Uzbekistan is a fascinating country with a rich intellectual and cultural heritage. Deserving of international recognition, Uzbekistan boasts four cultural UNESCO World Heritage Sites, the most in the Central Asian region. At the heart of the ancient Silk Road, Uzbekistan connects Asia with Europe and the Middle East, and is home to a diverse range of cultures, thinkers, and innovators.
However, as in all countries, Uzbek culture and heritage constantly faces the risk of decline or destruction. Natural disasters, changing societal values, or simply a lack of awareness is some of the factors that threaten cultural heritage globally. Philanthropists have often stepped in to prevent this loss of invaluable heritage and invest in initiatives that preserve and celebrate culture. This is the case with Uzbek philanthropic couple Lola Tillyaeva (Till) and Timur Tillyaev.
Lola is a successful entrepreneur and philanthropist who served as Uzbekistan’s ambassador to UNESCO for over a decade, where she gained extensive experience and insights about the preservation of heritage. Her husband Timur is an international entrepreneur and philanthropist whose expertise and interests span across sectors including energy and renewables, finance, logistics, healthcare, and tech.
The couple is passionate about preserving and promoting Uzbek culture and have undertaken several projects to protect and celebrate their homeland’s rich heritage, including the restoration of a centuries-old mosque, the establishment of a Central Asian gallery in the heart of Paris, and the production of an award-winning documentary about an extraordinary Uzbek scholar and leader Ulugh Beg.
Restoration and expansion of the Islom Ota Masjid (mosque)
The Islom Ota Mosque is located at the centre of Tashkent and is one of the most beautiful structures in the nation’s capital. It is said that during the booming years of the Silk Road, due to its tall towers and shining light, the mosque would guide caravans traveling at night towards the city. In 2015, this important site of Uzbek culture was almost entirely destroyed by a fire.
Timur Tillyaev and Lola Tillyaeva (Till) stepped in to support the complete restoration of Islom Ota Masjid, and the mosque was able to re-open its doors to the public just nine months after the fire. Not only did the Uzbek couple restore the mosque, but they also expanded it to almost double its previous size. Today, the mosque again serves as a centre for spiritual education and a place of worship for Uzbek and international visitors alike.
“It was an honour to bring about the rebuilding of this architectural heritage, an ages-old symbol of Uzbek culture and history,” said Timur Tillyaev said.
Uzbek culture at the heart of Europe – La Maison de l’Ouzbékistan
Founded in 2020 by Lola Tillyaeva (Till), La Maison de l’Ouzbékistan is a gallery in Paris that showcases the best of Uzbek design, art, and craft. The gallery is a work of art in itself, as it is decorated with beautiful handmade ceramic tiles, columns, and archways and follows traditional Uzbek architecture. Items at La Maison de l’Ouzbékistan are displayed within its cultural context so that visitors can learn and appreciate the history and traditions behind Uzbek art and culture.
La Maison de l’Ouzbékistan also serves to protect and promote Uzbek artisan traditions. “With the decline of some craftsmanship schools in Uzbekistan, we can lose the history of our ancestors. By enabling Western audiences to discover the history and culture of Central Asia, we at La Maison aim to nurture and strengthen our artisan traditions,” said Lola Tillyaeva.
Honoring forgotten historic figures – Ulugh Beg: The Man Who Unlocked the Universe
Timur Tillyaev and Lola Tillyaeva are also the producers of the renowned documentary film Ulugh Beg: The Man Who Unlocked the Universe. Released in 2017, the film portrays the life of Ulugh Beg, an Uzbek mathematician, early leader, and scholar.
Ulugh Beg, which translates to “great ruler”, was born in 1394 in the Timurid Empire, which included Uzbekistan and much of Central Asia. He was appointed governor of the city Samarkand, located in south-eastern Uzbekistan, which he transformed into the intellectual capital of the empire. He built an observatory which housed the world’s then-largest sextant, a navigation instrument used to measure the angular distance between two visible objects – primarily used for astronomy. Ulugh Beg mapped the locations of over one thousand stars, correctly calculated the tilt of the Earth’s axis, and accurately determined the length of the year.
Unfortunately, Ulugh Beg ruled during turbulent times and was overthrown and killed by rival factions. His observatory was razed to the ground, and over time his accomplishments and contributions to academia were forgotten outside Uzbekistan.
Lola Tillyaeva and Timur Tillyaev produced this film to bring domestic and international attention to the remarkable life of Ulugh Beg.
Recognized for its unique display of Uzbek history, Lola’s and Timur’s film about the life of Ulugh Beg won the Kineo Prize for Best Foreign Documentary at the 74th Venice International Film Festival and Best Documentary award at the Ischia Film Festival.
“Ulugh Beg is an outstanding historical figure who transcends borders and ages; an inspirational human being whose part in our cultural heritage deserves to be celebrated,” says Lola Tillyaeva.
Whether it is on the reconstruction of historical buildings or the promotion of arts and culture, the philanthropic work of Lola Tillyaeva (Till) and Timur Tillyaev has made an important contribution to the preservation and celebration of Uzbek culture and heritage at home and abroad. The work of philanthropists like them will remain crucial to protecting invaluable cultural heritage across the globe.