Hidden away down some back streets to the east of the Lyab-i-Khauz, the quaint little building known as the Chor Minor (Four minarets) is neither a minaret nor a mosque. Nor is it particularly old, at least in the terms of what constitutes old here in Bukhara's Old city - it was only built in 1807 - and nor was it ever finished. It is, in fact, the gatehouse of a medressah most of which has long-since disappeared, leaving only this little square block with a tower at each corner and a short section of the medressah wall. The pool that once graced the medressah courtyard is still there too - these days it's empty
According to one local legend, the donor, a rich Turkman merchant, built the gatehouse with a tower for each of his four daughters which explains why - girls being girls - each one is subtly different from the other (photo 4).
Climbing to the roof, you pass an upstairs room that was once used as a library. The view from the roof isn't particularly inspiring and the roof space is rather difficult to negotiate as you have to clamber over low walls that divide the area between the dome and the high portals.
Wandering the lanes leading to the Chor Minor will take you past quiet corners of the old city that offer a glimpe of everyday life.
Some hundred metres east of the Arkis Bukhara’s old prison – the Zindon.
This is where prisoners have been held until the Emir dispensed “justice” – mostly execution rather than reprieve.
It is a museum now and witness of the cruelty, the prisoners had to endure here. Their fellow lodgers had been scorpions, snakes, lice and all other of these lovely creatures.
The most “famous” prisoners held here, were British officers Stoddart and Conolly. Their fate tells a lot about the Emir’s megalomanic attitude. Stoddart’s “fault” was that he hadn’t enough gifts to please the Emir when he came to tell about British invasion of Afghanistan. Conolly was sent to release his fellow, but again, Mr. Emir wanted to demonstrate his superpower and threw him into jail as well. 1 year later, they had been executed on the Registan, but not enough – they had to dig their own graves before they were beheaded.
The Bug Pit – their cell – is the most gruesome part of Zindon – a 5 m deep hole in the ground. Horrible to imagine how they lived here for this long year !
1500 sum, and no additional fee for taking pictures.
9 a.m. to 4.30 p.m.
The Zindon is definitely not something to visit with little children !
The weblink below tells a bit about this Emir Nasrullah Khan.
Lyab-i Hauz Complex is located at the border of the Old Town or should I say "at the entrance"? The heart of the old Town with the famous Mosque Kalan is not far. Some covered bazaars form the entrances to the inner part of old Town. Many merchants and pilgrims used to visit Bukhara as is was a city on the famous Silkroad. The religious pilgrims stayed in special accommodations as the Chanaka Nadir Diwan-Begi (Chanaka means pilgrim's hostel) and the merchants stayed in karawanserays. There is an old karawanseray from the 17th century not far from Lyab-i Hauz Complex. Around a coutyard a two storey building has some rooms. In the court yard the camels and horses could be fed and there is also a well. The rooms on the ground floor were used as shops or storerooms. Today the rooms are full of souvenirshops and small workshops.
The Lyab-i Hauz- Complex is a nice ensemble of two Medreses and a Mosque around a big pond.
According to a legend Imam Kulikhan couldn’t begin the construction he had planned because the house of a lonely widow, who refused to leave, occupied the area. The ruler decided to build a canal under her house. However, when water began to wash the walls of the woman’s house she was obliged to leave and the construction was completed as the ruler desired.
In former times the pond was the meeting point, where the old men sat in the gentle light of sunset, smoking their pipes and having a chat.
Now there are restaurants around the pond. The Mosques can be visited. Some old trees give shadow. The old men gather now under the trees and are watching the tourists passing by.
One last small pavilion remains to be vsited before you leave the Emir's summer palace. Tucked away in a corner of the garden - well away from the Harem which was solely the Emir's domain - the pretty little octagonal guesthouse is now the Museum of National Costume. No trace remains of the 4.5 kilos of gold used to decorate its walls, ithe only gold here now is embroidered on to velvet gowns, painstaking work that took months, if not years, to complete.
Styles of dress were hugely significant in Uzbekistam, conveying status and wealth. The clothes of even moderately wealthy people featured silks and embroideries and the aristocracy dressed in truly fabulous style. As well as the robes, boots, shoes, hats and such that fill the cases in the museum, a wonderful series of photos shows how people dressed then.
A stroll through the palace gardens, past rose beds and wandering peacocks, brings you to a large pool overlooked by a high pavilion. This is the women's area of the palace complex, the pavilion a favourite spot of the Emir who it is said came here every day to watch the women swim and played naked before him. It's also said he would toss an apple to the one chosen to be his companion for the night.
After the excess of decoration that fills the main building at the Emir's summer palace, the Harem comes as something of a surprise both in its simple, very European, exterior and equally simple interiors. No doubt when the Emir's 40 concubines were in situ, their feminine charms, silken robes and skilful embroidery were decoration enough. The wives of the Emir didn't live here - their role was different and they stayed back at the palace in the city.
The arrival of the Red Army saw a mass divorce declared and the concubines free to take up with whichever of the soldiers who managed to gain their favour. Somehow, I can't help thinking the successful suitors were more likely to have won their fair maidens by dint of their rank than their charm or valour. The Emir and his four wives fled to Afghanistan where they wer given sanctuary by the king in Kabul.
Today the harem is a Museum of Embroidery, room after room hung with exquisite suzanis worked with consumate skill and artistry. You'll see enough examples of that if you read through these pages, so no photos of them here. Instead, a traditional Uzbek cradle - with 40 young concubines, there must have been babies here too.
A footnote to history - the youngest child ogf the Emir's youngest wife, born just one year before her father died, now lives the life of an American housewife, in a small town in Maryland
... that's the meaning of Sitora-I-Mohi-Hosa, the summer palace of the last emir of Bukhara. Built entirely for pleasure, in an odd mix of Uzbek and Russian styles, the palace sits in beautiful gardens some 4 km outside the the city.
Just as with the Khan's palace in Kokand, the days of the Emir (photo 5) were numbered even before building started right at the end of the 19th century, but still no expense was spared. Architects from St Petersburg were engaged to draw up the plans, the finest craftsmen from all over the region were engaged to decorate the interior, pricelss antiques filled the display cabinets and niches, magnificent carpets covered the floors, kilos of gold were used on the walls and ceilings. Excess was the name of the game - talk about fiddling while Rome burned - the Bolsheviks were at the gate by the time the palace was finally finished.
Right to the end, the Emir's merest whim was law and his subjects were his to do with as he willed. The master plasterer whose work adorned the grand White Chamber - the main reception room - suffered a terrible fate once the work was completed - his hands were maimed, whether to punish him for some minor flaw or to prevent him reproducing the work for anyone else is not known.
The palace's three main buildings - the main palace, the harem and the guesthouse - form part of Bukhara's History Museum. The bookshop by the gate was once the Emir's wine cellar.
Just as the locals do, tourists find themselves drawn back again and again to the Lyab-i-Khauz, the large pool with its surrounding terraces and chaikhanas at the centre of Bukhara's Old City. The pool has been here since 1620, some of the mulberry trees around it are even older - some were planted in 1477 - together they have provided a cool spot to relax, meet friends, drink tea and generally watch the world go by ever since. Built to serve as a cistern for the town the pool now is merely ornamental - home to a few ducks that venture out for a paddle every now and then.
Old men sit here - along the low walls or in a quiet corner playing chess - during the day; families come in the evening; young girls link arms and walk around the square in a Central Asian paseo, giggling and chattering as they cast their eyes over the young men heading these days for the internet cafe on the corner to play computer games for a while or showing off by clowning around at the water's edge; a cobbler sets his machine and last up on a corner and does a busy trade; proud mothers photograph their children sitting on the back of the statues of camels that pace in a never-changing caravan beside the pool whilst fathers lift them up to rub the ears of Hodja Nesruddin's donkey in another sculpture. All the time the chaikhanas serve mounds of plov at lunchtime, shashlyk at dinner and pots and pots of steaming green tea all through the day. Nowhere in all Uzbekistan conveys the spirit of Central Asia in quite the way that this lovely place does.
We were on our way to dinner at the Lyab-i-Hauz one evening when we spotted that this madrassah is now the centre for an organisation called the Development of Creative Photography. As keen photographers we couldn’t resist going inside to check it out and found it was well worth the visit. There was an interesting exhibition of photos by local (I assume) photographers, most of a very high standard. It was wonderful to see Bukhara and the surrounding region through their eyes. Some of the best images were of local people, reflecting what we had discovered for ourselves – a genuine sense of interest in others that pervades the culture here and an openness of expression echoing the openness of their welcome. I was also particularly fascinated by some photos of Bukhara in the snow – visiting in July’s red-hot temperatures it was hard, even faced with these images, to conceive of what the street outside would look and feel like under those conditions.
The centre also seems to run a photography society and to welcome visitors from abroad to share ideas and discuss photography. There are photography books to browse and visitors are encouraged to linger, though as we’d visited just before their closing time (the centre is open 9-7) we didn’t want to out-stay our welcome.
I’ve tried to find out more about the centre on the internet but couldn’t track down a website for them. However I did come across an interesting account of another tourist’s visit there, with some examples of the photos he’d seen: Digital Grin Photography Forum
The mesmerizing tomb of Ismael Samani is an architectural bolt from the blue. The oldest, best preserved and most breathtakingly original building in Bukhara, it is without doubt one of the architectural highlights of any visit to Uzbekistan.
The almost perfect brick cube was built at the beginning of the 9th century and belongs to the great cultural resurgence of the Samanid dynasty (875-999). The tomb derives its name form the founder of the dynasty, Ismael, and contains not only his tomb but also that of his father Ahmed, his nephew Nasr and others of Samanid line.
The mausoleum draws elements from the early Sogdian times architecture (such as the heavy corner buttresses) and Sassanid fire worship (witness the circular brick suns and canopy shape of sacred Zoroastrian temples). Combining these with the recent arithmetic and geometrical advances made by Arab mathematicians and the latest squinch technology, to forge an artistic style, the monumental mazar, would serve as an architectural formula for centuries to come.
The construction is of a 11m cube with identical facades, all of which slope slightly inward and upon which sits a hemispherical cupola ringed with 4 domelets. Four internal arches supported by corner pillars from the squintch upon which rests the eigth and the 160sided transition to the drum. This chortak (aka 4 arch) system was revolutionary for the time and came to dominate countless subsequent memorial tombs in Transoxiana.
From the outside the zone of transition is masked by a gallery of 10 windows which provide light and ventilation for the cool inner tombs. The mausoleum is also rich in symbolism. Its cube not only refers back to the sacred kaaba stone at Mecca, but furthermore symbolizes the earth and complements its dome, symbol of the heavens, to create a metaphor of the universe.
Named for the herb and spice bazaar that stood here in ancient times, the Maghok-i-Attari mosque is regarded as the oldest standing mosque in all Central Asia. With its twin domes looking for all the world like a pair of dopi (the skull cap worn by Uzbek men), the worn stones of the mosque and its low,squat shape speak of a much older architecture than many of the city's more flamboyant buildings. Russian archaeologists working here in the 1930s found traces of much older temples below the first mosque to be built on the site - a 5th century Zoroastrian fire temple and an even earlier Buddhist one stood here before the coming of Islam.
Unbelievable as it may seem, when the digging first began only the top of the mosque was visible -the debris of centuries had raised the street level to that extent. The entrance has always been below street level - magok means pit - nowadays the street outside has been excavated to its 12th century level.
As well as the ubiquitous handicraft sellers, the mosque houses an interesting carpet museum and the exquisite decoration to be seen in the mihrab has been restored. A silk-weaving loom is set up in an inner room to show the intricacies of ikat weaving. Someone may be on hand to show you the pre-Islamic temple remains in the eastern pit.
Passing through the Moneychangers' Bazarr and heading north up the wide Ulitsa Hakikat, you will come to the Taqi-Tilpak Furushon - the Capmakers' Bazaar. This is much larger than the Moneychangers' Bazaar, its central dome spanning no less than 5 streets that converge here with some 26 little subsiduary domes and shops all clustered together - you'll need to duck your head to pass through some of the tiny doorways into the inner shops. The arched entrances from the streets are high enough to admit a fully -laden camel - not something you can expect to see nowadays but it must have been a wonderful sight in the days when trade here was confined to not only the caps that gave it its name - and of which there are an infinite variety still to be found throughout Central Asia - but also the dealers in valuable books and manuscripts.
Once again, the trade here has become the more general stuff of handicrafts and goods for the tourists but there are a couple of more esoteric shops here that are definitely worth a stop.
The musical instruments of Central Asia are both attractive and melodious. Stop for a while at the instrument seller and he will play for you.
The spice- seller has a wonderful array of spices - with dear little leather-stoppered containers carved out of tiny gourds, stamps for marking non (bread) in a variety of patterns - great for shortbread or cookies too, and different teas - he may offer you his particularly delicious spiced tea with flavours of cinnamon and ginger.
The Shah Rud canal which runs behind the Moneychangers' Bazaar and on through the Old City is all that remains of Bukhara's mediaevalwater supply. It was built to bring water to the city from the Serafshan River. Water only flowed into the river after the snow melt which meant there was no constant water supply to fill the canal and so an ingenious system of dams was built to store the water. These were opened at regular intervals and the canal filled with water.
Once the canal had branches running all through the city, along the edge of the main streets bringing water to a series of cisterns from where it could be collected by the townswomen (fetching water is always womens' work). The Lyabi-Khauz cistern was the largest of these reservoirs.
Once there were five great trading domes on Bukhara, built over the crossroads of the city, each dedicated to a particular trade. The roads and alleys that spread between them would have been crammed with bazaars selling all manner of goods in everything from makeshift stalls to grand caravanserai but it was the domes that held it all together. Here were the central control points from whence all was controlled and the strict taxation leveed. All the streets converged and passed through one or other of the domes and then led on to another in a complex web.
Of the three domes that remain, the smallest is the Taqi -Sarrafon - the Money-changers Bazaar. Closest to the Lyabi-Khauz, this was the hub around which the finance of the bazaars revolved. Forbidden from usury by their religion, no Muslims took part in this exchange. Here the money-changers and lenders were from India and Armenia.
No trace of them remains today - the piles of gold and silver coin they kept to exchange for the foreign currencies of the traders have become the stacks of notes handed out now by the exchange booths in hotels - you still need a sack to carry your money in though as you are likely to be given it all in 200 sum (about 20c) notes. Change $100 and you end up with a pile too big for any wallet!
Do I need to say the Taqi-Sarrafon has become yet another branch of the Bukhara "supermarket " chain - with small stalls and shops selling the usual mix of suzani. carpets, jewellery, bags, silk scarves, etc?
The bustling commercial heart of the city snakes through streets of shaded stalls, fortress caravanserais and domed bazaars to form one of the most colourful and cosmopolitan trading grounds in the Islamic world. From dawn to dusk an endless procession of camels and heavily-laden donkeys crashed through bursting streets in a chaotic exchange of insult and barter.
Yet behind the commercial chaos lay a tightly organised system of control, for taxation was a serious business in Bukhara, especially after the 16th century boom in Bukharan-Russian trade. A sliding scale ranged from the traditional one fortieth tax rate prescribed by the clergy for Muslim traders to an almost 20% rate for Christian Russians. Emergency war taxes were regularly imposed, lastly by Mozaffar to fight off the Russian invasion, and under the Subkhan Kuli Khan (1681-1702) taxes were even demanded 7 years in advance.
Five vaulted and domed bazaars (toks), covered busy road intersections, each monopolizing a separate trade to facilitate tax collection: jeweller’s bazaar (1570), cap makers bazaar, moneychanger’s bazaar, etc. The structures were utilitarian but complex as they straddled convergent trade arteries and all were accesses by entrance archers high enough for a laden pack camel.
Today modern businessmen echo the call of ancestral traditions: metal chasers haunt the Jeweller’s bazaar, dressmakers and their looms revive the sale of silk in the Abdullah Khan Tim, booksellers, embroideries and Karakul milliners have set up shop in the Capmaker’s bazaar although free marketers in the moneychanger’s bazaar have been curbed by government policy.