Perhaps Central Asia’s most historical religious city, it was the centre of religious scholarship for centuries and an important city of trade and culture for thousands of years before that. Along with Samarkand, Bukhara is one of the oldest cities in the region with a history spanning 2,500 years. Because of its importance as a religious centre, the city preserves many Islamic madrasahs, mosques (over 350) and a vast array of royal complexes and fortresses owning to its noble past. Due to the city’s more subtle and finer restoration projects, Bukhara is great place to glimpse life in Turkestan prior to Russian rule and admire the great architectural monuments from its long history.
1.) Lyab-i-Hauz – Conceivably the most popular tourist attraction in Bukahra located in the southeast Sharkristan, Often used as a rest stop or for simple enjoyment and noted for its grandness and tranquillity, it is still now one of the largest squares in the city. The large pool in the centre is surrounded by the Nadir Divan Madrasah, Khanqah (which is a Sufi hospice and monastery) as well as Kukildash Madrassa which was built in 1568. Bukhara used to have many of these ‘ponds’ but many were dried out in the early Soviet period due to them being associated with diseases, but even still, Lyab-i-Hauz survived and lived on until today. Best time to visit here and relax is at night-time where bright lights shine the place up and the great geometric details of the nearby buildings come to life
2.) Nadir Divan-Beghi Architectural Ensemble – Comprising of a Khanqah, a madrasah and a pond, this ensemble was constructed on orders of the vizier Nadir Divan-Beghu who served Imam Quli-Khan, one of the most powerful rulers of Astartkhanid Dynasty. It was initially built as a Caravanserai but later named a madrasah instead. The most striking feature is the doorway that is decorated with some exquisite tile work of a mythical creature (Simorgh) of what looks like a peacock holding lambs heading towards the sun. This would be a sign of Bukhara’s role in the Silk Road with its close contact and relations of other neighbouring kingdoms such as China and Western Persia.
Across the madrasah is the Sufi Khanqah with massive ceilings covering walls and corners and is ornamented with Arabic calligraphic scripts with flowery decorations around the border. The Kukildash Madrasah, which at the time the biggest in the region, nearby is also a must visit.
3.) Abdulaziz-Khan Madrasah – Built in the 16th century, this place can be considered an unrestored gem. With a museum of woodcarvings and poetic verses of calligraphy inscribed with craftsman precision. The classrooms of this study institution also features beautiful mural of what appears to be of Indian and Chinese like paintings.
4.) Medieval Hammam’s of Bukhara – The old bathhouses in Bukhara are a special treat and gives an insight into the favourite leisure activity of the urban Central Asian people in the yesteryear. Most were built in bazaars such as the Hammam of Gavkusho, Haji Parso, Safaron and of course, the more popular Hammam Bozori Kord that dates back to the 17th century which surprisingly, is still in use for a quick wash. The great Persian polymath Ibn Sina noted the medicinal benefits of the bathhouses as playing an important role for physical health and mental well being so any hammam experience should be remembered as one of total bliss.
5.) Chor-Bakr Memorial Complex – This ‘memorial Complex of four brothers’ is located in the village of Sumitian around 5 kilometres south of Bukhara. It is a family necropolis of descendants of the Muslim Prophet Muhammad and is also a UNESCO World Heritage Site since the constructions of the ensemble are grand with richly decorated tiles. Many locals have the belief that by making a wish here, their yearnings and needs will come true.
6.) The Ark – The Ark is probably one of Bukahra’s most fascinating sites to visit. Considered a town within a town of royal history and even looks like an Ark, this old fortress was occupied from the 5th century until the early 1900’s until it collapsed into the ruins it is today by the Soviet Red Army. It now houses several museums full of archaeological treasures and some charming royal quarters for the visitor to immerse in.
7.) Golden Embroidery Factory – Not only is Bukhara is known for its architectural greatness, but also for centuries, it was known for its finesse in a unique kind of embroidery making. Since ancient times, masters of this trade worked with the nobles to work on their clothes, headdresses and interior design items using gold as a sign of wealth and prestige. This factory also produces cases, caskets, handbags, purses and traditional Uzbek quilted gowns (chapans), ornamented with state symbols and living creatures and are always innovative with their designs and works which will impress the visitor when looking for a unique gift as a token of Bukhara’s splendor.
This is hardly an exhaustive list in a city that boasts over 140 architectural monuments and is often a low mentioned destination in many regular tourist circles, visiting Bukhara however, will treat guests with a hospitality that the glorious Silk Road fostered over many centuries which greeted and waved goodbye to merchants and dignitaries of many kingdoms, and benefit from the historical richness of a city that was at one point the cross roads of civilisation for millennia.