Bukhara is a shining showpiece amongst the fading cities of the erstwhile silk route. To be precise, your trip to Uzbekistan, would be incomplete if you fail to see Bukhara, the undisputed gem of Turkestan. In its present form, Bukhara preserves an ensemble of edifices contrasted over a century. Base yourself around the Lyabi Hauz and kick-start your explorations with
Nadir Diwan Begi Medressa | Sitting prominently around the Lyabi Hauz Promenade, this structure was originally a caravan sarai but was later converted into a Medressa in 1622 CE. Laden with vibrant tile work, the edifice stands outs for an unconventional display of animals (prohibited in Islam) on the façade. Elaborate geometric patterns have been profusely used for decoration.
Kukaldosh Medressa | This massive structure by the road side was once the largest Medressa in the whole of Central Asia. Commissioned by Abdulla Khan in 1569 CE, the Medressa had 160 cells which now house souvenir shops.
Nadir Divanbegi Khanaka | This ticketed monument just across the Lyabi Hauz opposite the Nadir Divanbegi Medressa was originally meant for religious discourses. Converted into a museum, the building now preserves some artifacts depicting the glories of Bukhara.
Lyabi Hauz | The epicenter of Bukhara, this pool plaza is where the whole of Bukhara congregates for recreation. This pool is amongst the 200 odd pools that once fed the growing population of Bukhara. When in Bukhara, Lyabi Hauz is the best place to eat out, sit and relax, and soak in.
Modarixon & Abdulluxon Medressa | These twin Medressas were commissioned by Abdulla Khan in 1566 CE and 1588 CE respectively – one for his mother and other for himself. The edifices are noteworthy for beautiful geometric designs in the portico.
Mausoleum of Ismail Samani | Amongst the extant construction belonging to the Samani Empire, this mausoleum is stunning for its innovative brickwork. Watch-out for the intricate zig-zag masonry inside the mausoleum.
Chor Minar | Immensely famous amongst tourists, Chor Minar is a building of austere proportions that might fail to meet your expectations. Originally designed as a gateway to a Medressa in 1807 CE, this square building with four turrets has striking similarity with Char Minar (1591 CE) of India.
Ulugh Begh Medrasssa | In Taki-Zargaron area, we find two medressas in varying state of preservation. The one in relative better condition was built by the master builder Ulugh Beg, Grandson of Timur in 1417 CE. The structure is remarkable for its decoration on the façade and the portico. The interiors are in a bad shape and needs urgent restoration.
Abdul Aziz Khan Medressa | The newer building commissioned by Abdul Aziz Khan in 1652 CE was designed to overshadow Ulugh Beg’s Medressa. Despite their best efforts, the architects have failed to create a balance. Knobloch feels, “It is bigger, richer, more sophisticated, but it somehow lacks the harmony of proportion that marks the older building [Ulugh Beg Medressa].”
Mir-e-Arab Medressa | This grand active medressa sits at the very heart of Poy-Kalan Complex. Named after a 16th century saint from Yemen, the Medressa was commissioned in 1535 CE by Bukhara ruler Ubaydulla Khan. Writing about its antiquity, Knobloch remarks, “Mir-i-Arab is the only madrasa in Central Asia that has served the same purpose for more than 400 years – it was one of the only two Muslim colleges to operate in the Soviet Union.” Remarkable for its decoration, Mir-e-Arab Medressa is a sight to behold at dusk.
Kalon Minaret | Iconic and conspicuous, this signature structure of Bukhara was commissioned by Arslan Khan in 1127 CE. Towering over the Bukhara skyline, the tall minaret stands at 47 metres with a total of 14 ornamental bands along its length. It is said that even the brutal Chengis Khan was so impressed that he decided not to dismantle it. Other than its size, Kalon minaret is a trend-setter in decoration. In view of Knobloch, “This is one of the earliest known examples in Central Asia of colors used in architectural decoration.”
Kalon Mosque | Sitting opposite the grand Mir-e-Arab Medressa, this thoroughly renovated edifice is a visual treat. Dating back to 16thcentury, the elaborate grand plan sits over a site of an earlier mosque ransacked by Chengis Khan. The mosque remained neglected during the Soviet times when it was used as a warehouse. It was reopened in 1991 CE and currently being used. The ornamentation decoration with Kufic calligraphic designs are of very high quality.
Shrine of Bakhaouddin Naqshbandi | In the North outskirts of Bukhara, there is a local pilgrimage popular with local people. Complex of Bakhaouddin Naqshbandi is a collection of sacred shrines belonging to the Naqshbandi sect.
Sitorai Mohi Khosa Palace | Commissioned by the last Emir of Bukhara, Alim Khan this palace is a bizarre blend of architectural styles. This ensemble of palatial edifices spread around salubrious gardens and pools doubles up as a walk through nature.
Chor Bakr Necroplis | If you are done with the many monuments of Bukhara and want to see something different and unseen, head towards the necropolis of Chok Bakr. Lying to the west of Bukhara, the sprawling environs of Chor Bakr has many ruined structures belonging to the 17th Century.
Ark | Supposedly the oldest part of Bukhara, this fortified citadel preserves the first human settlements of this Silk route outpost. Though most of the interiors have now been restored and converted into museums, a walk around the ark gives us an impression of how the first nomadic settlers came and inhabited this oasis.