Bukhara is a city on the historic Silk Road, situated between Samarkand and Khiva, the 2 other gems of Uzbekistan.
Bukhara is central Asia’s holiest city and was once home to more than 300 mosques and 100 medressas. In the 9th and 10th centuries, it was the region’s religious and cultural heart, hosting the famed philosopher-scientist Avicenna as well as the Persian poets Firdausi and Rudaki.
Bukhara has been well preserved over the centuries (some say too well preserved) and is still home to many mosques, mausoleums, and medressas. According to UNESCO, which has designated it a World Heritage Site, “Bukhara is the most complete and unspoiled example of a medieval central Asian town which has preserved its urban fabric to the present day.” The city center includes some 140 historic buildings and monuments, most of which are religious in nature. Major higlights are the Ismail Samani mausoleum, the Kalon minaret and the Maghoki-Attar mosque.
Ismail Samani mausoleum
The 10th-century Ismail Samani Mausoleum is one of Bukhara’s oldest monuments. Built for the founder of the Tajik Samanid dynasty, its delicate terracotta brickwork disguises 2m-thick walls that have never needed repair.
The Ismail Samani Mausoleum was built in the 10th century to house its the tombs of Ismail Samani, founder of the Samanid Dynasty, as well as his father and grandson.
Bukhara’s most recognizable monument, the 12th-century Kalon minaret is to Bukhara what the Eiffel Tower is to Paris.
The Kalon Minaret can be climbed for fine views over the city. Next to it is the 16th-century Kalon Mosque, built on the site of an earlier mosque.
When it was built, the Kalon Minaret (whose name means “great” in Tajik) was probably the tallest building in Central Asia. It stands 47m tall and is supported by 10m-deep foundations padded with reeds for earthquake-proofing. In 850 years, it has never needed any structural repairs.
In addition to its main purpose as a minaret, the Kalon Minaret served as a watch tower and a guide to approaching caravans on the Silk Route. In the 18th and 19th centuries, it had more grim use: men condemned by the emir were hurled to their deaths from the top.
Genghis Khan is said to have been so impressed by the minaret that he ordered it spared when he invaded Bukhara in the 13th century. He did, however, in typical Ghengis fashion, reduce the rest of the city to rubble.
The present Kalon Mosque, next to the minaret, didn’t survive Ghengis and was rebuilt in the 16th century. It was used as a warehouse in Soviet times and only reopened as a working mosque in 1991.
The Kalon Minaret has 14 ornamental bands, each of them different. They include the first use of the glazed blue tiles that became ubiquitous across Central Asia. Slightly lighter patches can be seen on the south and east sides, which were damaged by artillery in 1920.
Dating from the 12th century, the Maghok-i-Attar Mosque in Bukhara is the oldest mosque in Central Asia. It also boasts an illustrious history of sacredness – remains of a Zoroastrian temple and a Buddhist temple have been found beneath it, and Jews once used it as a synagogue.
This site was originally occupied by a Buddhist temple, then later a Zoroastrian temple that was built in the 5th century. The Zoroastrian temple was destroyed by the Arabs and replaced with a mosque in the 12th century, which was named Maghok-i-Attar (“Pit of the Herbalists”) because of the nearby spice bazaar.
An earthquake destroyed the mosque in 1860. It was excavated and restored in the 1930s, during which the earlier structures were found.
The Maghoki-Attar Mosque is a pleasing mishmash of the original 12th-century building (mainly in the southern facade and doorways) and the 16th-century reconstruction. The plaza that surrounds the mosque is lower than the surrounding streets and is at the level of the town in the 12th century. When excavations began in the early 20th century, only the top of the mosque was visible.
Inside the mosque, visitors can see a section of the excavations that has been left exposed and an exhibition of Bukhara carpets and prayer rugs.
Really, there are many more sights to see in Bukhara, these are just some of the highlights!