The Russians occupied Tashkent long before the Soviet Union formed. They conquered “Turkestan” in 1865, a time when European nations were forming empires overseas. The take over of Central Asia was Russia’s attempt of matching other colonial powers of the era. Although there are no oceans or mountain ranges between Central Asia and Moscow, it is a long way away from the capital and effectively a colony.
When the Tsar’s armies came to what was then referred to as Turkestan, Tashkent was a minor market city. Samarkand and Bukhara were centers of power and wealth. The Russians set their base in Tashkent and many Russians came to administer the colony or work in the construction projects that were expanding the city.
The Tsarist Russian government created a modern Russian city alongside the existing Asian Tashkent “Old City”. The idea was to model for the native Tashkenters how European order, technology and urban planning could improve their lives. They were creating a modern European city in the Kyzyl Kum (Red Sand) Desert of Uzbekistan.
The large Cathedral of the Transfiguration with its Bell Tower and Konstantinov Square with the statue of first Governor-General Von Kaufman built at that time were demolished by the Soviets in 1932. However, there is one prominent building left from that time period, the Palace & Outhouse (not the outdoor bathroom type) of Duke Romanov built in 1889 still exists.
The palace was built for Grand Duke Nicholas Konstantinovich who has an interesting back story. He was the grandson of Nicholas I and born into wealth in 1850 in St. Petersburg. He was a military officer and playboy and must have been the one of the most eligible bachelors in the city. His bon vivant lifestyle led him to a scandalous affair with Fanny Lear and a theft of three diamonds from an icon owned by his mother. Nicholas K. was caught, declared insane and banished to Tashkent.
With lots of time and wealth, he did a lot of works in Tashkent, directing the work of the first canals that brought much needed water to the city. The Romanov Family ruled Russia for over 300 years, from the time of Ivan the Terrible to the Bolshevik Revolution. Their legacy can still be found in Tashkent today.
The Romanov Palace is not open to the public. It was used by the Soviets as youth center and museum. I read where it was used as a reception hall for events hosted by the Ministry of Foreign Affairs. The palace must have been luxurious in its heyday, but probably most of the art and original rooms have been cleared through the decades. The grounds are being maintained and there seems to be security around the building most of the time. I would love to get inside and see it!