16/07/2007 Solomon’s throne (1)
It is a fierce landmark, fleeting above the city. The huge proud Kyrgyz flag, red with a golden sun in the middle, attracts the attention. I presume every first time visitor of this place will feel the urge to tame the rock. Also in an attempt to get some grip on the slightly frenzied city. Although this will be a nearly impossible endeavor in this jungle of houses, buildings, cars and buses with its Uzbeki, Kyrgyzian, Russian and Tajik inhabitants who swarm streets of Osh, a city in southern Kyrgyzstan.
Photo: Paul Maassen
With about 300.000 inhabitants Osh – the second biggest city of Kyrgyzstan – is rather flat. The city sprawls across the valley of the Ak-Buura (White Came) river. It is said to be one of the region’s ancient cities with a history dating back at least to the 5th century BC. It is said that ‘Osh is older than Rome’. The city certainly must have been a major hub on the Silk Road from its earliest days.
The enormous bazaar offers mainly food: fresh and dry fruits, vegetables, cheese, milk, a variety of bread and of course meat from a variety of animals. The non food section is occupied by ugly and cheap looking Chinese products. The dust dims the colors of this relaxed but lively city centre, with lots of pleasant shadowy terraces with sofa’s on which you can enjoy a lunch and slowly drink loads of tea until the hottest hours of the day have passed.
It has been a Muslim place of pilgrimage for centuries, supposedly because the Prophet Mohammed once prayed here. In 1497 the king of Fergana built himself a little shelter and private mosque on the rock. In later years this came to be an attraction in its own right. It collapsed in an earthquake in 1853 and was rebuilt. After a mysterious explosion in the 1960’s – people say it was a Soviet attempt to halt the persistent pilgrim traffic – it was rebuilt again after independence, according to the good, old Lonely Planet.
For ages this region has been a cross road for religions and cultures, mixed with the political winds and ethnical waves. These all come together in the disagreement about the plans for building a ski lift on that not very impressive stony hill. Sad enough, it is not a soapstory.