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Shade of Kalan Minarat on the Taqis Photograph: Mark & MichelleBukhara City

With a vivid surviving old town, over 140 architectual masterpieces from the Middle ages Bukhara is one of the most authentic cities of post-Soviet Central Asia and lets its visitor wander in time to the days when it was one of the greatest cities on the planet.

Conquered by Alexander the Great and controlled by the Kushans and Samanids it was part of the so-called Golden Road, the meeting point of the northern and southern branches of the Great Silk Road, and a great center of commerce, religion and culture. In Sanskrit, Bukhara means "Monastery", and in the Islamic world it is still remembered as "The noble and glorious stronghold of faith".

After Samarkand's luminous mosaics, Bukhara's universal brown is a pleasure for the human eye. Stop to take a cup of refreshing green tea in one of the numerous teahouses spread all over the ancient town, bend over a chess board with some of the elders in the shade of ancient mulberry trees or Mausolea or watch a traditional puppet show in an ancient caravansaray.

Labi Khauz The Taqis - Covered Bazaars Poi Kalan / Kalan Minaret Char Minar
The Ark Ismail Samani Mausoleum Fayzulla Khujayev House  

Labi Khauz

The centre of Old Bukhara, Labi-hauz is a 17th century plaza built around a pool fed directly from the city's canal. From here professional water carriers would carry water in leather bags to wealthy clients. The plaza is shaded by ancient mulberry trees and one of the most characteristic spots about Bukhara.

To the east of Labi Khauz lies Nadir Divanbeghi Medressa, (the Grand Vizir), originally built as a caravansaray on the order of Abdul Aziz Khan's treasury minister in 1630 and immediately refunctioned as a Medressa.

To the north is Kukeldash Medressa built by Abdullah II, and at the time of its construction the largest school in Central Asia, (60x80 m) and linked to Kulbaba Kukeldash.

Magok-i-Attari Mosque nearby has been known since the 10th century and was earlier home to buddhist and Zoroastrian temples.

South of Labi Khauz is the city's former Jewish quarter, demonstrating the once high econmical importance of Bukhara's Jews inhabiting the city since 12th or 13th century. Bukharan Jews are non-Hebrew speaking and their culture has been fading with mass emigration. Only one out of once at least seven synagogues remains.

Photograph: Mark & MichelleThe Taqis - Covered Bazaars

The Taqis - the typical trading domes of the Bukharan bazaars are the main vaulted and domed bazaars on the city's once busy road intersections, each monopolising a separate trade. Three of the initial five Taqis remain and have been restored - Taqi-Sarrafon - the Moneychangers, Taqi-Telpak Furshon - the cap-makers and Taqi-Zaragon - the Jewellers.

Nearby Taqi-Sarrafon in the former herb & spice Market area is Central Asia's oldest surviving Mosque Maghoki-Attar, a mix of the original 12th century facade and 16th century reconstruction built on top of earlier Buddhist and Zoroastrian temples. Until 16th century the Bukharan Jews are said to have been able to use the building in the evenings as their synagogue.

To the north of Taqi-Telpak Furshon is a men's bathhouse and the arcades Tim Abdullah Khan - an early form of a department store. There were two more caravansarai destroyed by the Bolsheviks nearby, one of them for Hindu traders.

Nearby Taqi-Zaragon is Ulughbek Medressa, Central Asia's oldest Medressa, built by the ruler in 1417 parallel to the one at Samarkand's Registan. Closeby are Abdul Aziz Khan and Nadir Divanbegi Medressas dating back to the 17th century Astrakhanid rulers.

Kalan Minarat Photograph: Mark & MichellePoi Kalan / Kalan Minaret

The religios heart of Holy Bukhara, Poi Kalan or Pedestal of the Great, with its minaret is one of Bukhara's finest landmarks. The minaret dates back as far as 1127 and was built by Karakhan ruler Arslan Khan. A masterpiece of early islamic architecture it stands 47 m above the ground, with its foundations 10 m deep, coushioned on reed stacks as earthquake protection. The 14 ornamental bands demonstrate the first use of glazed blue tiles soon to become Central Asias colour under Timur. The Emir was not only used as the beacon and watchtower but also by the notorious Bukharan Emirs to push infedel prisoners to their deaths. The Minaret is one of the few structures spared by an obviously impressed Jenghis Khan.

The Kalan Mosque was rebuilt in the 16th centure and is Bukhara's Jummi Mosque built to accommodate the entire male population for the Friday prayer, up to 10,000 men. Used as a warehouse in Soviet times it was reopened as a Mosque in 1991. The roof consists of 288 small domes.

Opposite is Mir-i-Arab Medressa was Central Asia's only functioning Mosque under Soviet Rule and in combination with Kalan Mosque is again functioning as a Koran school for 250 scholars. The Medressa is named afer a 16th century Yemenite Naqshbani Sheikh related to Shaybanid Khan Ubaidullah who both are buried under the northern dome. The mosque can not be visited by non-Muslims.

Nearby Emir Alim Khan Medressa was built by the last Emir towards the end of his rule in 1914 and is now used as a children's library.

The Ark

The Registan Square was once a place filled with life serving as the main market, public square and execution ground. To its side lies the walled Royal Fortress, the Ark, home to Bukhara's rulers from its early days. The majority of the building now lies in ruins, remaining are some of the former Royal quarters, the Reception & Coronation court and a 17th century Juma Mosque. Most of the current state of the building is thanks to a 1920 shelling by the Bolsheviks.

Arabs had built the first Mosque on the grounds of a burned Zoroastrian Temple in 713 AD and the current shape of the building mainly dates back from the Uzbek Shaybanids starting in the 16th century. The last Emir to be crowned in the Coronation court was Alim Khan in 1910. The last 2 Emirs actually preferred the Summer Residence to the crumbling Residential Chambers.

Behind the Ark is Zindon - the infamous bug pit jail where famous prisoners such as Stoddart & Conolly were held.

Best remaining part of Registan square is Bolo Hauz Mosque dating back from 1718 - the official place of worship of the last Emirs. The brightly painted 'aivan' porch, supported by 20 columns of walnut, elm and poplar dates back from 1917 and is an excellent demonstration of Bukharan craftmansship.

Ismail Samani Mausoleum

One of the oldest monuments, Ismail Samani Mausoleum was built during the Samanid era and completed about 905. The tomb is said to contain the remains of the founder of the dynasty, his father Ahmed and further family members. Dating back to early Islamic times and spared by Jenghiz Khan the building displays Zoroastrian symbols and excellent brickwork decoration.

At the end of the local bazaar nearby lies the Chasma Ayub Mausoleum, the 'Spring of Job' from the 12th century. The legend associates the spring with the prophet who is said to have opened the source with his staff.

Behind the Samani Park are the remains of the Shaybanid town walls, part of a total 2km broken ring and a reconstructed gate called Talli Pach.

Chor Minor

Photograph: Mark & MichelleThe 1807 Chor Minor ('Five Minarats') is one of Bukhara's most charming buildings built by a Turkoman merchant Khalif Niyazkul. The 'Minarets' are actually just decorative towers of the once gate house to a former Medressa.

Fayzulla Khujayev House

The house of the man who helped the Bolsheviks to plot against the last Emir and briefly President of the Bukhara People's Republic. A fine restored traditional merchant's house with elegant frescoes, ghanch, lattice-work and ceiling beams that was temporarily in use as a museum.

Bukhara is the terminus of a train service which extends to Samarkand (six hours), Tashkent (12 hours) and Nukus (20 hours). There's also a weekly train which goes to Almaty in Kazakstan. Tashkent is also accessible by bus or air (two hours).

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© 2001-2010 STANtours last modified April 23, 2002