Location: Bukhara, Uzbekistan
Following on from last Friday’s article, I wanted to share my favourite parts of Bukhara, Central Asia’s holiest city. With a history spanning thousands of years, Bukhara was my absolute favourite city in Uzbekistan overall. It didn’t quite have the chaotic atmosphere of Samarkand and was absent of the intricate mazes of Khiva’s Itchan Kala. To me it was just the perfect place to take in the country’s grand architecture and history – that being said though, I am told there is competition between each of the cities, so you probably won’t want to say this to locals throughout the country! We spent our three days in Bukhara sipping Bagizagan wine in Lyab-i-Haus, enjoying the spectacular views and watching the locals go about their day-to-day lives. As with all of my travel guides, this is another image heavy post and I really hope that it entices you to visit this beautiful country. There are so many things to see in Bukhara and I figured it would be a bit of an overload to fit everything into one article so I’ve tried to split them as best I can, starting with Part I. Each article will feature different sites that you should make time for whilst you are in town.
As we did in Khiva, we hired a tour guide to stay with us for one day to show us some of the city’s hidden gems. Sites that you might not always see on every Uzbekistan travel guide. As with our previous tour guide Naz in Khiva, our guide was multilingual and fluent in English, Uzbek, Russian and Tajik – pretty amazing! It’s been a while since the trip back in April and I’m a little embarrassed to say that I can’t quite remember her name, but we began our tour together at the hotel we were staying at. Our guide’s husband was waiting in the car just a few streets away to drive us to our first stop – the Samanid Mausoleum. It was only a 10 minute drive and you can most definitely walk if you have time to spare. It is located in a park just outside the centre of town and is considered an architectural masterpiece due to its intricate brickwork. Ironically, at the time the mausoleum was built, erecting crypts was against Islamic law.
From the mausoleum, we walked through the park and exited right by a local marketplace. Again, worth walking around if you have the time, but since we had already visited Chorsu Bazaar in Tashkent we decided to give it a miss. Within about 10 minutes of walking we reached The Ark of Bukhara – an imposing fortress that was built in the 5th century AD. Around the time, it was inhabited by the royal courts and was very much a town in itself. I found it fascinating that this site has been here for almost 2,000 years and I wondered what those walls had seen – from the era of Genghis Khan to the Russian Civil War. Within the Ark itself, you can visit Bukhara’s largest museum, Bukhara State Architectural and Art Museum, amongst several others.
From the Ark, we crossed the road and headed over to the Bolo Haouz Mosque. The mosque was built in the early 1700s and is a UNESCO World Heritage Site – can you notice a pattern with buildings in Uzbekistan? What makes the Bolo Haouz Mosque pretty unique that it’s known as the Mosque of 40 Pillars due to the large wooden pillars erected right outside. You’ll note from the pictures though that there are only 20 wooden pillars – and this is not an error in counting. The mosque is directly opposite a large pool, and the additional 20 are reflected in the water. A fully functioning mosque to this day, it was historically the emir’s official place of worship. When you’re ready admiring the artwork in those wooden columns, have a look just behind that pool. You’ll notice a now-disused 33m water tower, built by the Russians in 1927.
From the Bolo Haouz Mosque, it was over to the covered Central Bazaar located in the centre of the city. Unlike most other bazaars that I have visited in other parts of the world, this one was not overflowing with tourists – likely because the country as whole is still very much undiscovered. Like other bazaars though, you can pick up all your usual souvenirs and trinkets, along with other goods that the locals might be shopping for. You can find everything from handmade carpets to hand-embroidered tablecloths, from folk musical instruments to national toys. Whatever you decide to buy though, be sure to check out the building that actually shelters the bazaar and its ornate ceilings.
If you enjoyed this article, tune in next Tuesday for more beautiful sites to see in the city of Bukhara. I promise the beauty will only increase as the series progresses!