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Rishtan Ceramics Center

Ferghana Valley

In Rishtan everything breathes history. History is everywhere. It is in the names of the streets and craftsmen’s quarters: Mahalla Dukchion (‘Spinners’ Quarter’), Mahalla Kuloloni Bolo (‘Upper Potters’ Quarter’), Mahalla Kuzagaron (‘Pot Makers’ Quarter’), and Mahalla Chinnigaron (‘Chinaware Masters’ Quarter’). It can be found in Rishtan residents’ homes where they still keep their grandfathers’ tools and huge century-old hum containers for grain. Rishtan is located southwest from Kokand, at a distance of 50 kilometers. As far back as the beginning of the Common Era caravan tracks connected this little town with the Great Silk Road arteries, which ran through the ancient Ferghana Valley towns Kuva and Aksikent.

Ceramic craft manufacturing began developing in Rishtan about a thousand years ago. Though decoration of pottery with lead glaze had been practiced in many parts of today’s Uzbekistan since ancient times, Rishtan kuzagar masters pottery with the bright light blue glaze ishkor was in the greatest demand along the whole Silk Road region – from China to Arabia. In the early Middle Ages China porcelain with cobalt decoration was very popular and highly valued in Central Asia. At the end of the 14th century Amir Temur sent a few masters from Samarkand to Rishtan with the assignment to figure out the secret technology of precious China porcelain. But there was no kaolin in Ferghana Valley, and that plan was a failure. However, they began making semi-faience from the local clays – silicate kashina pottery. Covered with white glaze with patterns painted in light blue and turquoise, this pottery was called chini (‘Chinese’). In the 19th century Rishtan masters would still make chini ceramics, which was in great demand. According to ancient beliefs, blue – the color of water and sky – symbolized happiness. It is well known that Rishtan masters also made glazed tiles for decoration of Khudoyar Khan’s palace in Kokand.

Pottery and ceramics manufacture is a family business in Rishtan. Across the generations, from father to son they passed on the secrets of the dyestuff manufacture: deep violet and brown dyes were made from the manganese ore mined in the local foothills, yellow dyes were made from ferrous oxide and chrome, turquoise and ultramarine dyes were made from lapis lazuli. But the main secret of Rishtan masters is the recipe of the potash ishkor glaze made from the ash of the herbs kirk bugin and choroynak, which grow in the environs of the town. The process of making ishkor glazeis very complicated and laborious. One needs to know the exact time for gathering the herbs, to know how to get them dried properly, to keep proper smoldering rate during combustion process, to refine the ash, to know the right proportions for mixing the ash with white sand. Besides, the mixture has to be annealed twice in the kiln.

The ceramic items are covered with angob – white clay substance which serves as a background for decorative patterns. Already after one-time kilning at a temperature of 1000 degrees Celsius ishkor glaze becomes bright and very hard. In the past Rishtan masters kindled their kilns with woods that do not give black smoke while burning – mostly saxaul and willow wood. Modern Rishtan kilns utilize gas. It is ishkor that imparts the ceramics amazingly deep and rich emerald-turquoise color.

Even after the Great Silk Road stopped functioning, the fame of Rishtan masters did not fade. In 1900 Rishtan ceramics were among the exhibits at the World’s Fair in Paris, where connoisseurs compared them to the best examples of European majolica. Some of Rishtan ceramics of those times enriched museum collections in many countries. Rishtan ceramics became one of the subjects of fine arts researches; historians declared Rishtan the cradle of Ferghana Valley ceramics.

The diversity of forms and décor of Rishtan ceramics is amazing. Among them are pilaf dishes, various bowls, water and milk jugs, and huge hum containers for storage of foodstuff. Rishtan masters’ favorite decorative motifs are those of flowers, rosettes, fish, and almonds, kumgan containers inside meander patterns, chessboard and net patterns. The masters put the patterns with the help of homemade goat’s hair brushes in quick and confident strokes.

Today there work in Rishtan about 50 master ceramists. Each of them has a shop where he works and immediately sells his products. Well-known in Uzbekistan are the masters Sharoffiddin Yususpov and his son Firdavs, the son of famous master Ibragim Komilov – Ismoiljon, Muzaffar Saidov and Rustam Usmanov. Their ceramics give new life to the ancient Rishtan ceramics traditions.

Sightseeing Places in Ferghana Valley

Kokand: Marghilan:
Khudayar-Khan Palace Chakar Mosque
Dakhma-i-shakhan Royal Cemetery Seieed Ahmad Hajji Madrassah
Jami Mosque 'Yodgorlik' Silk-weaving Mil
Narbuta-bey Madrassah Pir-Siddik Architectural Complex
Modari-khan Mausoleum  
Rishtan: Kuva:
Rishtan Ceramics Center Buddhist Complex of Kuba Site
Andijan: Chust:
Jami Madrassah Chust Knives Manufacturing Workshop
Jami Mosque Namangan:
Zakhiriddin Babur architectural Complex Ancient Settlement of Aksikent