Bukhara was located on the Silk Roads, connecting China with Iran, India and Europe. It has long been an important economic and cultural center of Central Asia. The historic part of the city has been on the UNESCO World Heritage List since 1993. Its architecture, dating back more than 2,000 years, represents a rare combination of different eras: it is one of the best examples of Islamic cities in the world. Although intensely restored, the center does not lack charm. Its streets, wider than in Khiva are also busier. Unlike most people, I preferred Samarkand but I advise you to spend two full days to visit Bukhara
The citadel Ark
Yet painted as one of Bukhara’s most important attractions, I found the Ark disappointing. Inside, exhibitions on the art and history of Uzbekistan and Central Asia. Its outer wall is very similar to that of Khiva. Its first foundation dates back to the III century BC. It was, however, destroyed several times by invasions. Its current buildings date from the last three centuries (XVII-XX centuries).
The Ark was a city in a city, inhabited by thousands of people. It included gardens, stables, armoury, stables, prison, a mosque and the residence of the Emir as well as members of his family. The whole place is now a museum.
It is the city’s most important architectural complex. It contains the Kalon mosque, its 48 meters high minaret and the madrasa Mir-i-Arab (the theology school is still functional).
Built in 1514, the Kalon Mosque is one of the largest and oldest mosques in Central Asia. Its inner courtyard is immense and could hold twelve thousand people! What especially caught my attention are the facades and their spectacular mosaics.
My guest house was very close and it was therefore the first monument I visited. There was nobody at the opening and I had the place to myself!
Close to the Ark, the mosque was regularly used by the emir and members of his family. The iwan, coloured and sculpted with finesse is beautiful.
Gallery – back to the past
Right next to Jubar Street is a small photo gallery of Uzbek photographer Shavkat Boltaev. The collection is very interesting. Not just for the quality of the photographs but also to discover more authentic face of Bukhara: a glimpse of the city under the snow or sandstorms, away from the hordes of tourists. The gallery is free but postcards and reproductions are sold to support its maintenance.
The impressive tomb of Ismael Samani, is the oldest building in Bukhara that is preserved in its original state. It dates from the 10th century and was built in baked bricks. Its architecture is unique in Central Asia. Symbolically, its square base represents the earth and the dome the sun. Although quite small, the mausoleum is beautiful. The light shining through the pattern of the brickworks was atmospheric.
After visiting many sites I wanted to escape a little the tourist route. I ventured into the streets outside the historic center. I discovered houses, a complex networks of gas pipes as well as scenes of everyday life. Set yourself a goal, like Chor for example and wander outside the main roads. Note that the roof isn’t really interesting. I highly recommend going for a walk!
Silk Road Spices Tea House
Touristic? Of course! But not always. I went there in the afternoon and I was alone. Teas with saffron, mint, ginger … all served with sweets (nougatine, honey and sesame, nuts etc …).
The Sitorai Mohi Hosa Summer Palace
6km north of the city lies the second residence of the Bukhara emirs. The first part of the Summer Palace was designed by a group of architects at the end of the 19th century. It combined traditional architecture from Europe and Bukhara. The emir then sent the group to St. Petersburg to study Russian architecture. The second part was then built between 1912 and 1918, during the reign of the last emir.
The main attraction are the interiors: It’s a fusion of Russian and Bukhara styles. In front of the basin is a European-style building with a beautiful arch: it contains the white hall, an amazing room with carved plaster.
To get there, I recommend taking a taxi rather than the bus. For the price, it’s easier. The way back was more difficult because there were none available. After waiting for a while, I got on the first bus that arrived. I can only speak a few words of Russian and I managed to make myself understood… Or at least, that’s what I thought. We drove through most of Bukhara’s neighbourhood. After a stop at a souk, the bus was so full that I found myself crushed by bags of fruits and vegetables. Fortunately it was not meat!
The connections from/to Samarkand and Tashkent are very easy by train. For more information, check the article dedicated to transports in Uzbekistan.