Bukhara, Uzbekistan, is one of the oldest cities in the world. Estimated to have been founded more than 2500 years ago, it can compete even with Rome due to its lengthy history. It’s of course a lot older than Paris or London, and about three times as old as Moscow. There aren’t many cities that come close to Bukhara in terms of age, and also former significance – since it was one of the main trading hubs along the Silk Road.
You can read all about facts and figures of this delightful ancient city on the net. Here though, I’ll go through what remains in my memory from what we were told by our guide, adding just bits from the www to fill in any gaps.
So, Bukhara’s heyday was in the era of the Samanid Empire (late 9th to end of the 10th century), which was a time of peace. Accordingly, trade bloomed, as did progress in technology, medicine and art. Bukhara was both the capital and the main center of culture and learning of the Saminids, which, incidentally, stretched across rather a wide territory, covering parts of today’s (get ready!…): Pakistan, Afghanistan, Tajikistan (most of today’s Bukhara’s inhabitants, curiously, speak Tajik) Iran, Turkmenistan, Kirgizstan, Kazakhstan, and of course Uzbekistan.
// Btw: if I get any of my historical facts wrong here, please do let me know.
Basics over with, onto science and art…
It was here in Bukhara where the Persian polymath Avicenna was born, lived and worked. Avicenna is regarded to have been one of the most significant physicians, astronomers, thinkers and writers of the Islamic Golden Age. He was just one of many scientists of the Saminids, some of whose names – or works/theories thereof – you’ll recognize. Example: algebra comes from the Arabic al-jabr, meaning ‘reunion of broken-up parts’, which in turn comes from the book (Ilm al-jabr wa’l-muḳābala) by the scholar Muhammad ibn Musa al-Khwarizmi, from neighboring Khwarezm. But why the Arabic, you may wonder. Well, after these territories were conquered by the Arabs somewhere around the 6th-7th centuries, though the locals continued to speak their own languages and dialects, Arabic became the language of the elite, science and art. Thus: algebra. Also: alchemy, almanac, algorithm, alcohol! There are as many Arabic-originating words in different world languages as there are, say, Greek ones. Someone should do a comparison. Meanwhile, I’ll just show you my photos…
The Kalyan minaret: around a thousand years old!
Local legend has it (exclusive! As told by our guide; no mention of this on Wikipedia!) that when Genghis Khan’s troops seized and were destroying the city, Kalyan was left untouched, Why? Well, approaching the minaret, Genghis Khan pulled up on his horse and his hat fell down to the ground. As he picked it up, he unintentionally knelt. To which he remarked that, since it had been knelt before, the minaret must stay!
Hmmm, like the minaret, that story is a bit tall. Would the Mongolian ruler really have dismounted his horse to pick up his hat from the ground himself? Maybe. Who knows?!
Here’s something I didn’t know. It turns out the word minaret is Arabic for lighthouse! Apparently, before Islam, that is what they were used as in the desert. Up top of a night fires would be lit and strings of them would be used by caravans to find their way along their routes. And those caravans would move along their routes only at night, since by day it was (and still is!) too hot. That, btw, is another legend; I notice no mention on Wikipedia.
We continue our stroll around the old town:
The Ark of Bukhara, the fortress once inhabited by various royal courts:
It once featured a jail:
The coronation square:
Another prison (zindan):
In the prison, suddenly, a… bug pit!
Prisoners would be put in the bug pit – and never came out again. Relatives would drop them food down on string. Lovely.
The bug pit put up foreign guests in its time. For example, the British envoy who arrived at the fortress to see the emir, (i) on a horse, and (ii) without a gift. Not the best combination. He sat in the bug pit a full four years, before being beheaded – along with the British spy who tried to rescue him during the Great Game. Just goes to show: always take into account local cultural differences in customs and traditions – and respect them :).
Market stalls, and hammams – more than 500 years old:
Twelfth century mosque:
That’s all from Uzbekistan folks. I’ve got a plane to catch.
All the pics form the Bukhara are here.