebuilt the cities and added numerous impressive buildings during the late-14th and early-15th centuries. Further superb buildings were added to these cities by the Shaybanids during the 16th century, yet thereafter neglect by subsequent rulers, and the drying up of Silk Roads trade, meant that, by the mid-18th century when expansive Tsarist Russia began to incorporate these regions into its empire, many of the great pre- and post-Islamic buildings of Central Asia had fallen into ruin. This colonization of the region by the Russians, and its later incorporation into the Union of Society Socialist Republics in 1919, brought Central Asia to the attention of Russian and Soviet archaeologists and urban planners. It was these town planners and engineers who were eventually responsible for preserving many of the decaying monuments and historic urban cores of Central Asia, despite the often-challenging ideological constraints they were forced to work under. The paper focuses particularly on the effect of these preservation policy decisions in Uzbekistan, where the process has been best documented. It argues that Soviet authorities struggled constantly with ways of recognizing the need for historical preservation while at the same time creating a new society that had cast off the shackles of its ‘feudal past’.
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