Bukhara is an ancient oasis city in Usbekistan, Central Asia. It is located at the Zarafshan river at the edge of the Kyzylkum and Karakum deserts. For centuries it was a center of trade, science and Islamic religion. Famous scientists and philosophers such as Ismail Bukhari, Abu Ibn Sina, Marshakhi, Rudaki, Dakiki, Hoja Bahauddin Makshbandi and others lived and worked in Bukhara. Ibn Sina, known as Avicenna in the West, wrote important books on philosophy, medicine, theology, geometry, astronomy, as well as poetry. Among his scientific works are the Khitob al-Shifo ("The Book of Healing"), a philosophical encyclopedia based on Aristotelian traditions, and the al-Qanun al-Tibb ("The Canon of Medicine"). The "Canon of Medicine" remained the world's authority on the subject until the seventeenth century.

Buddhism, Zoroastroism and Nestorian Christianity were practiced in Bukhara before conversion to Islam under Arab conquest. There is also a fascinating history of the Bukharan Jews who have lived in the city and region since being exiled during the Babylonian conquest of Israel.

Bukhara in 1982


Some sources claim that the origin of Bukhara’a name goes back to the period of Aryan migration into the region ca. 1700 to 1300 B.C. If this is true, the name Bukhara is possibly derived from the Soghdian "Buxarak" ("lucky place"). Another possible source of the name Bukhara may be from "Vihara", the Sanskrit word for monastery and may be linked to the pre-Islamic presence of Buddhism originating from the Indian sub-continent.

Most of the early history of Bukhara is known from Abu Bakr Muhammad ibn al-Narshakhi of Bukhara who wrote the history of his city and presented it to the Samanid ruler Nuh ibn Nasr in 943 A.D.

From what is known, the city of Bukhara was founded in 500 BC in the area now occupied by the Ark fortress. But the Bukhara oasis had been inhabited long before that. Since 3000 B.C. an advanced bronze age culture thrived in the region. In 1500 B.C. a change to a dryer climate possibly triggered a population shift to the oasis from outlying areas. At the same time, tribes moved in from the Eurasian steppe. Together they lived in villages along the shores of a lake and wetland area formed by the Zarafshan river. Around 800 B.C. a new culture called Soghdian emerged and flourished in the Zarafshan valley. By this time the lake had silted up and three fortified settlements were built atop. By 500 B.C. these settlements grew together and were enclosed by a wall. This point marks the foundation of the city of Bukhara.

At the time when Islamic armies arrived in 650 A.D., they encountered a multiethnic and multireligious state. Qutaybah ibn Muslim took Bukhara in 709 A.D., installed a governor but kept the local dynasty of the Bukhara Khudahs in place. From the 7th century onwards, Bukhara played a pivotal role in the Arab invasions of Central Asia. In 850 A.D., it became the capital of the Samanid Empire, which brought about a revival of Iranian language and culture after the period of Arab domination. While under Samanid control, Bukhara temporarily rivaled even Baghdad in importance. In 999 A.D., the Karakhanids captured Bukhara.

After two centuries under the Uyghur Karakhanid and the Karakitay dynasties, Bukhara succumbed in 1220 to Genghiz Khan and was nearly destroyed. Only a few buildings like the Kalyan minaret and the Ismail Samani mausoleum survived.

In 1300, Amir Timur (Tamerlane), who was a descendant of the Mongol conquerors himself, defeated the Mongols and rebuilt Samarkand and Bukhara. Timur was a controversial figure. He sought to restore the Mongol Empire, yet his heaviest blow was against the Mongol Golden Horde. During his reign, Bukhara fell under the shadows of Samarkand. Timur’s empire spread across the Middle East, the Caucasus, as well as Central and South Asia. Mirza Zahiriddin Babur, the grand son of Amir Timur, conquered India in 15th century. However, his cultural legacy lasted far longer than any of his military accomplishments. The 15th century Renaissance in Uzbekistan, is also known as the "Timuran Renaissance."

In 1506, the Uzbek Shaybanids defeated Babur and established their power over the region. They preferred to rule it from Bukhara, rather than from Samarkand. Bukhara became the capital of what came to be known as the Bukhara Khanate. The 16-th th century was a golden period for the city. The Shaybanid dynasty did for it what Timur had done for Samarkand. At the end of that century the Astrakhanids inherited the Khanate of Bukhara from the Shaybanids. They came from Astrakhan, a town on the Volga River, which in 1552 was conquered by the Russians. The first diplomatic contacts between Moscow and Bukhara date to 1619.

While the Russians moved towards Central Asia from the north, from the south a strengthened Persian Empire gained great influence in the area. Between 1741 and 1747 the Khanate of Bukhara became a puppet state in the hands of Nader Shah of Persia. In 1785 the Manghits, an Uzbek family whose members served as high-level officers and advisors, dethroned the khan and founded the Emirate of Bukhara. While the Khanate had a Mongol origin Emirate was usually linked to the Muslim world.

During the 19-th century the Emirate became a pawn in “The Great Game”, the strategic conflict between British and Russians for supremacy in Central Asia. Emir Nasrullah Khan managed to play the great powers one against the other. In 1868 however the Russians attacked the Emirate and conquered Samarkand. The Emir had to accept the protection of Russia. The Emirate survived until 1920 when the Soviet Army conquered Bukhara.

The city became the capital of the Bukhara People's Soviet Republic. From 1924 to 1991 the city was incorporated into the Uzbek Soviet Socialist Republic (UzSSR). Uzbekistan became an independent state in 1991.


Compared to Smarkand, Bukhara appears at first glance less spectacular and colorful. Its historic buildings are grouped in the center of the City forming one big coherent complex in desert hues. Wandering through these magnificent structures takes the visitor centuries back. With buildings spanning 1000 years of history and a thoroughly lived-in city center which hasn't changed much in two centuries, Bukhara is one of the best places in Central Asia to catch a glimpse of ancient Turkestan.

covered market bukhara bukhara street

bukhara narrow street bukhara wall

One of the earliest buildings is the Kalyan Minaret dates back to 1127. When Genghis Khan destroyed most of the city he spared the Kalyan Minaret. According to legend, he was struck by its beauty. This minaret was once the tallest structure in Central Asia. It has also been called the “Tower of Death”. Legend has it that executions were performed by throwing the condemned from the top of the tower. However, according to the locals only one such killing occurred. The architect, whose name was simply Bako, entwined his name with epigraphic ornaments of the Minaret. Bako made a minaret in the form of a circular-pillar brick tower, narrowing upwards, of 9 meters (29.53 feet) diameter at the bottom, 6 meters (19.69 feet) overhead and 45.6 meters (149.61 feet) high. There is a brick spiral staircase that twists up inside around the pillar, leading to the landing in sixteen-arched rotunda - skylight, which based on a magnificent stalactite cornice (sharafa).

View from Kalyan Minaret

The architectural complex at the foot of the Kalyan Minaret is called Po-i-Kalyan, which in Persian means "The foot of the Great". This complex forms theunique silhouette of Bukhara’s historical center. Kalyan Mosque (Maedjid-i kalyan), which was completed around 1514, is able to accommodate 12 thousand people. The fact that governor of Bukhara built such grand mosque, which could rival with the symbol of royal Samakand - the Bibi-khonim Mosque, shows a tendency to make eventually Bukhara the capital of the Shaibanid state. By the construction of Kalyan Mosque Ubaidullah-sultan started formation of new capital, rather than to fight for domination over Samarkand, which by the way has forever hostile feeling to Shaibanids.

Kalyan Mosque mir-i-arab madarasah

kalyan kalyan market


Kalyan Mosque and Mir-i-Arab Madrasah

The construction of Mir-i-Arab Madrasah is ascribed to Sheikh Abdullah Yamani of Yemen, the spiritual mentor of early Shaybanids Abdullah Khan and his son Abdulaziz Khan. Abdullah Khan waged permanent war with Iran. At least three times his troops seized Herat. Abdullah Khan may have invested money gained from redemption of more than three thousand Persian captives into construction of Mir-i-Arab Madrasah.

The other building Genghis Khan left untouched is the Ismail Samani mausoleum. The Ismail Samani Mausoleum was built in the 10th century to house its the tombs of Ismail Samani, founder of the Samanid Dynasty, as well as his father and grandson. This mausoleum, one of the most important examples of Central Asian architecture, For many years, the lower part of the mausoleum remained under a thick layer of sediment. The external composition of the mausoleum seems rather simple, a hemisphere atop a cube. However, the intricate brickwork of the walls gives the building a delicate lightness. In reality, the walls are so thick and well-built that the mausoleum has never needed significant repair in the 1100 years it has stood here.

ismail samani ismail samani Ismail Samani

The Labi Khauz ("at the pond"), is a central area surrounding one of the few remaining ponds surviving in the city. Until Soviet times, there were many such ponds, which were the city's principal source of water, but they were notorious for spreading disease and were mostly filled in during the 1920s and 30s. The Labi Khauz survived as the centerpiece of a magnificent architectural ensemble, created during the 16th and 17th centuries, which has not been significantly changed since. The ensemble comprises three monumental structures: Kukeldash Madrasah in the north, Khanaka (1619-20) in the west and Nadir Divan-Begi Madrasah (1622/23) in the east.

The Nadir Divan-Begi Madrasah was built in 1622. This building of striking beauty was originally erected as a caravanserai. Divan-Begi is a title that designated the post right after khan in the Bukhara khanate. Nadir Divan-Begi held this position during the reign of Imam Quli Khan (1611-1642), the strongest khan of the Astrakhanid dynasty. At the inauguration ceremony Imam Quli Khan unexpectedly proclaimed the supposed caravanserai is to be a madrasah. So Nadir Divan-Begi was obliged to rearrange the caravanserai by adding on to the front the loggias, the portal and angular towers. The entrance portal has majolica mosaics depicting 2 phoenix birds, 2 white deer and a "man-in-the-sun" face. This is remarkable as it was allowed to portray human or animal figures on a madrasah. Showing these images on a caravanserai would have been only marginally better.

nadir nadir divan begi

nadir db Nadir Divan-Begi Madrasah

teahouseTea house at Labi Khauz

The Khanaka is a massive multi-cellular structure with a domed square hall in the center, 11.2 meters on side, with low niches along the sides and cornered cells.

Kukeldash Madrasah was built in1568 and is one of the biggest madrassah in Bukhara. Kulbala Kukeldash is the name of Abdullah-khan II’s foster-brother who was the builder of this structure.

The "Ark", which in Persian means "fortress or citadel" was the center of political events and residence of Bukharian rulers until 1920. The age of the Ark has not been established accurately, but by 500 AD it was already the residence of local rulers. The Ark is built on the remains of earlier structures, which constitute a layer of twenty meters depth under the base arch, the layers indicating that previous fortresses had been built and destroyed on the site.

bukhara ark bukhara ark 2

bukhara ark 3 bukhara ark 3

Ark Fortres in the center of Bukhara

According to the legend recorded in Narshakhi’s History of Bukhara, after Bukhar-khudat Bidun built up and fortified the walls of the fortress, he began to build a palace, but his attempt was unsuccessful: the building suddenly collapsed when it was almost completed. The conqueror of Bukhara, and likewise the court sages, long pondered over the reason for the failure, and at last decided to build the palace in the shape of the (Great Bear) on the seven stone pillars.

In the 16 century under the Shaibanids, the citadel was restored to the form in which it has come down to us. All the buildings on the territory of the Ark were built for the most part from the 17th to the 20th centuries.

The Ark was greatly damaged by the Bolsheviks during the brief siege of Bukhara in 1920 under the command of Mikhail Frunze. He ordered the Ark bombed by aircraft, which left a large part of the structure in ruins. There is also reason to believe that the last Emir, Alimkhan (1880-1944), who escaped to Afghanistan with the royal treasury, ordered the Ark to be blown up.

Situated opposite the Ark, the Bolo Khauz mosque was where the emirs worshiped. It was built in 1718 with a roof extension supported by karagachi (a rare sycamore-like wood) pillars in the 19-th century. The west side is reflected in the 16-th century khauz (pool).

bolo khaouz bolo khaouz Bolo Khaouz

Abdulaziz Khan Madrasah was constructed between the 15-th and 17-th centuries. Abdullaziz Khan’s lived from 1647 to 1680). Archaeologists have found the remains of a 5th century Zoroastrian temple destroyed by the Arabs and an earlier Buddhist temple underneath the madrasa.

abdulaziz khan abdulaziz khan

Abdulaziz Khan Madrash

Across the street is Ulugbek Madrasah built in1417. It is one of three built in Uzbekistan by Ulugbek. The construction was finished in 1420. The building consists of two floors of hudjras (students' rooms), classrooms and a mosque. The facade is decorated with a portal, two-storey loggias and corner turrets. Originally the madrasah had four domes and four minarets in the corners. In 1585 the facades were restored and decorated with majolica. The madrasah is remarkable for an inscription on the entrance: 'Aspiration to knowledge is a duty of each Muslim man and woman'.

Ulugbek (March 22, 1394 - October 27, 1449), was born Muhammad Taragai ibn Shakhrukh ibn Timur Gurgan. Ulugbek, meaning "Great Ruler" or "Patriarch Ruler" was the grandson of Timur and the son of Shah Rukh. Ulugbek was born in Sultaniyeh in Iran. He showed an aptitude for scientific pursuits from an early age. His father and grandfather attracted scholars to Samarkand, and Ulugbek took full advantage of this. With Timur's death, and the accession of Ulugh Beg's father to the ruler of much of the Timurid Empire, Ulugh Beg settled in Samarkand which had been Timur's capital. After Shah Rukh moved the capital to Herat (in modern Afghanistan), sixteen-year-old Ulugbek became the governor in Samarkand in 1409. In 1411 he became a sovereign of the whole Mavarannahr khanate. Ulugbek was aware of the importance of Bukhara clergy - it had earlier promoted overthrow of his predecessor - attempted to win the favor of religious circles by building the magnificent madrasah.

Tim Abdullah Khan is a covered marketplace (tim) built in 1577, along Bukhara's primary commercial spine between Taq-i Zargaron and Maghak-i 'Attari Mosque. Once known as the Tim-i Kalyan, or Great Market, this bazaar lies southwest of the Abdulaziz Khan and Ulugbek madrasah ensemble. It was a center of Central Asia's famed silk trade through the centuries, and is the sole survivor of Bukhara's originally six covered markets.

coevered market

nihi kai