Heritage and the Politics of Culture
In February 1899 the Russian Archaeological Society granted 13,000 roubles for the forthcoming series “Descriptions of Samarqand’s Mosques” (Opisania samarkandskikh mechetei). Due to the advent of the Soviets, only one single volume was published in 1905 - the lavishly decorated catalogue “The Mosques of Samarqand” (Mecheti Samarkanda), an album solely dedicated to the Timurid dynastic mausoleum of Gur-i Amir (early 15th century). This polygraphic masterpiece was edited by the most renowned tsarist archaeologist Nikolai I. Veselovskii (1848-1918) but the actual drawings and watercolours were executed by P. P. Pokryshkin and the young Aleksei V. Shchusev, who would become one of the most famous Russian and later Soviet architects. The folio edition was financed by the empress Alexandra Feodorovna (1872-1918). It was the ultimate prototype of an officially politicised publication on Timurid architecture that marked a new trend in the study of Timurid heritage: the monuments were not regarded as potential targets for implementing Russian colonial urban renewal measures across the newly conquered territories of Central Asia but as a source of comprehensive scientific studies devoid of their intrinsic religious and socio-political values. Samarqand, an oasis along the famed Silk Roads, now within the borders of the Russian empire, became a ‘subject of constant academic interest’ and endeavour propagated by Russian-speaking archaeologists and artists. Central Asian architectural heritage was selected, re-appropriated and translated through their art according to the colonial artistic tastes of the Russian empire.