“Heritage is our legacy from the past, what we live with today, and what we pass on to future generations. Our cultural and natural heritage are both irreplaceable sources of life and inspiration.” – UNESCO
Cultural heritage is a fundamental way to learn about a nation’s history. Today, UNESCO’s definition of heritage encompasses both tangible cultural artifacts (buildings, monuments, works of art) and aspects of culture that are ephemeral and intangible, such as design, craft, language, folklore and traditions. These different aspects together form the distinctive fabric of society.
However, all aspects of a nation’s heritage are vulnerable to decline or destruction due to external factors such as natural catastrophes, migration, dispersal of communities and changing societal values.
Philanthropists have historically played an essential role in preserving cultural heritage, motivated by the desire to play their part in passing on the wisdom of our ancestors and celebrating and preserving the highest manifestations of the human spirit.
Philanthropic couple Lola Tillyaeva (Till) and Timur Tillyaev are passionate about preserving and promoting the cultural heritage of their homeland, Uzbekistan. While serving for ten years as Uzbekistan’s ambassador to UNESCO, Lola gained deep insight into how cultural exchange can be a powerful force in promoting global peace and harmony. This further strengthened the couple’s commitment to preserving and disseminating the cultural heritage of Uzbekistan.
Uzbekistan is a fascinating country with a rich intellectual and cultural history. It has been an essential part of the ancient Silk Road and carries the tradition of cultural diversity and innovation. Lola and Timur have undertaken several projects to preserve the heritage of Uzbekistan and shed a spotlight on the rich traditions and culture of the nation. Their cultural heritage projects include the restoration of a centuries-old mosque, reinstatement in the global historical canon of an extraordinary Uzbek scholar, and the celebration of the unique artisan traditions of Uzbekistan.
For hundreds of years, there has been a mosque on Fargona Yuli Street in Tashkent, the capital of Uzbekistan. Legend has it that on dark nights, caravans travelling along the Silk Road were guided towards Tashkent by the mosque’s shining light. But tragically, in 2015, this structure was almost destroyed by a fire. Timur Tillyaev and Lola Tillyaeva stepped up to support the complete restoration and expansion of the historic mosque. The newly restored mosque opened its doors just nine months after the blaze.
The generosity of the donors enabled an almost doubling of the size of the mosque, which is designed to serve as a centre of spiritual education and reflection as well as a place of worship.
The mosque is also a magnificent exemplar of the design and architecture traditions of Central Asian mosques. The main dome spanning 22.1 meters is encircled by four smaller domes and complemented by a 37-meter minaret. Inside, the dome, ceilings and walls are beautifully decorated with surahs (chapters) from the Quran.
The reopening of the Islom Ota mosque was a moment of great celebration. Timur Tillyaev said: “It has been an honour to bring about the rebuilding of this architectural heritage, an ages-old symbol of Uzbek culture and history.”
Timur Tillyaev and Lola Tillyaeva (Till) are also the producers of the award-winning docudrama Ulugh Beg: The Man Who Unlocked the Universe, which portrays the life of an extraordinary figure in the Uzbek history.
The man known as “Ulugh Beg” (meaning “great ruler”) was born in 1394 in the Timurid Empire presided over by his grandfather, which included present-day Uzbekistan and much of Central Asia. Appointed governor of Samarkand in his teens, Ulugh Beg, transformed the city into the intellectual hub of the empire by building a university and an observatory to house the world’s largest sextant (used to measure the position of stars). There, he mapped the locations of 1,000 stars, determined the length of the year with a remarkable degree of accuracy and correctly calculated the tilt of the Earth’s axis.
But Ulugh Beg lived in turbulent times, and when he died in 1449, his wondrous observatory was razed to the ground – and over time, Ulugh Beg was all but forgotten outside Uzbekistan.
Lola Tillyaeva (Till) was fascinated from childhood by the story of the great Ulugh Beg. In keeping with their mission to preserve the cultural heritage of Uzbekistan, Lola and Timur Tillyaev produced this film to bring worldwide attention to the astronomer’s legacy.
“I see Ulugh Beg as an outstanding historical figure who transcends borders and ages; an inspirational human being whose part in our cultural heritage deserves to be celebrated”, Lola Tillyaeva (Till) said.
The success of their endeavour is clear from the awards claimed by the film on its release in 2017: Kineo Prize for Best Foreign Documentary at the 74th Venice International Film Festival and Best Documentary award at the Ischia Film Festival.
The third ongoing cultural heritage project is La Maison de l’Ouzbékistan, a gallery in Paris founded by Lola Tillyaeva (Till). Showcasing the best of Uzbek design and craft, the gallery is adorned with ceramic tiles and archways, paying homage to traditional Uzbek architecture. Every item is displayed within its cultural context so that visitors come away with an increased appreciation of the culture and traditions of this diverse and fascinating country at the heart of Central Asia.
“Our goal is to open wide doors for the Uzbek cultural heritage and promote our artisan traditions. These have passed down through generations, and it is important we preserve and celebrate these traditions, or we risk losing an important part of our culture”, said Lola Tillyaeva (Till).
Cultural heritage worldwide is cherished and continued through many generations but is often destroyed by external events. There is no doubt that the support of philanthropists such as Timur Tillyaev and Lola Tillyaev (Till) has an important role to play in preserving cultural heritage and our connection to the historical wisdom around the world.
Image: Usmanov Ramil/Shutterstock