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BUKHARA. CENTRAL'S ASIA HOLIEST CITY

In its earliest day, Bukhara was a major city of Sogdiana, a region of ancient Central Asia populated by Eastern Iranian fi re worshipers. Its fall to the Arabs in the 8th century entailed the Islamification of the town, as the roots of a new religion took hold. The essence of the city was transformed and, today, Bukhara is a showcase of fascinating Islamic architecture and old ways of life.

Bukhara is the fifth largest city in Uzbekistan, which is one of the fi ve former Asian republics of the USSR (the other four being Kazakhstan, Kyrgyzstan, Tajikistan and Turkmenistan). Th e country lies along the second leg of the Silk Road, following the Middle East section. Bukhara marked the halfway point, offering horses, camels and great markets for caravans to meet and exchange goods.

While porcelain, paper, tea, spices and medicinal herbs headed west, other goods like gold, silver, wool, horses, cucumbers and grapes found their way to China.
In 1220, Genghis Khan killed almost all the inhabitants of Bukhara, sparing only the youngest children.

The city was torched and razed to the ground. Years later, his grandson, Hulagu, arrived at the walls of the barely-revived Bukhara. The city sent out its envoys: a young boy, a camel and a goat. "If you want someone larger, then talk to the camel. If you want someone with a beard, then talk to the goat. If you desire reason, then talk to me," said the boy. The message was received – the Genghisid withdrew his army and Bukhara was saved from another plunder.
The Ismail Samani Mausoleum was built in the 10th century to house the tombs of Ismail Samani, founder of the Samanid Dynasty, as well as his father and grandson. There are no glazed tile ornaments here – everything depends on the elaborate handling of baked terracotta bricks and over 20 different types of brick-laying techniques! The walls are so thick and made-to-measure that the mausoleum has never needed repair in its life of 1,100 years. Th e family tomb was literally buried, either deliberately or inadvertently, until Russian archaeologist Shishkin excavated it in 1934.

The 48-metre tall Kalon minaret has dominated Bukhara's skyline for about nine centuries. Th e original minaret built in 919 was destroyed by the elements in 1068 and the subsequent one in wood collapsed within a matter of years. In 1127, a ruler of Bukhara ordered the construction of yet another one, but one that would last forever. Th is time, the job was not rushed: a foundation 13 metres deep and a base nine metres in diameter were factored in, as well as a special kind of mortar mixed from camel's milk, egg yolk and bull's blood.
The Kalon minaret was the tallest freestanding structure in the world at the time, and raised the status of Bukhara to the pinnacle of the Islamic world. It is believed to have inspired awe in Genghis Khan, who bowed to it and ordered it spared from the destruction of the city that followed.

Text and photo Julia Sherstyuk

 

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