Samarkand Silk Paper

In 751 A.D., the Chinese troops invaded the territory of the Central Asia (particularly nowadays territory of Kyrgyzstan) on the river Taraz (Talas) near the town of Jambul. The Samarkand ruler Abu Moslem routed the enemy and captured 20000 Chinese soldiers. Among Chinese soldiers there were many artisans including those engaged in paper manufacture. In an effort to save their lives, the Chinese soldiers had to unveil all secrets of paper production to local artisans. Since the 8th century, Samarkand artisans started manufacturing paper, and in the early 9th century the manufacture of writing-paper became a major branch of workmanship. Throughout centuries, artisans of Samarkand – Kogazgars manufactured the world´s best paper with smooth surface and solidity, and the most important thing, ink-proof. It is no mere coincidence that most Persian and Arab manuscripts of the 9-10 centuries were performed on the Samarkand Paper. A raw – material for the Samarkand Paper was a kind of mulberry which grows throughout the Silk Road in the Central Asia. This sort of paper is noted for typical silk suffice and pleasant ochre tint which do not tire one´s eye when reading contrasting black and ligature of ancient calligraphic writing.  

In the 19th century, the internecine wars between rulers of Samarkand and Bukhara and the related invasion of Jungars (Kalmyks) and Iranian troops resulted in the disastrous crisis and the center of paper manufacture moved to Kokand. Despite not high quality and quantity of the product, this branch did exisit till the beginning of the 20th century.

The revival of the original technology

An international conference was held in Kagan, Bukhara in 1995 under the decision of the UNESCO to discuss problems arising from conservation of historical monuments. A special emphasis was laid on the development of ancient handicrafts within the framework of the applied arts, specifically, revival of the medieval paper production. Chairman of the association “Konigil-Meros” Zarif Muhtarov, following a detailed research into required materials and acquaintance with written sources at the museums and libraries and a result of protracted experiment work, was successful in restoring the ancient technology. The thinnest sprouts of the Central Asian mulberry –balhi, are cut with the first winter frosts;  their peel is cleaned and a cambium is separated. Soft porous material is soaked after long-term drying and then boiled for several hours. The fibrous mass is carefully crumbled up by wooden sticks and the material obtained is dissolved in the water. Then it is passed through a sieve; sheets are carefully wrung out and dried in the sun. To complete, the surface of the paper is polished by see shell on smooth marble. There are grounds to believe that the Samarkand paper was so highly appreciated thanks to the skills of glossing masters.

After the solution of organization questions, a small workshop was opened in the environs of Samarkand village of Konigil, by ceramists Zarif and Islam Muhtarov, sons of Honored Art Worker of Uzbekistan. It is curious that the present workshops was probably the exact place of the original paper workshop. Zahiriddin Babur in his famous “Babur-Name” wrote: “the world´s best paper is manufactured in Samarkand; the water for paper mills is taken from Koni-Gil. The latter is located on the bank of Siyakh-Aba, this stream is also called Ob-i-Rahmat…”

A question arises: is there necessity of revival of labor-intensive medieval technologies in the epoch of scientific-technical progress? Yes, of course! One of the world´s oldest cities of Samarkand with its history and rich material culture is imperishable value of the entire human civilization.



Bakhrom Rasulev

Bakhrom Rasulev
+(99893) 394-31-91