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
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
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 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 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
Text and photo Julia Sherstyuk