Bukhara or Bukhoro in local language is called also as Holy, Bukhara the Noble, the Dome of Islam, and the Pillar of Religion. The traditional founder of the city has always been the Persian prince Siyavush who built a citadel here shortly after marrying the daughter of Afrosiab in Samarkand, but its growth has for centuries depended largely upon its strategic location, uniquely placed on the crossroads to Merv, Gurganj, Herat, Kabul and Samarkand. The early town was taken by the Persian Achamenids in the sixth century BC, by Alexander the Great in 329 BC and by the empires of the Hephahte and the Kushan. By Sogdian times the town was known as Numijkent, later to be renamed after the Sanskrit word for monastery, Bukhara was a major city in the Sogdian confederation but it was still merely a younger brother to thriving merchant towns of Paikend, Romitan and Varakhsha (home to the ruling dynasty of Bukhar Khudats) until the storm of Islam arose.
Ismail Samani mousoleum
It is the oldest, best preserved and most breathtakingly original building in Bukhara and without doubt, one of the architectural highlights of any visit to Uzbekistan. The almost perfect brick cube was built at the beginning of the tenth century and belongs to the great cultural resurgence of the Samanid dynasty (875-999). The tomb derives its name from the founder of the dynasty, Ismael, and contains not only his tomb hut also that of his father Ahmed, his nephew Nasr and others of the Samanid line.
The mausoleum draws elements from early Sogdian architecture (such as the heavy corner buttresses) and Sassanid fire worship (witness the circular brick suns and canopy shape of sacred Zoroastrian temples). Combining these with the recent arithmetic and geometrical advances made by al-Khorezmi, al-Fergani and ibn-Sina and the latest squinch technology, to forge an artistic style, the monumental mazar would serve as an architectural formula for centuries to come. The construction is of a 108-metre cube with four identical facades, all of which slope slightly inward and upon which sits a hemispherical cupola ringed with four domelets.
From the outside the zone of transition is masked by a gallery of ten windows which provide light and ventilation for the cool inner tombs.
The mausoleum is also rich in symbolism. Its cube not only refers back to the sacred koaba stone at Mecca, but furthermore symbolizes the earth and complements its dome, symbol of the heavens, to create a metaphor of the universe, The true majesty of the building lies in the vivacity and textured richness of its basket -woven brickwork, set in a series of absorbingly complex patterns after the completion of the main skeleton structure.
Originally, the tombstone had two openings, one where anxious pilgrims would plate their questions, dilemmas and donations and another where a hidden mullah would leave the orthodox/ considered solution. The site was also originally one of the holiest cemeteries in Bukhara, where even emirs were laid to rest. However, when in 1934 the mausoleum was discovered by the Soviet archaeologist Shishkin, buried under several meters of accumulated sand and earth, the graves were relocated. The accumulation of earth accounts also its survival during the Mongol destruction. A more assiduous contemporary threat to the 1000-year-old tomb can be seen in the white salt marks left by the rising water table. The Samani Mausoleum is situated in Samani Park, five minutes walk due west of the Registan.
The Ark fortress
The Ark located in the center of the old town, it can be reached from East and West of the old town on foot.
The first fortress according to historians was built in the seventh century by the Bukhar Khudat Bidun, but after his collapse it was rebuilt. Arabs built the first ever Bukharan mosque here in 713 on the smouldering ashes of a Zoroastrian temple. Samanids and Karakhanids fortified it from the ninth to the 12th centuries with a series of ramparts, the Karakhitai and Khorezmshah destroyed and rebuilt it three limes between them and finally, and indeed rather predictably, the Mongols pulverized it in 1220.
The Ark finally began to take its present form in the 16th century under the Uzbek Shaybanids and all its present buildings date from the last three centuries. By this time, the Ark had grown to house not only the emir, his family and retinue, but also the whole range of government accessories, in a complex of over 3,000 inhabitants providing a palace, harem, throne room, reception hall, office block, treasury, mosque, gold mini, dungeon and slave quarters. Today the Ark is entered from the austere and forbidding western facade. Originally a second, southern Kalon Gate gave direct access to the Friday Mosque and it is here that the mythical Iranian hero of the Shah Nameh, Siyawush is said to lie buried.
The present gateway built by Nadir Shah in 1742 consists of two towering bastions linked by a balcony of six porticoed windows. The courtyard is now a revealing local history Museum. Exhibits include a rare Jewish/Russian/Uzbek dictionary, an excellent 1938 propaganda poster declaiming the emir’s pyramid of power, a water melon spoon with serrated edges, a series of turn of the century dervish robes and a photograph of the first doctor in Bukhara placed above a collection of his gruesome tools of the trade. The final courtyard looks onto the two-storey nagota khana, or orchestra, where the Bukharan state orchestra broke into a spirited version of God Save The Queen in honour of the Reverend Wolff and also Irom where a drumbeat would regularly herald the dark spectacle of impending execution. The main courtyard also housed the royal stables and whenever horses were washed down, water would flow down the still visible channel to drench the wretched souls in the torture cells below.
The mosque’s Bolo Hauz (1712) facade again attracts the eye with a veritable riot of restored primary colour and its 12-metre high iwan still stands as one of the highest, most graceful and most beautifully decorated in Central Asia.
The prophet job came to the Zerafshan valley and witnessed a great and terrible drought as people perished of thirst around him. Job struck the dusty earth with his staff and a tool source of sweet spring water brought liquid salvation. The Chashma Ayub, the Spring of Job, commemorates this site. The present day mausoleum stands in fortress-like austerity, almost devoid of decoration, a few hundred meters from the Ismael Samani Mausoleum. It consists of four domed chambers, each built during a different epoch and topped in a different style of cupola to form a remarkable visual spread of architectural history. Although the original construction dates from the 12th-century rule of Karakhanid Arslan Khan, the earliest surviving dome was raised by Tamerlane in 1380 over the existing tomb chamber. This unusual conical cupola, rare for Transoxiana, has its roots in the nomadic tent designs of Khorezm and was most probably designed by architects forcibly repatriated by Tamerlane in the wake of his 1379 campaign to Gurganj (Kunya Urgench). Suspended underneath the conical cupola is a concealed second dome, so that from the inside the cupola looks much the same as its three later 16th-century additions. The commemorative complex is underscored by the almost cultish respect given to water in these harsh and arid climes, a theme adopted by the modern order into the present day Museum of Water Supply.
Just behind the Chashmai Ayub and near to local Bazaar of Bukhara you can see the ruins of the city walls of old Bukhara dating back to 16 century Sand castle remains are all that is left of the original 25 kilometer bastioned wall – ten meters high, five meters thick and wide enough to sit a cannon on its ramparts – that encompassed the Shakhristan and kept the hostile desert and its nomads at bay. The first set of walls was raised as early as 850, when the medieval shakhristan was linked to the expanding suburb rabat. During the tenth century Samanid expansion a second set of walls was built, only to be subsequently fortified during the turbulent 12th and 13th centuries. The seven original gates were expanded to 11 and named after the outlying suburbs. The Mazar Gate led to the shrine of Bakhauddin Nakhshbandi, the Karakul Gate led to Khorasan and the Tallipach Gate pointed the long march to Khorezm. From the outbreak of World War I until 1920 these gates were continually locked, sealing the city against Bolshevik agents and British spies, and permission to enter the city was granted only by the Bukharan consulate in Kagan. Red Army stormed the gates and entered the city through the Sheikh Jalal Gate on 2 September 1920. Today the walls look like they have simply melted in the desert heat, but the Talhpaeh Gate still stands next to artificial lake and the Sheikh Jalal Gate is still preserved to the southwest in the middle of Jeibor Street, both date from 16th-century renovation.
The Kalon minaret
The Kalon Minaret (Great Tower) is one of the defining symbols of Bukhara. The height of the tower is 48 meters high over the city. The initial function of the minaret was used for caravans leading to Bukhara. The minaret which is preserved to nowadays was built in 1127, during the reign of Karakhanids.It took several years to build the foundation of the minaret, because the architect was not in rush to finish the construction. Foundations were dug to a depth of 13 meters, a base measuring 9 meters in diameter was sketched out and a special mortar mixed, using camel’s milk, egg yoke and bull’s blood for that little something extra. The construction was stopped for two years since the architect suddenly disappeared. Two years later he reappeared, claiming that the mortar had sufficiently hardened and raised the tallest free-standing tower in the world at that time. The khan was delighted and the status of the city was raised to the pinnacle of the Islamic world. After death, the architect was laid to rest in the shadow of his work, as far from the minaret as it was tall.Even Chengiz khan’s invasion could not destroy the minaret as he was excited by the beauty of it. The historical books say that when he gazed up in wonder his hat fell down and he bowed to pick it up. He said that if the minaret made him bow he lost his desire to destroy it. The minaret did indeed survive the test of the ages, but only to see its skylight shatiered by a Soviet shell during the 1920 civil skirmishes. It was subsequently repaired in 1924 and adorned with a bold red flag until excavated in 1964, when centuries of accumulated earth and sand where removed from its base and another two meters added to its official height. The minaret was further damaged in the 1976 Gazli earthquake, but has since been restored and is now under UNESCO protection.
The Kalon (Great) Mosque is Friday mosque of Bukhara, built to house the entire male population of the city during its main weekly namaz prayer. Not only is it one of the most ancient mosques in Central Asia, it is also the second biggest, with an open-air capacity for 10-12,000 people. In 1991 when it was opened for public for praying 10 000 prayers gathered here.
The original mosque, built in 795 by the city’s Arab governor was enlarged by Ismael Samani, suffered collapse twice during his nephew Nasr’s reign, burnt to the ground in 1068 and then suffered from Mongols invasion in 1219. The present structure was finished in 1514 (witness an inscription on the mosque’s facade) and the mihrab was embellished in 1541 under the Shaybani Ubaydullah. The plan of the mosque forms a 127-by 78-metre open rectangle with four iwans on its axis and seven entrance gates drawing in all corners of the city. The main entrance lies through the beautiful eastern portal and steps descend through time from 1970s restoration to the original 15th-century ground level. The huge central open-air plaza opens like a rectangular burst of white heat and is en-cased in a colonnaded arcade of 208 pillars and 288 domes which rise from the roof in cool bubbles of shade. To the west the turquoise swell of the Kok Gumbaz (Blue Dome) gives the mosque its popular nickname and shelters the brilliant, gilded tile works of the mihrab niche, an opulence financed by Ubaydullah’s victorious campaign to Gijduvan. The white Kufic inscription running around the dome reads ‘al-baqa’ lillah’ (Immortality Belongs To God). The 19th century octagonal pavilion set in front of the mihrab is an intriguing late addition to the mosque.
At present it is one of the high educational intuitions in muslim world. Except religion they study here subjects as mathematics, history, literature and etc. They should study a five-year course of Arabic, theology and the Koran at the madrassah and its spill-over classrooms in the Kalon Mosque, on the first step to becoming fully fledged imams.
The Mir-i-Arab Madrassah has ranked as the most prestigious educational establishment in Bukhara for centuries. Today it stands at the forefront of Uzbekistan’s Islamic renaissance, a place where the past, the present and the future blur into one and where, as the Soviet century recedes to dim memory, the 16th century looms on the near horizon. In 1535 the Shaybani Ubaydullah Khan sold his share of a consignment of 3,000 Persian slaves for a profit that apparently lay heavy on his soul, for almost immediately afterwards he commissioned a madrassah to face his newly-built Kalon Masque. Responsibility for its construction fell to his close friend and spiritual adviser Sheikh Abdullah of Yemen, the Prince of the Arabs (Mir-i-Arah), at whose feet the khan was eventually buried in the northern domed darskhana of the madrassah. Even today the tombs are marked on the northern wall of the madrassah with a goat’s tail and white flag, the customary symbols of sainthood. Up to the end of the 19th century, students received a religious stipend from the state and could freely marry, as long as their wives did not cross the holy threshold of the college. Tuition was solely in Arabic, writing and mathematics were deeply frowned upon and any student caught in the heinous study of literature, history or poetry was expelled on the spot.
Thus the madrassah is formally closed to tourists, who can only squint through the entrance grill at the intense tile work of its inner court. The two storey facade alone is reward enough though, with its fortress-like buttresses (guldasta) and twin domes which rise from lecture room and mosque like jade balloons. At night warm pin pricks of light diffuse from the alabaster grills of student cells. The madrassah was closed from 1925-1946, after which it was re-opened as part of Stalin’s post-war package of concessions to the region.
Ulughbek and Abdul Aziz Madrassahs
A few hundred yards east from the Poi Kalon, beyond the Tok-i-Zargaron bazaar, lies the second of Bukhara’s kosh madrassahs. These two madrasahs face to face and that’s why it is called “Kosh madrasah” . Ulugbek the grandson of Temur, built several madrasahs in Bukhara, but the only one is located in the city and the next one in Gijhduvan, and the other in Samarkand. At present time the medarasah is reconstructed with modern glazed tiles, similar to original. But the other madrasah, Abdulazizhan madrasah is without reconstruction, dating back to the 17 century.
Magok-i- Attari Mosque
In the center of the old town near taki Sarafan trade dome, lower from present layer, there is Magoki Attori Mosque. This was the remains of a Buddhist monastery, the Zoroastrian temple and the mosque of the Arab invaders, all sharing the same space. The name is connected with old history of the place. Before the construction of the actual mosque, the place was the market for selling spices, and Buddhist statues. In 937 the four-pillared mosque was burnt to the ground in a city-wide fire and in the 12th century the present mosque was erected, from which the focus of the mosque, the original southern portal, remains. The absorbing portal draws the entire range of decorative techniques— ganch carving, polished brick, terracotta plaques and glazed tile work—into its richly receding facade.
Two Sogdian – influenced quarter columns lead the eye to complex girikh panels and fine filigree carved columns support a graceful arch still traced in turquoise majolica tile work. In 1547 an eastern entrance facade was added with its skullcap dome, but today the mosque is still approached from the south. The mosque is today used as a Museum of Carpets whose highlights include a falcon holder and carpet bag for storing dead game, a heretic Christian Armenian carpet depicting figures and faces and a selection of Turkoman Ersari and Tekke carpets, Zoroastrian remains can be seen in the eastern pit, below a huge mass prayer carpet.
Lyabi – Hauz Ensemble
This place has been used as a center of the city for gathering, tea houses, praying in Kanaqa which is located by the pond. In Bukhara there were a lot pools for drinking water and this was the main one. There were special men who took the water from the pool and sold walking in the city. This existed till beginning 20 century. Later when soviet government decided to close down all ponds, as were not safe for drinking, new irrigation water system were constructed.
The pool and chaikhana of the Lyab-i-Hauz is the modern centre of traditional Uzbekistan. The chaikhana is not only a way of life in Central Asia; it is also an escape and an antidote to life in Central Asia. It is the essential lubricant to friendship, trade and travel.
The building reflected in the waters of the hauz is the Nadir Divanbegi Khanagha. Commissioned at the same time as the pool by Nadir Divanbegi (Divanbegi was a government post equivalent to Finance Minister or Grand Vizier), the two are compositely linked. The khanagha consists of a central cruciform local mosque surrounded by a series of four hujra cells set on two floors which would offer accommodation to mendicant holy men. Today the high portal sparkles and the richly decorated mihrab is surrounded by an ‘exhibition’ of hard-currency souvenirs.
The Nadir Divanbegi Madrassah closes the eastern side of the ensemble and dales from the 1630s. When the Imam Kuli Khan passed the newly-built splendour of its facade, he commended the Divanbegi upon the madrassah and his religious propriety.
Between the madrassah and khanagha stands the statue of Khodja Nasreddin on his donkey. He is a legendary hero of Asian countries. He never existed in reality, but people consider his funny stories as real and still famous. He always made fund of rich and greedy people and helped poor people.
To the south of the Lyab-i-Hauz Square spreads the Jewish Quarter of the old town. Jews have been an important minority in Bukhara since their forced migration from Merv and Shiraz in the 14th century, representing one of the farthest-flung corners of the diaspora.
Jewish evidence was inadmissible in court (as was women’s) and as non-Muslims. Jews were subject to an extra infidel tax. But there were few forced conversions and although some Jews, known as chains, found it expedient to embrace Islam, most kept their distinct cultural integrity. The main synagogue lies only 300 meters (330 yards) south of the Lyab-i-Hauz.
The Chor Minor (Four Minarets) is one of the most charming buildings; Bukhara, all the more surprising because, built in 1807, it dates from a period of suffocating cultural stagnation. The building, resembling an upside-down chair the deep into the ground, is merely the darvazakhana gatehouse of a madrassah (90 by 40 metres/292 by 130 feet) built by the rich Turkoman merchant Khalif Niyazkul. If you view the building from the south you are standing in the madrassah courtyard with its former summer mosque to your left and hauz to your right. The only remains of the madrassah lie crumbling to the sides of the Chor Minor.