THE INTERNATIONAL SCIENTIFIC AND PRACTICAL SYMPOSIUM
“CULTURAL HERITAGE CONSERVATION AS A DRIVER FOR TOURISM DEVELOPMENT
DECEMBER 24 TASHKENT , UZBEKISTAN
Vassilis GANIATSAS, Full Professor, Architectural/Urban/Landscape Design and Heritage Management, School of Architecture-National Technical University of Athens-Greece, The Heritage Management Organization.
From the Authenticity of Monuments to the Narrative Continuity of Ηeritage Places in Cultural Tourism: A lesson from/for Samarkand
Dear Colleagues and Friends,
I’m glad to be invited in this Symposium at a distance, a follow-up of last year’s most successful “1st International Scientific and Practical Symposium”. I like the continuity in this kind of dialogue and exchange of ideas.
This year I have had already this firsthand lived experience of Samarkand, a city of legend and myth, which I witnessed as a real place. Thus, I can be more practical now towards addressing its potential for cultural tourism.
By paying attention to my personal experience as a cultural visitor, besides and beyond my professional expertise, difficult to tell apart but worthwhile, I was able to really engage with that place and enjoy its cultural significance and thus avoid the distance usually separating a professional expert from the object of his inquiry.
So, what exactly visiting Samarkand has to offer more than the exquisite images and virtual presentations that someone can have from thousands of miles afar? In our times of nearly perfect virtual simulations, what is the purpose of visiting the real place of Samarkand?
These questions become urgent and succinct in our times. After 9 months of travel restrictions in COVID times, we can best reflect on what we’ve missed in failing to travel to Samarkand. The pandemic accentuated to the extreme the difference between virtual and actual cultural visiting places. The prospect of a real, actual visit in a foreseeable future is the only consolation that makes virtual visits bearable.
So, what are we missing in failing to visit Samarkand? Why virtual visit substitutes are not enough? Why images, videos and virtual visits are doomed to be nearly perfect and never perfect ? Well, because with all virtual mediums you can be nearly there and not there, in place.
Before visiting Samarkand last year, I went through many images and narratives of Samarkand. Images, like photos, videos and virtual reality representations that provided glimpses and partial views of the monuments and the land.
Narratives, like stories, legends, novels, and fictions of Samarkand, from Marco Polo to contemporary writers.
So, images are partial, incremental, and fragmentary, calling for a gestalt like perceptual and conceptual mechanism of completion in space and time, while narratives even without images approach a holistic sense, a full experience of place out of which many images can be accommodated as emerging out of reality.
These remarks on the difference between images and narratives, has severe consequences on the modes of experiencing heritage places. Do we experience a place as a sequence of images, as an itinerary of distinct celebrated monuments, or a living place in continuity with its past? In short, a real visit can be as poor as a virtual one, if we miss the holistic spatiotemporal reality of place that renders monuments as culturally significant in context rather than as isolated museum curiosities.
In my visit to Samarkand, after searching for images and delving into narratives, last year I had a personal experience of the Real Samarkand. My exclamation was: So, Samarkand really exists!
But beware, not any physical visit can function like that and engage a visitor to the cultural monument and its context. A physical visit can well be only a little more than a virtual one, if it fails to experience a place a whole, a place with monuments, or else monuments in place, and not just isolated monuments in space.
I’ve experienced such a holistic view of Samarkand, not just by the in-depth guided tours of the organizers to the exquisite and unique Timur monuments, but also by:
I feel complete, not just because I managed to see enough monuments but mainly because I managed to experience many faces of the context that surrounds the monuments, which is not just a visual background for prevailing in size and significance monument, but rather the vital space of monuments, the fertile ground of their meaning. I managed in three days– it’s not always possible despite the good will and certainly difficult in such a short time-to establish a bond with the city and feel at home – sometimes addressing people in the street as If I could speak Uzbek.
This established bond acted, and still acts, as a constant reference not only for memories, but also for all that I missed and also for all additional information about Uzbek culture and Samarkand I keep gathering ever since.
Now, why these personal thoughts could be of use in articulating practical and useful planning and design proposals for the protection, enhancement, and management of Samarkand Heritage, as the main driver for cultural tourism and economic development?
Because I believe, we should reconsider, review, and change our current methodologies for the enhancement of monuments. In all proposals we should enhance heritage by preserving not just the celebrated monuments per se, but also the surrounding cultural context consisting of low-income housing, craft workshops, local markets and the local people. We should avoid spatial cleansing, erasement of historic and traditional neighborhoods for tourist-bus parking, urban gentrification by removal of craftsmen and substitution with souvenir shops, as well as any beautification or facilitation aimed solely to tourists. All these may result in Monumental Vacuity, as Michael Herzfeld, a professor of anthropology at Harvard called it.
Let’s make it conclude by some remarks specific for Samarkand.
Along these methodological axes for mainly urban but also landscape and architectural and conservation planning and design, what I seek and argue for, is to safeguard narrative continuity and thus cultural significance of places, of Samarkand as a place and any other Silk Route city or natural location considered in terms of heritage place.
Continuity of experience is the ultimate proof of the reality of place, a cultural reality that represents the authenticity of the whole place considered as a monument at a bigger scale even to that of Timur monuments. We should turn our attention from the authenticity of isolated monuments to the authenticity of place that contains them. In Uzbek language, from the haqiqiy of monuments to the haqiqiy of heritage places.
Planning and Design should strive for, and eventually strike, a balance between conservation and development in order to achieve a potential for narrative continuity that could match the continuity of stories, legends and myths that Samarkand so much deserves to maintain, enhance and actually realize while being in place.
Samarkand, due to its legendary stature, deserves and should promise to offer to all prospective visitors the experience of a pilgrim, to be fulfilled only by visiting and experiencing its reality in place, or else, to be most regrettably missed.
Thank you – Rahmat