Nadezhda Dukhovny
Nadezhda Dukhovny

Ancient and unique Uzbekistan – Bukhara III

Having visited the Bukhara region, you will be amazed at the huge number of ancient monuments located here – the Poi-Kalan architectural ensemble, the majestic Sitorai Mokhi Khosa palace, the ancient settlements of Varakhsha and Paikend, the mausoleums of seven famous scientists of the Sufi order of Naqshbandi will not leave indifferent any connoisseur of ancient culture. The list of these sights is incredibly long. On the territory of Bukhara alone, there are more than 150 architectural monuments of the Middle Ages, many of which are included in the UNESCO World Cultural Heritage List.

Let’s take a closer look at some of them.

The Ark of Bukhara is a massive fortress located in the city of Bukhara, Uzbekistan that was initially built and occupied around the 5th century AD.

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

In addition to being a military structure, the Ark encompassed what was essentially a town that, during much of the fortress’ history, was inhabited by the various royal courts that held sway over the region surrounding Bukhara. The Ark was used as a fortress until it fell to Russia in 1920. Currently, the Ark is a tourist attraction and houses museums covering its history.

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

This place has a beautiful history of its own. According to legend, Siyavush, an epic hero, wanted to marry the daughter of the ruler of Afrasiab. The ruler said that he would give his beloved daughter in marriage provided that Siyavush would first build a palace in the area bounded by a bull skin, obviously intended as an impossible task. But Siyavush cut the bull skin into slender strips, connected the ends, and inside this boundary built the palace. Nowadays the Ark is one of the oldest archaeological sites that will take your breath away just by looking at it.

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

The majestic Lyabi-Hauz ensemble (from Uzbek “Near the pond”) is one of the central monuments of ancient Bukhara. The Kukeldash madrasah, the Divan-Begi madrasah and the khanaka (Sufi monastery) of the same name make up the central square.

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

Lyabi-Hauz was once a trade point on the Silk Road, which contributed to the location of a shopping street nearby.

Now there is a cafe that saves you from the heat on a hot summer day with cool water.

First, the Nadir Divan-begi madrasah appeared here, which includes a khanaka, a swimming pool, and a caravanserai, which was later converted into another madrasah.

Guests of this place may be interested in that concerts, fashion shows of Uzbek outfits, and many other bright events are held here. Near the madrasah, there is a bronze monument of the sage and national hero Khoja Nasreddin, erected at the end of the 20th century.

The second building, the Kukeldash madrasah, built in the 16th century, is one of the largest madrasahs in Bukhara. It includes 160 hujras. Its facades are decorated with majolica, the main one contains a vestibule, a mosque, and a darskhana.

Another interesting place to see in Bukhara is the Baland (High) mosque built to the south of the City park and Kosh-madrasah in the depth of residential area. The mosque is more than five hundred years old. The oldest part of the mosque is the winter rectangular building. It is surrounded by an L-shaped column iwan, serving as a summer mosque. The wooden columns with stalactite capitals on marble bases and the ceiling of the iwan were made in the 19th century and replaced the former construction.

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

The false ceiling of the Baland mosque is unique. It is decorated with geometrical ornament and little wooden domes. In the small inner hall of the building, there is a fine mihrab and a wooden tribune – minbar. The mihrab and the wall panels have carved kashinna with a mosaic made in blue and green colors.

The walls of the mosque are covered with polychromatic paintings made in kundal style with plentiful gilding. The paintings look like “wall carpets” due to their ornament. The religious Arabian inscriptions made in complex suls style give rise to a special spiritual sensation.

Four kilometers north of Bukhara, there is a palace of incredible beauty. This is Sitorai Mokhi-Khosa Palace – the country residence of the last Bukhara emir. At first glance, you can’t tell whether this is the residence of the eastern emir or the prince from the west. And all because the once progressive Bukhara prince from the Mangyt dynasty lived in this palace – Mir Sayyid Alim Khan (1911-1920).

Sitorai Mokhi-Khosa Palace. This photo is courtesy of the Department of Tourism Development of the Bukhara Region.

With the coming of Russian troops to Bukhara, the emir was forced to flee from the city to the Kingdom of Afghanistan, leaving his luxurious palace.

The residence of Sitorai Mohi-Khosa is divided into two parts: the old (in the oriental style) and the new (in the European style). The old palace was built in the 18th century. The new complex was completed by Emir Said Alim Khan at the beginning of the 20th century.

Not only the best architects of Bukhara but also Russian architects were involved in the construction of the palace. Therefore, the appearance of the palace and its interior are so reminiscent of the suburban residences of Russia and Europe. The palace is divided into a male part and a female part.

Once inside, the inner hall impresses with its luxury, beauty, and decor. Painting, color combination, and interior attract attention, and it is already impossible to take your eyes off such decoration.

Among the inner chambers of the palace, a summer room with multi-colored windows, a dining room with sliding walls, a ministerial reception room and a large white ceremonial hall with mirrored walls stand out.

The walls of the hall are covered with artistic ganch molding, which looks very noble. The rooms of incredible beauty were made by Bukharian masters and decorators Usto Shirin Muradov and Hasan Dzhana. Each pattern represents the exclusive craftsmanship of the artist.

The decorative details of the palace are made in the European and Oriental styles of that time. In the rooms, you can see mirrors of indescribable beauty, decorated in Venetian and Japanese styles, colorful stained glass windows and mosaics, numerous art objects, vases and sculptures, Bukhara carpets, stately chandeliers, and vintage furniture.

Nowadays, numerous luxurious interior items are museum exhibits, and the emir’s country residence has become the Museum of Decorative and Applied Arts.

the Museum of Decorative and Applied Arts. This photo is courtesy of the Department of Tourism Development of the Bukhara Region.

Located at the foot of the grand Kalan minaret on the ceremonial Registan square in Bukhara, the Poi-Kalan architectural ensemble was built in the XII-XVI centuries. The complex consists of two madrasahs – Miri-Arab and Amir-Alimkhan, Kalan minaret, and the mosque of the same name.

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

An interesting fact is that a cathedral mosque with a minaret has already stood on this site since the Arab conquest in the VIII century.

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

In the XII century, the city was rebuilt, which led to the construction of a new mosque and minaret. According to the testimony of the Central Asian historian Narshakhi, the minaret was beautifully made, but not strong. His words turned out to be prophetic, since immediately upon completion of construction, the minaret falls and destroys most of the mosque. In 1127, a new mosque and Kalan minaret were built, which has survived to this day.

The complex took on its present state in the 16th century when a new mosque and Miri-Arab madrasah were being built.

You can talk about Bukhara endlessly. Monuments, architectural masterpieces, shrines of this city fascinate with their ancient history, mystery, and beauty. The mausoleum of Ismail Samani was no exception. For 10 centuries it has been silent since the reign of the noble Samanid dynasty. Below we have compiled 10 surprising facts about one of the most famous family tombs in the world.

The Samanid’s museum. This photo is courtesy of the Department of Tourism Development of the Bukhara Region.

The Samanid Mausoleum is a cubic building with a hemispherical dome and four small domes in the corners in the top center. The tomb is made of baked bricks.

The monument is well preserved due to the thick walls (up to 1.8 m). Volumetric walls protected the building from destruction. The mausoleum has flat walls with an original pattern. It has no facade and all sides of the tomb are the same. This type of structure is called a centric composition in Central Asian architecture.

A gallery stretches along the top of the mausoleum, in which there are forty window openings.

The craftsmen achieved an artistic effect in architectural design by using combined masonry, that is, by arranging tile bricks in different ways. There is no similar decoration on any monument of world architecture.

Throughout the day, depending on the direction of sunlight, the pattern on the walls of the mausoleum changes its ornament. It is especially unusual during the moonlight. Ismail Samani erected a mausoleum during his lifetime on the grave of his father. Subsequently, he himself was buried in it.

According to legend, the monument was not destroyed by Genghis Khan, because he did not notice him because of the large cemetery surrounding the mausoleum.

The approximate time of the construction of the mausoleum was between 892 and 907. The monument has been restored several times. In 1993, the Samanid mausoleum was included in the UNESCO World Heritage List.

In the historical center of Bukhara, not far from the Ulugbek madrasah, there is a unique architectural structure. This is the Abulazizkhan madrasah. One legend is connected with the construction of the madrasah.

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

Once, when the ruler of Bukhara, Abdulazizkhan, had another sixth trip to Mecca and Medina, he dreamed of an old man at night, who told him: earthly and non-earthly life will find embodiment in it. For centuries the people will enjoy it and remember you. “So, after another trip to Hajj Abdulazizkhan, a mosque was built, worthily bearing his name for centuries.

The dome of the Abdulazizkhan madrasah. This photo is courtesy of the Department of Tourism Development of the Bukhara Region.

After returning from Mecca, the ruler of Bukhara Abdulazizkhan called on all the prominent masters and gave instructions to build a new educational building. The main court architect Mukhamed Salikh took part in the construction of the madrasah. A feature of the decoration on the walls should be such refraction of light that the image of the ruler was to be displayed on one of the walls. But in those days, according to the holy Koran, images of people on the walls were prohibited. Despite this, the craftsmen worked diligently on the construction. One day Abdulazizkhan decided to visit the construction site. The work of the craftsmen exceeded the expectations of the ruler. After examining the work of the craftsmen, he went to the right-wing of the building. Having examined the images on the southern walls, he saw the image of snakes and scorpions. They were the personification of hardship and misfortune. And the images in the northern part of the building depicted the gates of paradise, opening for people with patience, enduring the troubles and hardships of the terrible world. Two images of a bear on the western wall of the khanaka indicated that rank and wealth were given to people for testing, while in the eastern part of the walls, verses from the Koran were written with a mention of Allah.

Seeing the work of the builders, Abdulazizkhan was indignant, his order was not executed, the image of the ruler was not depicted, and he decided to punish the master. But the master was not at a loss and asked to carefully study the mihrab of the building. In the middle was a bouquet of flowers, where a small portrait of the ruler was placed. Abdulazizkhan was so impressed by the skill of the artists that he decided to renounce the throne and indulge in prayers. And the construction of the madrasah remained unfinished.

Built several centuries later than the Ulugbek madrasah (1417), the Abdulazizkhan madrasah (1652) constitutes a single architectural-historical appearance of Bukhara. It was with the beginning of the construction of the Abdulazizkhna madrasah that the rapid development of eastern Central Asian architecture began, which brought to us such professionalism of the masters of that time.

Madrasah Abdulazizkhan is part of the “Historical Center of Bukhara” and in 1993 it was included in the list of UNESCO World Heritage Sites.

Bukhara is the homeland of the seven great Sufis of the Naqshbandi Brotherhood. The great representatives of Sufism lived here, led their religious and social life, who contributed to the formation and prosperity of the Blessed Bukhara, the upbringing of spirituality, and the raising of the emotional spirit. There have been preserved feasts – Muslim sanctuaries, burial places of holy Sufis.

For centuries, the history and culture of the region have been carefully guarded by the local population, most of whom are multilingual, and the Bukharians speak at least Russian, Uzbek, and Tajik. This helps residents communicate with many tourists from all over the world.

This photo is courtesy of the Department of Tourism Development of the Khorezm 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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