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Bukhara City Guide

Bukhara is one of the most ancient cities of Uzbekistan, situated on a sacred hill, the place where sacrifices were made by fire-worshippers in springtime. This city was mentioned in a holy book "Avesto". The city is supposed to be founded in the 13th c.B.C. during reign of Siyavushids who came to power 980 years before Alexander the Great. The name of Bukhara originates from the word "vihara" which means "monastery" in Sanskrit. The city was once a large commercial center on the Great Silk Road.

Bukhara lies west of Samarkand and was once a center of learning renowned throughout the Islamic world. It was here that the great Sheikh Bahautdin Nakshbandi lived. He was a central figure in the development of the mystical Sufi approach to philosophy, religion and Islam. In Bukhara there are more than 350 mosques and 100 religious colleges. Its fortunes waxed and waned through succeeding empires until it became one of the great Central Asian Khanates in the 17th century.

Bukhara with more than 140 architectural monuments is a "town museum" dating back to the Middle Ages. 2,300 years later, ensembles like the Poi-Kalon, Kos Madras, Ismail Samani Mausoleum and the Kalian Minaret are attracting a lot of attention. The city consists of narrow streets, green parks and gardens, historical and architectural monuments belong to the different epochs, but locate very close to each other.

Kalyan Minaret was erected in 1127 by Arslan-Khan and is considered to be the symbol of the city. According to the records of the time, the builders made an error in its construction, and it soon fell to the ground. When the remnants were cleared away, Arslan-khan ordered that a new minaret, stronger and more beautiful, the likes of which had not been seen in the entire East or in Bukhara, be built.

The Kalian Minaret rises to a height of forty-six meters above the city. The minaret is decorated with 14 parallel bands, which are not repeated. During the repairs in 1924, the minaret was faced with glazed bricks where the frieze had been.

At the present time, the lower part of the minaret has been restored and the layers of dirt accumulated over the ages cleaned off. The inside of the minaret is hollow. It is possible to go onto the roof of the minaret via a special footbridge. Throughout the eight centuries of its existence, it served a watchtower and lighthouse for trade caravans, the guard-post for observers to notify the city of approaching danger remains in place. In the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries, the minaret acquired an unsavory reputation and was known as a "tower of death": condemned were hurled to their deaths from this tower by order of the emir. Today this outstanding work of architecture, the perfect architectural forms of which have long served as an example for similar works in the Muslim East, calls forth only wonder.

The most ancient architectural masterpieces in Bukhara were constructed in the 9th -10th centuries. The Mausoleum of Samani, one of the most famous monuments was well-preserved. The Muslims Mausoleum is one of the best illustrations to the history of the state of Samanids (875-999). It was the period of cultural upsurge of the state. The Mausoleum was built as a family crypt immediately after the death of Ismail Samanid's father. Later, Ismail Samani himself and his grandson Nasr were also buried in it. Even after his death a lot of people looking for justice came to the holy grave still considering him to be the ruler of the state.

The patterned ornament gives it astonishing lightness and seems to slide the walls apart and what surprises the view even more is that the ornamental design of the walls seems to alter several times during the day. This mysterious masterpiece raises spiritual thoughts about eternity. It is one of the sacred places of Holy Bukhara.

None of the ancient monuments of the city have caused as many puzzles for archeologists and historians as this one. The name of the mosque itself indicates the approximate time of its construction: the first part of the name, "Magoki", means "a pit" or "a hole" and suggests that the mosque stood much lower than the present level of the city streets and squares.

Ancient Bukharians prayed to the fire; they belonged to the Zoroastrian religion. Each family had its own idol, and thought if they prayed to the idols, they would receive happiness and richness. These idols were sold twice a week at the bazaars. Mokh was the king of that time and he himself controlled the marketing. In order to develop trade in the city, he ordered the construction of a temple for the fire-worshippers.

During the excavations led by a great scientist, V. Shishkin, the remains of two buildings were found: the first one was the ancient Zoroastrian temple, and the second, above the Mosque, named "Magoki-Attori". The Mosque was rebuilt in the 12th century, but only the southern facade and portals remained till now. An earthquake destroyed the Mosque in 1860 and the double dome fell; it was rebuilt in the 20th century.

The most popular place among Bukharian people is the architectural structure of the square that took shape during 16-17th centuries. Around 1620 the Khan's grand vizier, Nadir Divanbegi, built a beautiful pool of Lyabi-Khauz. Here people could listen to medda (public reciters), take part in the religious discussions, which were described in "Stories of an Indian traveler" by Abd ar-Rauf. Not content with his pool the grand vizier flanked it with two grand buildings in his own memory: the Nadir Divanbegi Madrassa and khanako, both completed around 1620. The north side of the complex is formed by the Chashma Ayub Madrassa.

From the Ulugbek and Abdulazizkhan Madrassa along the street flowing into the labyrinth of narrow, winding streets of old Bukhara, you can find a monument that is not so old, but which is notable for its architecture - the Chor-Minor Madrassa, which was built in 1807 by Khalif Niiazkul. He built the Madrassa with a cozy courtyard and a pond, a summer mosque, and a four-turret building. Char-Minor means "the four minarets". It draws attention to itself with its unusual architectural form, the main focus of which is the four turrets with their sky blue cupolas, which have nothing in common with ordinary minarets.

The cube-shaped building is crowned with a slightly flattened cupola, it is without any architectural decor and is finished in ordinary brick. Its facade is partially engulfed by a disproportionally large arched portal against which the corner turrets are pressed, and only cupolas ornamented with glazed tile bands of geometrical figures. The four sky blue cupolas look majestic and beautiful against the background of the cloudless sky. Among the one-story buildings of old Bukhara, the original beauty of Chor-Minor is a pleasant addition to the skyline of the city.

The time of construction of this monument is thought to be the beginning of the 1st millennium A.D., but it is entirely possible that some sort of fort or temple stood on this site even earlier. From the most ancient times the Ark was the fortified residence of the rulers of Bukhara. Everything could be found there - palaces, temples, barracks, offices, the mint, warehouses, workshops, stables, an arsenal, and even a prison.

The overall area of the fortress with all palaces, buildings, and fortifications is 34,675 square meters. Before there were two gates, at present time, only the western gate restored in 1921-1923, remains.

During the history of existence of the city, the Ark was repeatedly destroyed, but it was invariably restored by the new ruler. In the 16 century under the Sheibanids, the citadel was restored to the form in which it has come down to us. All the buildings on the territory of the Ark were built for the most part from the 17th to the 20th centuries.