Noble Bukhara

Today millions of tourists travelling all around the world in search of impressions do not even think that a couple of centuries ago a journey from Europe to the mysterious cities of the East – Khiva, Bukhara and Samarkand – took a few months full of hardships and perils. Moreover, it was practically impossible for an ordinary traveler who was not an official representative of his state to get into the Khiva Klanate or the Bukhara Emirate even in the middle of the 19th century. A rare exception was a Hungarian orientalist Armin Vamberry who dared penetrate into the ancient cities of Movarrounahr under the guise of a dervish via Teheran , along the Eastern shore of the Caspian Sea. To this end, he had perfectly mastered the language and the customs of this land although he was aware of the fact that he risked his life if he were unmasked. He once almost betrayed himself by an innocent European habit of beating time with one`s foot, which is not customary in the East. He was stopped by his Muslim friend in time. However, the journey was worth the risk. Vambery described it in books which became bestsellers immediately and were translated into many European languages. 

The interest in the cities full f ancient architectural monuments is alive to this day. Bukhara, or Bukhara-i-Sharif (noble and sacred, as it was called in ancient times), occupies a special place among them. The outstanding poets of the East of the 9th-10th centuries Rudaki, Dakiki and Firdausi dedeicated their poems to it.

The Ark – the heart of the Ancient City 

The ark(the Citadel) is the most ancient monument in Bukhara. Its towering walls hide a lot of mysteries, dramatic events took place there as if on the arena of a gigantic theatre, and many rulers- cruel and fair, militant and peace-loving, ignorant and well-educated – swayed the destinies of millions of people and numerous states from there.

Archaeologists date back the construction of the Citadel to the 3rd century B.C. A legend associated its construction with the name of the epic hero Siyavush, son of Iranian king who had arrived in Bukhara and married a daughter of the local ruler Afrosiyab. Siyavush decided to immortalize himself by building a fortress in Bukhara. The legend says that Afrosiyab gave him permission to build a fortress only provided it would occupy a space equal to a sheep skin. The resourceful guy cut the sheep skin into extremely thin stripes and outlined the perimeter of the future fortress using the long thread made from them. It should be mentioned that this motif is often used in the Uzbek folklore. In the same way, Pahlavan Makhmud, an epical hero and patron saint of the city of Khiva, led scores of his compatriots from Indian captivity, having girded them with a rope made from a sheep skin cut into thin stripes.

In the course of many centuries , the Citadel was many times destroyed and restored again. One of the legend says that destruction stopped as soon as it was rebuilt in the shape of the Bid Dipper constellation on the advice of men of wisdom.

The Citadel`s foundation is really shaped like an irregular rectangle stretched from the West to the East. It walls are 789.6 m long.

As a symbol of power and impregnability , the Citadel , which was the residence of Bukhara rulers for many centuries , still impresses one with its grandeur. The fortress walls are up to 20 m high . however , its walls are not ordinary walls as we understand it now. They support an artificial hill where a town with a palace , a mosque, a madrasah, and a square as well as residential, administrative and economic buildings used to be situated. During the epoch of the Samanid dynasty (9th-10th centuries) the Emir`s palace housed a library with a large number of manuscripts on theology , various sciences and, possibly , secular literature. The East had always been famed for its love of poetry.

Up to three thousand residents lived in the town. These were usually the Emir`s wives and children, his mother, his concubines, his numerous relatives and also the vizier and the chief of the secret police with their families and servants were also under special supervision there.

In the 1920s, the North- eastern part of the Ark were the harem and residential buildings connected by passages used to be situated was destroyed. According to the evidence left by contemporaries those were very beautiful buildings, each with its own original décor. There was also a small madrasah, a bath and a well with drinking water there.

The Jami Mosque (16th century), the Emir`s reception hall, his clambers and the greeting square have survived to this day.

Everyone who came to the Ark passed through a long and dark corridor that stretched from the Citadel`s main gates. Along the entire length of the corridor there were premises where water and sand for extinguishing fire were kept, and also cells for prisoners. On one of the walls , a gigantic whip used to hang as a symbol of the Emir`s unlimited powers.

The corridor led to the foot of the Jami Mosque. Today. Its building houses an exhibition of ancient manuscripts. A narrow street on the left side of the mosque leads to a side called Chor-Su, which is a crossing of four roads. From there, one can get into the Emir`s reception hall, which resembles a small square and is surrounded by the terraces on three sides. The roofs of the terraces are supported by carved wooden columns.

On the right of the entrance, a mint is situated in a semi-basement. Opposite the entrance there is the place where the throne used to stand. Sitting on it, the ruler of Bukhara used to receive important visitors. The reception hall used to be filled with pompously dressed courtiers. One can easily imagine how their attire glittered with gold and how the carpets of remarkable beauty felt springy under their feet. The palace of Bukhara rulers had always been distinguished by particular luxury.

Access to the reception hall was permitted only to the select few; slaves and servants were not allowed to see it even out of the corner of their eye. The inner entrance to it was barred by a massive wall. The point is that neither the courtiers nor the Emir`s guests could turn their back on the ruler on penalty of death. They could only move backwards until they came against the wall, and only after by passing it could they face the exit.

There is an interesting detail. The entrance to the Emir`s mint is guarded by an unusual stone lion. The sculpture made exactly one hundred years ago by wood-carver Abdurakhim Turdiyev, bears a remote resemblance to the king of beasts. This is explained by the fact that the craftsman had never seen a lion and was guided in his work only by a verbal description. Two more lions guard the entrance to Sitorai Mohi-Hosa, a summer palace built by Alimkhan, the last Emir of Bukhara.

Opposite the reception hall, there is the greeting square. Courtiers used to gather on that small square each morning to greet the ruler who appeared on a balcony adjoining his chambers. The balcony has not survived to this day. The Emir`s chambers, rather modest in size , house a museum.

On the greeting square , the Emir`s stables with the famous Akhaltekin racers used to be situated. It should be mentioned that only the Emir had the right to enter the Ark on horseback. On rare occasions, the ruler could grant such right to his subject who had distinguished himself. Once a week, merchants who had arrived from all over the world used to bring their goods to the greeting square.

On the side of the square opposite the stables, right above the main gates of the Ark, there is a roofed terrace from where drummers used to summon people for festivities and public executions that were carried out at the foot of the Citadel, on the adjoining Reghistan Square (meaning “sand-fill square” where “reg” is “sand”; a common name for squares in Central Asia ). It is said that the drumbeat was even heard in the environs of Bukhara. Back in the early 20th century, the square was the site of a colourful Oriental marketplace where wrestling competitions and performances of tight-rope walkers were held.

The Ark residents could observe everything happening on the square from the Citadel`s walls. The Emir used to sit on the balcony overlooking the Reghistan. His wives could watch the performance only through the latticed windows above the Ark`s gates.