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Main / / / Bukhara – The Brilliant City


Historical past and present of one of the oldest cities of Central Asia, Bukhara, leaves no one indifferent. City, which is more than 25 centuries, as a magnet attracts travellers from over the world.

Situated in the valley of Zarafshan on the Great Silk Road, the city for centuries had been a fertile oasis for its residents, as well as the largest center of education, religion, science and culture in the East.

In ancient Bukhara was distinguished with focus of different races and peoples who spoke Turkic dialects, Persian dialects, Hindi, Chinese, Hebrew, Arabic and other languages. Population preached many religious cults - Zoroastrianism, Manichaeism, Buddhism, Nestorian Christianity, Judaism and Islam. Since the second half of the VIII century, Islam has become the dominant religion.

"Bukhara-i-Sharif" ("Noble", "Sacred"), "Dome of Islam" - such epithets endowed it in the Islamic world. Being the center of Muslim learning and spirituality in medieval times Bukhara gave the world the famous people - theologian Imam Al Bukhari,well-known representatives of Sufi thought - Abdulkholiq Gijduvoni, Bahauddin Naqshbandi, Saifiddin Bokharzi, etc renowned scientists and educators of that time worked in Bukhara - a distinguished encyclopaedist Abu Ali Ibn Sina (Avicenna), the historian Muhammad Narshahi, poets Rudaki and Dakiki who have made a huge contribution to the development of science, culture and education.

Bukhara was the center of trade and crafts from ancient times. Unique products of craftsmen - silks, jewelry, embroidery, carpets and manuscripts of scientists were spread over the world by the ancient caravan routes.

Objects of applied decorative arts and crafts of Bukhara are on display in the largest museums of the world, in cities such as Rome, Paris, Washington, Stockholm, Berlin, Istanbul, St. Petersburg, Moscow, etc.


Age of the city is more than 2500 years. The history of Bukhara is abundant in important historical events. The first mention of this glorious city is contained in the Avesta - the holy book of the Zoroastrians, in Behistun Rock inscription (the VI century BC) of the Persian king Darius I; it is also mentioned in "History of Herodotus" and other works of ancient authors. In those antique works authors described the western part of ancient Sogdiana (not the city itself). People lived in the oasis were called "Saks" and the territory itself was called "Sogdiana".

Chinese travelers in the V-VII centuries AD called the city - An, Ansi, Ango, Nyumi, Buho, Bugei, Buhaer, Buhola, Numizhkat etc. Other names, Numi and Numidzhkat, occurring in Chinese and Arabic written sources, took their origin, according to scientists, from the Sogdian word «Namich» - (famous, glorious).

Academician V. Barthold linked the origin of the name of the city to the Sanskrit "Vihara" - a Buddhist monastery.

According to scientists, the city was founded in the middle of the 1st millennium BC on the muddy ground in the form of three fortified settlements on the banks of the river Zarirud in the lower reaches the Zarafshan. One settlement was called Farabdiz, the second - Bukhara, and the third – Navmichkat; later they joined together to form a large area. According to one legend, the construction of the city and the Ark fortress was associated with the name of Iranian Siyavush prince, who arrived in Bukhara, and married the daughter of the king Afrasiab.

Archaeologists claim that the city was developing at the same place; its cultural layers reach about 20 meters. The excavations found many ancient coins with engraved images, jewelry, pottery, burial jars, and crafts tools.

Scientists confirm that in the V century BC Bukhara, as a settlement, was of large size, had the governmental citadel with strong walls, advanced crafts and the city wall, which has been repeatedly reinforced in later centuries. With the increase of the city in the area, the wall was repeatedly rebuilt and expanded in the IX century, during the reign of the Samanids, and in the XV-XVI centuries, during the reign of Sheibanids.

Economically strong and situated on the ancient trade routes connecting China with India and Iran, Bukhara was subjected to numerous conquests.

In the VI century BC Persian kings Cyrus, and later Darius conquered Bukhara, plugged it into the powerful state of the Achaemenids.

In 329-327 BC, after the conquest of Central Asian territories by Alexander the Great Bukhara was part of the Greek-Bactrian state.

From the first century AD Bukhara oasis was included in the powerful Kushan Empire.

In the V century AD Bukhara became part of Eftalit state.

In the VI century AD Bukhara became a part of the vast Turkic Khanate.

On the eve of the Arab conquest in the early VIII century AD Central Asia comprised about 15 independent citiy-states, and Bukhara acquired a special economic and military importance. The Arabs called it "Madinat al-Soufriya" - "Copper City". They also applied in respect of Bukhara the name "Fahira" - (honorable, brilliant). That name was mentioned in historical documents until the XX century.

The heyday of the city falls to the reign of Samanids in the IX-X centuries. Bukhara became the capital of a vast state which included the territory of Khorasan and Maverannakhr. Considerable alteration of the city and expansion of its boundaries is associated with this period. A new wall with eleven gates was erected. The city was decorated with palaces, mosques and madrassahs. Family burial vault of rulers - Samanid mausoleum, built during the reign of Ismail Samani (892-907 years) - is called the gem of Central Asian architecture.

At the end of X century, with the approval of Turkic dynasty of Karakhanids, Bukhara became the capital of their possessions. From this era are preserved in the city - Kalyan Minaret (XII century), Magoki-Attori (XII century), Namazgokh mosque (XII century), and the Chashma Ayub Mausoleum (XII-XVI century).

At the beginning of the XIII century rich Bukhara oasis attracted Mongol-Tatar invaders, who for more than 80 years looted and pillaged the country.

In the XIV century Bukhara became part of the powerful empire of the great Amir Temur and played an important role in the socio-political life of Maverannakhr. During the reign of his grandson Ulugbek (the XV century) in Bukhara and Gizhduvan there were built madrassahs - higher schools of Islam.

In the XVI century Bukhara became the capital of the centralized Uzbek state of Sheibanids with a strong economy, culture and trade relations. It was during this period when architectural structures were erected, such as the mosque Kalyan, Miri Arab, Kukeldash Modarihan, Abdullahan Madrassahs, and trading domes.

In XVII-XVIII centuries, in the epoch of Ashtarkhanid dynasty (1601 - 1753) And Mangit dynasty (1753 -1920), Bukhara was a battleground for the feudal power, the place of the devastating raids and looting by neighboring states. In this period the city was decorated with madrassahs Dar Al Shifo, Hodja Nikhol, Bolo-Hauz mosque, and ensemble of Lyabi-Hauz.

Mangit dynasty lasted until September 2, 1920, when it was overthrown by a coup d’etat. Since 1924, Bukhara, the administrative center of Bukhara region, was incorporated into the Soviet Uzbekistan.


Having arrived in Bukhara, one will plunge into the fantastic world of unique architecture. Ark fortress of the rulers is especially striking. It is rising by 16 meter platform; its minarets, mosques and madrassahs, decorated with turquoise domes, mausoleums, shopping arcades and baths have retained the imprint of the past centuries. Like live, whole areas of the ancient layout and narrow streets will tell you about the medieval town planning, customs and traditions of the townspeople, who were able to maintain the architecture of residential houses decorated with carved and painted wood and alabaster.

The historic center of Bukhara is a real record of architecture that could keep, despite the historical cataclysms, its incomparable style, which embodied the ideas of many generations of talented architects, painters and builders. In 1993 the historic part of the city is included in the UNESCO list of world heritage cities of mankind.

According to the number of monumental and residential architecture, Bukhara is the largest in Central Asian open air museum, which has preserved more than 400 monuments of architecture. The architectural heritage of Bukhara is a rare combination of unique monuments of the IX-XX centuries and archaeological sites belonging to the VII-III centuries BC.

Acquaintance with the city begins with its very ancient part, where you can trace its medieval structure. Citadel "Ark", founded in IV century BC, is located on an artificial hill and is surrounded by impenetrable walls, there was located the palace of the rulers, the Ministry, craft workshops, an arsenal, a prison, a treasury. According to legend, the founder of Ark is said to be Siyavush (hero of Persian epic poem "Shahnameh" written by Firdausi).

Registan Square (sandy area), next to the Ark, from ancient times has been the social center of the city since the VI-VII centuries. During the reign of Bukhara-khudats here were noisy bazaars, festivals were organized and executions were carried out.

One of the finest ensembles of Bukhara - Bolo-Khauz ensemble ("standing above the water», XVIII-XX centuries) is located opposite the Ark. The mosque is decorated with magnificent carved terrace with 20 slender wooden columns, and therefore, it is popularly called “the mosque of forty columns".

Beyond the walls of the citadel was formed the city itself - "shahristan" with houses and arcades of the wealthy dwellers. The suburbs (rabats) which focused trade and craft life of the city were the third important part.

With the arrival of the Arabs in the early VIII century Islam was spread in Bukhara oasis. From this time mosques and minarets, madrassahs and monumental religious complexes began to be erected.

The oldest monument with a thousand-year old history is mausoleum of the Samanids (the IX-X centuries) - family sepulcher of the dynasty that ruled Bukhara in the IX-X centuries. For architectural excellence and unique shape, consisting of 18 types of baked polished masonry bricks resembling lace, it is recognized as a masterpiece of world architecture of the oriental Renaissance era. Unusual brick walls of the mausoleum at the sunlight create a special play of light and shadow. It causes admiration by its beauty and accurate proportions.

Chashma Ayub architectural monument ("Prophet’s spring”) (the XII-XVI centuries) is located near the Mausoleum of the Samanids in the northwestern part of Bukhara. This is conditional tomb of the biblical prophet Ayub or "kadamgoh". According to ancient tradition, the Prophet Ayub, traveling to Bukhara, had faced a severe drought. On the site of the mausoleum He hit his crook, and the spring came out of the ground. Water in the well is considered curative.

A city in ancient times was surrounded by a strong defensive wall 12 km long with 11 gates. The gate stood on the road connecting the city with the nearest villages, pilgrimage sites, caravan trails. Having arrived in Bukhara, you can see some perverse structures which were reconstructed by local restorers, and remnants of walls 2.5 km long of the XVI century.

Traveling through the ancient part of shakhristan you cannot help wondering monumental buildings, rising majestically above the city. One of these buildings - a set of Poi-Kalyan (foot of the great) consists of several architectural structures: Kalyan Minaret (XII), Friday mosque Kalyan, Miri-Arab madrassah (XVI century), and the madrassah of Amir Alimhan (XIX).

Kalyan Minaret (1127 -1129) is a remarkable example of the construction art of Maverannakhr. Minaret with the height of 46.5 meters pleases the eye with strict proportions and beautiful brickwork. From this minaret muezzins called people to prayer, the minaret served as a watchtower at night on top of it the lantern was lit for travelers. Kalyan Mosque or "Masjidi - Juma" (Friday Mosque) - the main mosque in Bukhara, was built at the turn of the XV-XVI centuries. This is one of the largest mosques in Central Asia (127 x 78m) with a large rectangular courtyard and galleries covered with brick domes on square pillars. This structure produces a lasting impression. During the holidays, while Muslim celebrations, mosque could accommodate up to 12 000 people.

Of the 200 mosques for daily prayers, located in the residential areas of Bukhara, nowadays prayer is performed in more than 50 mosques in the city.

For centuries Bukhara has been the center of Muslim spirituality and enlightenment. For getting higher Islamic education here came representatives from different cities and countries - Khiva, Kokand, Hissar, Samarkand, from the Volga region and Arabia. In the early twentieth century there were more than 160 madrassahs in Bukhara. One of the most famous was Madrassah Mir-i-Arab (1530-1536), built by Sheikh Mir-Arab (Abd Allah al-Arab al-Yamani al-Hadramauty). In Soviet period Miri-Arab was the only Muslim seminary. Today students can get here secondary theological education. The students, along with the theological disciplines study secular comprehensive disciplines and receive general education.

Its present shape the city acquired during the Dynasties of Sheibanids and Ashtarkhanids in XVI-XVII centuries, in the heyday of Central Asian architecture. During the reign of those two dynasties were built not only places of worship but also civilian facilities - caravanserais, baths, shopping domes. Masters used in the decoration and building construction spectacular techniques of arched ceilings; mosaic and majolica were masterfully used for images of zoomorphic subjects. Bukhara school of architecture, becoming a leader in Central Asia in the XV-XVII centuries, has had a great influence on the architecture of other regions.

Famous trading domes (the XVI century) were the focus of craft and commercial life of the city, situated at the crossroads of the shopping streets of Bukhara. Traveling under the "Tok-i Zargaron" (dome of jewelers), "Tok-i Telpak-Furushon" (dome of  hats traders), " Tok-i Sarrafon" (dome of shroffs), you can visit numerous workshops where you can observe the process of production of traditional crafts and even take part in the making of handicraft products.

On the tourist trail you will see the majestic buildings of  madrassahs, combined in a single ensemble, built on the principle of "Kosh" (double, pair) such as Ulugbek Madrassah (XV century) and Madrassah of Abdulazizkhan (XVII c.). Another group of "Kosh" is madrassah of Modarikhan and Abdullah Khan (1566 - 1590), located in the western part of the city, close to the park of the Samanids. To build double madrassahs was ancient, enduring tradition; the architects often applied it during the construction of Bukhara in the XVI-XVII centuries.

Between trading domes, is located one of the most interesting mosques of Bukhara - Magoki-Attori (XII - XVI c). "Magoki" that is in the "pit", is half-hidden under the cultural layers of the city. In the Middle Ages on the site of the mosque was a market dealing in trading idols, medicinal drugs and spices. "Temple of the Moon" was also located there. Archaeologists suggest that the site of the mosque was located in the ancient period Buddhist monastery, later - the fire-worshipers temple, rebuilt in the XII century into the Muslim mosque.

In feudal Bukhara caravanserai (the inns) were over 60. In the early twentieth century the largest trading platforms, where negotiations were led and good deals for the sale of cotton, astrakhan, silk, precious metals were signed included Jannat Macony Sayfiddin, Domullo Sher Hakim oyim Khoja Kalon Kushbegi, Badreddin, Nougai, etc. In Bukhara remained about 15 caravanserais, many of which are leased by craft associations.

An ensemble Lyabi-Khauz (pond or lake shore) is known by every tourist who comes to the city. In the center of the area there is a large body of water - khauz (1622), around it are - Kukeldash madrassah (1568), madrassah and Khanako (hospice for Sufis) (1622-1623),  Nadir Divan Begi (1620). This complex is a favorite meeting place of residents and tourists from all over the world. There you will see the monument to the famous resident of Bukhara, wit and joker - Nasreddin Hodja, who is the main character of numerous legends and anecdotes. Every spring, in May, in an area of Lyabi-Khauz international festival "Silk and Spices" is held.

The north-east part of the city attracts the attention of Bukhara visitors with unusual structure - Chor-Minor - "four minarets." (1807). The architectural complex was located on the Silk Road; its principal building "darvozahona" consists of four minarets, symbols of 4 dynasties (Samanids, Karakhanids, Sheybanids and Mangit). Chor Minor is impressive with its final form, compactness and lightweight silhouette.

Outside Bukhara one can see many wonderful monuments, including palaces (Sitora - i - Mohi-Khosa, a palace in Kagan (the end of the XIX the beginning of the XX centuries), the cult ensembles - Chor Bakr (XVI century), the necropolis of Bahauddin Naqshbandi (XVI - XIX centuries), archaeological sites - the ancient settlement of Varakhsha and Paikend, the residential areas of the rulers.
Many monuments of Bukhara today locate museum exhibitions of Bukhara museum-reserve.