Ancient and unique Uzbekistan – Bukhara II

Welcome to Uzbekistan! Welcome to Bukhara Region!

Posted by Uzbekistan Embassy in Israel on Wednesday, May 26, 2021
These photo and video is courtesy of the Department of Tourism Development of the Bukhara Region.

These people live among us. We all know them very well. It is no exaggeration to say that they were pioneers who came to Israel from the country where they lived for many centuries. Bukhara is known for its Jewish diaspora, which to this day maintains strong ties with the country of its origin. This friendly community is renowned for caring for its members scattered around the world.

Would you like to look at the land that gave such amazing representatives living as one big family? I suggest you go on an unforgettable journey to the Bukhara region and learn more about this unique land.

The Bukhara region was named the center of Islamic culture because of the most popular city among tourists – Bukhara, which is the center of the region and the birthplace of outstanding thinkers and preachers of the Holy Quran.

The history of the region begins as far back as the 2nd century BC, and the first mention of Bukhara is the capture of the settlement by the Persian king Cyrus in the 6th century BC. Trade caravans from India and China once passed through this territory.

Bukhara region is located in the southwest of Uzbekistan, adjacent to Turkmenistan and other regions of Uzbekistan. Most of its territory is covered by the sands of the Kyzylkum Desert.

The old city of Bukhara. This photo is courtesy of the Department of Tourism Development of the Bukhara Region

Ancient Bukhara is a treasure trove of architectural monuments and a storehouse of deep history. Every day this city reveals new details of its millennial past. Thus, scientists from the National Archaeological Center of the Academy of Sciences of Uzbekistan, together with scientists from New York University, are conducting research on objects of archaeological and cultural heritage in the Varakhsha massif of the Zhondor district of the Bukhara region.

Varakhsha. This photo is courtesy of the Department of Tourism Development of the Bukhara Region.

It is here that a unique archaeological monument is located – the ancient settlement of Varakhsha, dating back to the beginning of the 1st millennium AD. This ancient settlement with a citadel is considered the main residence of the Bukharakhudats, who ruled on the territory of the Bukhara oasis even before the arrival of the Arabs to the local lands. The settlement of Varakhsha played an important role in the resistance to the Arabs. Large and grandiose battles took place near its walls.

The historian Narshakhi wrote about the ancient settlement of Varakhsha in the 10th century: “Here was the residence of the kings and there was a fortress nearby because the kings fortified this place several times. The former walls of the village were equal in size to the walls of Bukhara. There are 12 irrigation canals in Varakhsha, and the village is located inside the Bukhara wall.

There was also a beautiful palace, the magnificence of which has become proverbial. It was built by Bukhar-Khudat more than a thousand years ago. The Varakhsha palace itself is located directly at the southern fortress walls of the settlement, on the western side of the citadel.

The palace was built in the 5th century AD and existed until the beginning of the 9th century. The palace building consists of large ceremonial halls arranged in a row, richly decorated with picturesque scenes: royal receptions depicting kings and hunting rare animals.

A scene on a wall in the Varakhshan palace. This photo is courtesy of the Department of Tourism Development of the Bukhara Region.

The very first archaeological excavations were carried out in the oasis in the 1930s by the archaeologist V. A. Shishkin. After recent excavations, scientists from Uzbekistan and the United States have discovered more than 100 metal objects made of copper, bronze, silver, and lead. Presumably, the items belong to the XI-XII AD. These items are currently undergoing restoration processing. In the future, they will be mothballed in the laboratory of the cultural heritage of Uzbekistan.

Another interesting place can captivate lovers of antiquity. These are the ruins of the medieval settlement of Paikend in the Bukhara region. This unique city was swallowed up by the desert for millennia, which helped to preserve its remains to this day. It is for this that scientists archaeologists called the area the Pompeii of Asia.

Paikend. This photo is courtesy of the Department of Tourism Development of the Bukhara Region.

According to historians, the ancient citadel of the Sogdian town was first settled at the beginning of our millennium.

In the Middle Ages, the ruler’s palace, ancient temples, and outbuildings were located here. The two inner cities (Shahristans) adjacent to the citadel, in which the Hephthalites once lived, were surrounded by fortress walls with towers, which gave them the status of an ancient city. In the northern part of the settlement, there was a necropolis and Zoroastrian temples.

Museum exhibits from Paikend. This photo is courtesy of the Department of Tourism Development of the Bukhara Region.

During the reign of the Samanids, the city experienced its highest prosperity and turned into a major trade and craft center. Many caravanserais arose around the ancient city, serving as a stopping place for many traders traveling to Bukhara.

Archaeologists have discovered here the remains of an ancient Friday mosque of the 11th century. But in the XI century, due to the large shallowing of the Zerafshan River, the water ceased to flow to Paikend and it fell into decay. Many hundreds of years later, a desert reigned here, which helped scientists to put together a large treasure of ancient history into a single puzzle.

Scientists have discovered unique materials here that prove the existence of the greatest culture of ancient Sogdiana here: glazed ceramics with three-color painting, blue glass products intended for chemical experiments, as well as bottles and vessels for storing perfumes and medicines.

All this beauty can be seen in the Museum of the Paikend Settlement History.

Paikend Settlement History Museum. This photo is courtesy of the Department of Tourism Development of the Bukhara Region.

Sacred Bukhara is one of the tourist gems of Uzbekistan.

This majestic city, according to the most conservative estimates, is more than 2500 years old and on its territory, there are many ancient mosques, madrasahs, and tombs of Islamic saints.

People from time immemorial have said that a blessed light descends on all Muslim cities from the sky, and only over Bukhara will it rise to the sky.

Also, Bukhara is the only city in Central Asia, the history of which was almost completely documented by the famous historian of the 10th century – Narshakhi. In his writings, he said that no city had as many names as Bukhara. In the 5th century China it was called Nyumi, later in the sources of the Tang Empire, it was called An, Anxi, Buho, and Buhe. But most often in history, it is mentioned under the name Bukhara. According to etymologists, this name comes from the Sogdian “buharak”, which translates as “happy place”.

Now on the territory of Bukhara, there are more than 140 monuments dating back to different eras, quarters, and even entire districts built more than a century ago. Bukhara is also called the city of poetry and fairy tales, as the whole old city is shrouded in legends and stories! By the way, the historical part of the city was included in the UNESCO World Heritage List in 1993.

The old city of Bukhara. This photo is courtesy of the Department of Tourism Development of the Bukhara Region.

To preserve and revive the historical heritage of the region, an authentic village – mahalla  – of the 10th century is being created in Avicenna’s homeland.

Afshona is an ancient village 30 km north of Bukhara. It was here that the great scientist and author of the “The Canon of Medicine” Abu Ali ibn Sina (Avicenna) was born.

Among the sights of the city, one can note the memorial museum of the great scientist and the Avicenna Medical School.

On September 6, in the Peshkun district of the Bukhara region, a meeting of the responsible persons of the working group of the regional department for tourism development took place.

At the meeting, it was decided to build an authentic mahalla of the 10th century in the village of Afshona. On the same day, a district architect was instructed to develop a project for an ethnic village in 3D.

During the meeting, the working group got acquainted with the unique historical exhibits of the museum of the great scientist in Afshona and with the project of the new Avicenna complex, which is planned to be built in the area.

There are stories whose origins lie in antiquity, and the thread of their narrative stretches back to modern times. One of these stories is the fate of the Bukhara gold coin in the collection of Napoleon III.

Silver tanga was the main coin of Bukhara even during the period of the Bukhara Khanate. The issue of gold coins became regular only in the 18th century. Deals in documents began to be formalized not only for silver but also for gold coins.

According to sources, in 1867 the Emperor of France Napoleon III purchased 20 gold staters of Eucratides, found somewhere in the Bukhara region, for his Cabinet of medals in Paris for 30,000 francs (11,100 rubles at that time). In modern prices, this is about half a million US dollars.

Until the middle of the 20th century, this coin remained the most expensive gold coin in the world. Such a coin did not appear on sale anymore. Perhaps even now it would become the most expensive gold coin in the world if it went on sale. In the 19th century, one more such coin was allegedly seen in a private collection in Bombay and one coin in the treasury of the Bukhara Emir. But there is no clarity with these coins. Perhaps this is the same coin that is now in Paris. So, it is believed that at present there can be from one to three such coins.

Silver tenga of the Bukhara Khanate. This photo is courtesy of the Department of Tourism Development of the Bukhara Region.

Everyone who arrives in Bukhara by train can see a Palace not far from the station, which is unusual for the architecture of the East. This is the Palace of the Emir of Bukhara in the Khagan, which was built at the end of the XIX century.

Palace of the Emir of Bukhara in Kagan. This photo is courtesy of the Department of Tourism Development of the Bukhara Region.

The background to the construction of this Palace is the expansion of the Russian Empire into Central Asia in the second half of the XIX century. Towards the end of the century, strong diplomatic relations were established between Russia and the Emirate of Bukhara, as well as the development of Railways. So 12 km from Bukhara the settlement of New Bukharawas founded, through which the railway line from Tashkent passed, and the settlement itself became a base for the Russian military, engineers, and builders. In a sense, New Bukhara was also a diplomatic town, where various representations of the Russian Empire were located under the Emirate of Bukhara.

In 1895, the Emir of Bukhara, Seid Abdulahad Khan, ordered the construction of a Palace in New Bukhara. According to one version he wanted to have his own Palace in the Russian compound and on the other it was intended for the visit of the Russian Emperor Nicholas II. However, Seid Abdulahad Khan did not live in the Palace, and Nicholas II never arrived.

The construction of the Palace of the Emir of Bukhara in the Kagan began on August 14, 1895, and was carried out according to the project of A. L. Benois, who worked for many years as an architect in Central Asia. Among Benoi’s works were many buildings in Almaty, Tashkent, and Samarkand, but few of his architectural projects have survived to this day and among them, we can mention the Romanov house in the heart of Tashkent. And yet, many experts on the history of architecture believe that the Palace in the Kagan is his best work.

This photo is courtesy of the Department of Tourism Development of the Bukhara Region.

The architecture of the Palace of the Emir of Bukhara is considered eclectic, combining several styles – here you can see elements of Baroque and Empire, Arabic motifs, and the so-called neo-Moorish style. The exterior decoration also includes elements of Bukhara ganch-plaster ornaments. The interior decoration is poorly preserved but it can also reflect the skill of the builders and local artisans. The construction of the Palace was completed in 1898, but it was not used for a long time. The son of Seid Abdulahad Khan, Seid Alim Khan became Emir of Bukhara in 1910 and decided to make the Palace, built on the orders of his father, a place to accommodate high-ranking guests. Later, under Soviet rule, the Palace became state property and it was transformed into the Palace of the culture of railway workers.

In the second half of the 19th century, there were changes in world science, significant advances were made and, as a result, color photographs began to be published.

In particular, interest in this area has increased in the Russian Empire. Naturally, the contribution of Prokudin-Gorsky to this area is very great and it is impossible not to mention the name of this great photographer. True, he was not the only one who took color photographs at the beginning of the 20th century, but his photographic technique was different from others. Unfortunately, at the moment there is no description or diagram of Prokudin-Gorsky’s camera.

It was a camera of his own manufacture, which, perhaps, is somewhat similar to the camera made in 1906 by Dr. Adolf Miethe, with whom Prokudin-Gorsky met in Germany. Even then, he fully mastered the art of color photography, which significantly increases the value of his works, especially since the focus of his camera was truly masterful, which allowed us to have a real palette of life in those years in its original form.

Prokudin-Gorsky’s photo of the emir. This photo is courtesy of the Department of Tourism Development of the Bukhara Region.

Before Prokudin-Gorsky, several orientalists, artists, and photographers visited Bukhara.

Between the second half of the 19th and 30s of the 20th century, more than 30 world photographers visited Bukhara, many of whom were from the Russian Empire and France. In particular, Paul Nadar, Samuil Martinovich Dudin-Martsinkevich, N. Orde, and others. But the photos they took were in black and white.

Now the pearl of the East, the unique and fabulous city of Central Asia – Bukhara, was presented to the world with bright colors by a student of Mendeleev at the beginning of the 20th century. During his travels in Central Asia, the photographer took over 500 color photographs.

S. M. Prokudin-Gorsky (1863–1944), at the beginning of the 20th century, repeatedly visited Turkestan, including the Bukhara Khanate, and left behind portraits of Alim Khan.

In Paris, summing up the work done in Russia, Prokudin-Gorsky gives a list of the photographs taken. Here you can see that the third line mentions the photo collection of old Bukhara. The photographer made 3 trips to Central Asia. For the first time, he came to the country as part of the Russian Geographical Expedition of 1906-1907, although due to the vagaries of the weather it was not possible to capture a solar eclipse in Turkestan in photographic film. Then he came twice – in the spring and autumn of 1911, devoting the beginning of these visits to Bukhara.

But the photographs, more precisely, their negatives, reached other places, including Bukhara. In addition, only the collection of Prokudin-Gorsky was made and preserved to a significant extent. The surviving part of the collection of Prokudin-Gorsky’s photographs was purchased from his heirs in 1948 by the US Library of Congress and remained unknown to the general public for a long time until 1980.

The most unique example of the photographer’s photo collection dedicated to Turkestan is undoubtedly the portrait of Emir Alimkhan, the last ruler of Bukhara. The photographer, who visited the territory of the Bukhara Emirate in the spring of 1911 on the orders of the Russian Emperor Nicholas II, will soon capture in frames a photograph of the local ruler, who was just having the coronation ceremony. As the ruler of an autonomous city-state in Islamic Central Asia, the emir directed the internal affairs of his emirate as an absolute monarch, although Bukhara was a vassal state of the Russian Empire since the mid-1800s. Emir was 30 years old.

Today there is a color copy of the photograph of Emir Said Alimkhan under inventory number 2609, which is shown in the “History of the Bukhara Khanate / Emirate” exposition of the scientific department of the history of the Bukhara State Museum-Reserve.

This valuable gift was presented to the Bukhara State Museum-Reserve by an employee of the Embassy of the Kingdom of the Netherlands in Russia, Thimen Kouvenar, with a cover letter from the Ambassador Extraordinary of the Kingdom of the Netherlands in Moscow, Tida Hofstee.

After some time, valuable items are sent to Bukhara. According to the director of the Bukhara Museum R.V. Almeev, there were black and white photographs in the museum, and now the museum fund is rich in color photographs.

A snapshot of Emir Alimkhan took a place in the history department of the museum. Visitors to the museum can now see not only the throne, men’s robes, shoes, and hats, but also be surprised by the color photograph of the ruler.

The photo was prepared on the basis of digital processing technology by Walter Sudon in 2001. This exhibit was transferred to the museum by the director R.V. Almeev on August 11, 2003. The photograph shows a solemnly posing Emir of Bukhara – Alimkhan (1880-1944), taken in 1911 after ascending to the throne.

The emir is shown in the photo in a white headdress, his facial features are similar to those of his ancestors: he has a thick black beard. The emir sits on a chair or stool, only the golden-colored chair legs are visible, and next to them are boots with heels. The ruler is dressed in a full dress with a floral ornament. Right hand in front, left hand holding a sword. There is a belt with a huge buckle above the robe at the waist. On the right side of the ceremonial uniform, there is an order, and on the left side, there are 3 orders and medals. It is interesting that the photographer captured the Emir of Bukhara more than once. The original title of the photograph is “Emir of Bukhara. Bukhara”, 1 negative (3 frames). The modern digital reconstruction of the photograph was carried out by the restorer Natalya Anatolyevna Pekova.

Emir Alimkhan. This photo is courtesy of the Department of Tourism Development of the Bukhara Region.

The ruler is also depicted in the photograph “Emir of Bukhara with his retinue and Russian guests” S.M. Prokudin-Gorsky. (Coll. I-68-204). The photograph is kept in the Museum of Anthropology and Ethnography of the Russian Federation in black and white format.

The Embassy of the Kingdom of the Netherlands presented another valuable item – the second copy, also colored and of the same size: 85×85 cm. If the first was a portrait of the ruler, then the other photograph shows the key-keeper of the Emir of Bukhara against the background of the Sherbudin Palace. Unfortunately, this palace has not survived. According to historical data, it was located outside the city and was the center of folk celebrations.

In the picture, the key-keeper stands at the door of the residence, under his feet, there is white snow, as we said that the photographer arrived in Bukhara in the spring of 1911. In contrast to the ruler, the official stands here, too, with a wealthier background. In front of the windows of the palace, there is a small veranda with wooden and plaster columns. The wall is painted in different colors, mainly red, white, and blue. The housekeeper with a thick beard is dressed in a long-sleeved robe with a turban on his head.

Mirza Nasrullabiy. This photo is courtesy of the Department of Tourism Development of the Bukhara Region.

Copies of Prokudin-Gorsky’s photographs are often used in the expositions of the Bukhara Museum. It is in the “History” section that a copy of the photograph of Bosh Kushbegi, the Prime Minister of the country, Mirza Nasrullabiy, is presented.

Also, Prokudin-Gorsky visited Shirbudin’s palace and managed to capture this architectural structure from the outside. Thanks to these photographs, we have a more complete picture of the palace of the emirs, which at one time was located outside the city. Here, the photographer’s focus is on the blossoming apricot tree in the courtyard of the residence. However, he did not photograph the interior and beautiful ornaments of the palace, although we have the opportunity to see several frames taken by other photographers from the Russian Empire, such as Dane Ole Olufsen from Denmark, N.S. Voronets, N. Orde, who visited these parts at the end of the XIX – at the beginning of the XX century.

As a result of the photographer’s trip to Turkestan, captions appeared under each photo, giving an idea of where what was captured in the photographs. From July 24 to September 20, 2017, a photo exhibition of the famous photographer “Turkestan-1911” was held at the Bonum Factum gallery in the city of Tashkent.

To get an idea of how the people of the time dressed, take a look at the following photos. You will certainly appreciate the richness of the fabrics and the exquisite work of the craftsmen who have created all this splendor with their own hands. And on the video, there is a magnificent work of gold embroidery whose history is already 2000 years old.

This photo is courtesy of the Department of Tourism Development of the Bukhara Region.
This photo is courtesy of the Department of Tourism Development of the Bukhara Region.
This photo is courtesy of the Department of Tourism Development of the Bukhara Region.
This photo is courtesy of the Department of Tourism Development of the Bukhara Region.
This photo is courtesy of the Department of Tourism Development of the Bukhara Region.
This photo is courtesy of the Department of Tourism Development of the Bukhara Region.
This photo is courtesy of the Department of Tourism Development of the Bukhara Region.
This photo is courtesy of the Department of Tourism Development of the Bukhara Region.



About the Author
Nadezhda Dukhovny was born and raised in Uzbekistan and made aliya in 2005. She holds an MA in Linguistics from Tel Aviv University and works in translation. She has a true interest about her motherland and would like to tell more about that fascinating country to make Israeli readers familiar with another culture from other part of the globe.
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