There is plenty to see in Bukhara and if you do not want to rush around like a mad man or mad woman you should give yourself at least three to four days to wonder around the streets of Bukhara. This is especially the case if you want to visit the Emir’s Summer Palace, the Bakauddin Nakhshbandi Ensemble and the Chor Bakr Nercropolis, which are located just outside of Bukhara but can be easily visited by taxi.
The Kalon Mosque is not only the most ancient mosque in Central Asia but also the second largest, which a capacity of about 12000 people. Only Tamelane’s Bibi Khanum Mosque in Samarkand is bigger but that was a little bit too big as it collapsed shortly after completion. The present structure was finished in 1514 and replaces and earlier incarnation. The first mosque was build, on the same spot, in 795 but suffered several ignominies – it collapsed twice, burnt to the ground in 1068 and finally was razed to the ground in1219 by Genghis Khan.
When it was built by the Karakhanid ruler Arslan Khan in 1127 the Kalon Minaret was probably the tallest building in Central Asia. It is 47 meters tall with 10m deep foundations, including reeds stacked underneath in an early form of earthquake proofing. Chinggis Khan was so amazed by it that he ordered it spared. Its 14 ornamental bands, all different, include the first use of the glazed blue tiles that were to saturate Central Asia under Timur.
Ismael Samani Mausoleum
This mausoleum in the Samani Park was completed in 905 and is Bukhara’s oldest and probably best preserved ancient monument.
This stunning brick mausloeum was built at the beginning of the tenth century under the Samanid dynasty (875-999) and is named after the founder of the dynasty. The mausoleum does not only contain his tomb but also that of his father Ahmed and other members of the Samanid line. The construction is an 10.8 metre cube with identical facades, all opf which slope slightly inward and upon which sits a hemispherical cupola ringed with four domelets. Four internal arches supported by corner pillars form the squinch upon which rests the eight and 16 sided transitions to the drum. This four-arch system was revolutionary at the time and dominated countless subsequent tombs in Central Asia.
The Ark Citadel
Home to the rulers of Bukhara, the first vestiges of the Ark Citadel are thought to date back the the 4th century CE. The first fortress to be documented by local historians was build here by the ruler of the local Sogian dynasty, the Bukhar Khudahs, in the 7th century. Even after extensive remodelling this initial fortress was unable to withstand Qutayba Ibn Muslim, the Arab commander of the Umayyad Caliphate who conquered the city in about 705 CE and erected a mosque on the remains of the destroyed Zoroastrian temple. After the death of Qutayba, the Arabs briefly lost control of the city but not for very long. The Ark Citadel was continously destroyed, remodelled, rebuilt under the Samanids, the Karakhanids, the Black Khitans and the Khwarazmians, before being completely pulverised in 1220 by the Mongols under Ghenghis Khan.
The Ark Citadel began to take on its present shape in the 16th century under the Uzbek Shaybanids and all the present buildings date from the last three centuries. During this time, it housed the Emir, his family and retinue, as well as many government officials. Home to 700 to 1500 inhabitants, it consisted of a palace, harem, throne room, reception hall, administrative offices, treasury, mosque, gold mint, dungeon and slave quarters.
Finally, in 1920, the Ark was almost totally destroyed by air bombings from the Red Army during the Battle of Bukhara. Only 20% of the buildings survived the bombardment. Some say it was not, in fact, the Russians that reduced the Ark to rubble, but that it was instead blown up on the orders of the Emir himself, to prevent the Bolsheviks from desecrating it.
Today only a small part of the total area of the Ark Citadel can be visited, Most of the Ark remaining hidden behind the cluster of restored museums.
The Ark Citadel, is open daily between 9am and 7pm except on a Tuesday when it closes at 4pm. Admission will set you back $2 without a guide and $4 with a guide. The ARk Fortress can easily be reached on foot from nearly anywhere in central Bukhara.
Bolo Hauz Mosque
Just west of the Ark Citadel, across the Registan, you can find the Bolo Hauz Mosque. Built in 1712, under the reign of Abdul-Gaiz Khan (1711-1747), is is one of the last and fined of Bukhara’s major buildings prior to the modern era. The mosque often served as the private prayer house of the ruling Khan who would visit it from his palace in the Ark Citadel. In the early 20th century, during the time the Emir of Buhara was subjugated under Bolshevik Russian Rule it served as a Friday Mosque and during the Soviet time it was transformed into a worker’s club. Nowadays, the mosque with the riotously painted columns of the 12 meter high iwan attracts has been returned to its original purpose. it served as the Friday Mosque during the time when the Emir of Bukhara was being subjugated under the Bolshevik Russian rule in the 1920s. The mosque’s facade, added in 1912, attracts the eye with a veritable riot of restored primary color and it’s 12-meter high iwan still stands as one of the most beutifully decorated in Central Asia.
Ulug Bek and Abdul Aziz Khan Madrassah
The Ulug Bek Madrassah in Bukhara is the first of the three madrassahs commisioned by Timur’s grandson, the other two stand in Samarkand and in Gijduvan. The madrassah was built in 1417 by the two star architects of the time, Ismail Isfagani and Najmeddin Bukhari. It is the oldest madrassah in Central Asia. Ulugbek, himself, is thought to have taught the eighty or so students housed in the madrassah.
Facing the Ulug Bek Madrassah is the Abdul Aziz Madrassah, built in 1652 by the ruler of the Janid dynasty, , was the last large madrassah to be build in Bukhara. It is one of the least restored monuments in Bukhara. However, the decoration of the central pishtak is absolutety gorgeous and makes this one of my favourite buildings in Bukhara.
Located right behind Lyabi-Hauz, Chor Minor was built in 1807 by the rich Turkmen merchant Khalif Niyazkul. The purpose of the building is not entirely clear bit most likely it served as a gatehouse to a spacious medressa, which no longer survives. Chor Minor can be visited for a small fee.
The Bazaar And Ancient Bukhara
Initially there were five vaulted and domed bazzars, called “toks” in Bukhara but nowadays only three survive. The northernmost and largest of the three, the Toki Zaragorn (1570) or the Jeweller’s Bazaar, is located next to the Ulugbek Medressah. Just south of the Toki Zargaron, you can find the Abdullah Khan Tim (15770, the last original shopping arcade in Bukhara. If you wander a bit further south you reach the Toki Tilpak Furushon or Cap Maker’s Bazaar. From the Cap Maker’s Bazaar proceed further south past a row of svereal ancient and battered caravenserais to reach the Toki Sarrafon or the Moneychanger’s Bazaar.
Unfortunately, nowadays the original traders have all been replaced by souvenir stalls and it is nay on impossible to find the spices, silk, and rugs that used to be sold there, even as recently as 20 years ago. Neverthless, the toks and the tim are still wonderfull places to visit because of their ancient architecture, as even with the souvenir stalls and it is easy to imagine what this place would have been like 100 years ago.
Moreover, between the Toki Zaragorn and the Toki Sarrafon you can find several mosques, the Bozor-I-Kord Hammam and the Kulita Caravanserai, which is esconsed behind the Museum of the Blacksmith’s Art. This little stretch of Bukhara will keep you entertained for a little while.
At the turn of the century 127 medressahs and over 300 mosques were dotted around Bukhara many of which are still standing but now forgotten and slowly crumbling away. Although you will find that most of them are locked, you should still take a wander through the backstreets as you will be able to see a different Bukhara from the main restored sites. Maybe you will find a hidden Hauz or a kind soul will let you have a peek into one of the long abandoned mosques
Eat and Sleep
While in Bukhara we stayed at the Kukaldosh Boutique Hotel which was definitely the most luxurious room we had while on our trip through Uzbekistan. We really liked this hotel, especially as the room was cool and spacious, the staff was very friendly and helpfull (they even got gluten-free bread for my partner). Our preferred dinning option was the Amulet Restaurant on the Bakhauddin Nakhshbandi Avenue closely followed by the Bolo Hauz Chaikana, a local joint near the Ark that serves up traditional Uzbek food like plov, lagman and beef and chicken shashlik. If you are fed up with tea and would like to have a decent coffee head to the Cafe Wishbone on Khakikat Street.