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Excursions in Bukhara

19 Dec 2021

Located in the central part of Uzbekistan, Bukhara is a city that attracts savvy travelers coming to Central Asia.

Bukhara on the map of Uzbekistan
Bukhara on the map of Uzbekistan

City of Bukhara, a capital of Bukhara (Russian spelling) or Buxoro (Uzbek spelling) province (viloyat). Age: approx. 2500 years. Population: ~275,000. One of the oldest cities in the world. One of UNESCO World Heritage sites in Uzbekistan.

The city boasts a long and colorful history. At all times it was an important crossroads on the famous Silk Road - an ancient highway or a system of highways connecting the East (China, South East Asia, Tibet, India) with the Arabian countries, tribes, and countries that lived on the territory of modern Russia and Eastern Europe, and the Western civilizations. Along with the exchange of goods, the merchants were carrying knowledge about the latest scientific and geographic discoveries, technology and skills, books devoted to philosophy, religion, culture, and traditions.

Visiting Bukhara - Nodir Divan Beghi Madrassah, part of mosaic
Visiting Bukhara - Nodir Divan Beghi Madrassah, part of mosaic

Minimal Bukhara excursion duration: 1 day
Optimal duration: 2 days (one night)
Perfectly fits in a 7-10 days Silk Road tour of Uzbekistan that usually includes visiting such cities as Samarkand, Tashkent, Khiva and, optionally, Shakhrisabz.
Cities or localities that travelers/tourists can visit as the next destination from Bukhara under a wider country tour: Samarkand, Khiva (Khorezm), Nurata, Gizhduvan, Shakhrisabz, Aydar Kul Desert Camps.
Cities or localities nearest to Bukhara: Navoi, Zarafshan, Samarkand, Karshi, Urgench.

Cathedral Mosque Near Kalyan Tower
Cathedral Mosque Near Kalyan Tower

Such an exchange was extremely beneficial for the development of Bukhara. It generated a boost of own science and philosophy. The local builders, architects, handcraft masters relied on the mix of their own experience with imported technology to create magnificent monuments and buildings, some of which are still attracting thousands of tourists.

Another important feature of Bukhara and its tourism potential is the multiculturalism of its inhabitants. Even though Bukhara at all times was a major Islamic center for centuries and its religious leaders were extremely influential, they lived along with numerous Jewish communities, Christians, and Buddhists. They have lived here for centuries and left their footprint in the culture, traditions, and overall ambiance of Bukhara, which is known for the amicability and honesty of its people.

Bukhara is conveniently located at the edge of the great Kyzylkum desert (Red Sands), between the main oases of Uzbekistan and its ancient political and cultural centers: Samarkand and Khorezm. Today, it still preserves this strategic geographic location: you cannot miss Bukhara while doing a tour of Uzbekistan, which is usually a circular tour, starting in Tashkent and ending in the Khorezm Region ancient capital Khiva.

Where to Go and What to See in Bukhara

A city tour of Bukhara is usually divided into two key elements: Day 1 is to see the monuments that are located inside the so-called Old City which was once outlined by now almost completely gone city walls. On Day 2 guests are invited to visit attractions located at a distance from the city center or even outside Bukhara, such as the Sitorai Mokhi Khasa Palace - the summer residence of the Bukhara Emir.

Lyabi Hauz

A 'square around the pool' - this is how Lyabi Hauz is translated from local languages. It has been the center of community life in old Bukhara for centuries. The pool was used by locals as a source of drinking water and a social center. Around the pool, there are famous madrassahs, minister's Khanaka, Kukeldash Madrassah, and Nodir Divan Beghi where folklore shows and artisan events are held.

Lots of cafes, restaurants, and hotels are catering to numerous tourists and guests of Bukhara. They enjoy the shade of old mulberry trees around the pool and try delicious local meals.

Lyabi Hauz Square
Lyabi Hauz Square

Poyi Kalyan Minaret and Mosque

The Kalyan Minaret is shaping the skyline of Bukhara. At old times it was seen from far away when camel caravans were closing to the city from the desert. The long-awaited silhouette of the tower meant that a tiring journey was coming to an end, and Bukhara's lavish caravan-serais, taverns, and bazaars were ready to cater to the caravaners.

It was built in 1127 by a Bukhara ruler Mohammad Arslan Khan to call Muslims to prayer. At later times, a big mosque was built around it to serve over 12,000 people. For centuries, the Kalyan Tower remains the highest tower in Central Asia. It survived numerous invasions, including Mongols, when the entire city was destroyed to dust.

While visiting the square near the Po-i-Kalyan Tower, you will be told plenty of legends and tales connected with it. If lucky, you could climb the steep stairs and reach the top of the tower to enjoy a breath-taking view of ancient Bukhara.

Poi Kalyan Minaret and Mosque
Poi Kalyan Minaret and Mosque

Ark Citadel

As the city residence of Bukhara Rulers (Emirs), the Ark Citadel dates back to the 5th century. First mentions about it are found in the famous Abubakir Narshahi's History of the Bukhara city, covering the period from 899 to 960.

It is believed to be the most ancient part of the city. It was built and rebuilt after war raids and demolition, so now it contains numerous layers relating to different epochs and times of the city's history.

The fortress behind thick walls once was home to scholars and artists. It has a rich library with books by Avicenna, a famous Oriental healer, poets Rudaki, Omar Khayam, and philosopher Farabi.

The fortress had its own prison. Visitors to the Zindan (prison) can see the small cells where prisoners were kept, without heating in winter, with scarce food and water.

Now, the premises of the fortress are used for museums and workshops of local artisans. Visitors to Bukhara are often proposed to visit the Ark as the starting point of their excursion.

Entrance to the Ark Citadel
Entrance to the Ark Citadel

Mausoleum of Ismail Samani

Being the Bukhara's oldest building (dating back to approx. 905AD), the mausoleum was built to commemorate Ismail Samani, the founder of the Samanid Dynasty. Initially, it was built for his father.

According to many visitors to Bukhara, the Mausoleum is the most beautiful and elegant, though quite simple, monument in entire Central Asia. Its baked terracotta brickwork still keeps symbols of the pre-Islamic Zoroastrian religion. Located in a shady park, the Ismail Samani Mausoleum is a true pearl among all other Bukhara attractions.

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Mausoleum Chashma Ayub

In Uzbekistan, like other countries of Central Asia, you can find many places where, according to the legend, holy people or saints left a trace of their activity. These include not only Islamic personalities like Imam Al Bukhari, but also those who are regarded as saints by several religions like Saint Doniyar (Saint Daniel).

Chashma Ayub well is a place where, according to the legend, Iowa, one of the Biblical prophets, once showed miracles. Under the legend, people lived in a dry and hot place and could not survive due to a lack of water. Iowa came to the place and promised to help. He hit the ground with his travel staff so that there emerged a spring of water. Even now local people believe that the water from this well is able to cure various illnesses. Because it was a sacred land, in years a cemetery emerged around the well.

Mausoleum Chashma Ayub
Mausoleum Chashma Ayub

Ulugbek Madrassah

The Madrassah of Ulugbek is the only example of a monument in Bukhara that corresponds to the epoch of Ulugbek (The Great Bek), a famous medieval astronomer and scientist who ruled in Samarkand. Under his rule, Bukhara flourished and became an important economic and political center, rivaling Samarkand, the capital of the empire which was on the rise during the Tamerlane period.

Ulugbek was opposed by the clergy of Bukhara, a city known for strict Islamic tradition. In order to mitigate the discontent, he ordered to create the first educational school in Bukhara. The doors of the madrassah bear his inscriptions reading that seeking knowledge is a duty of every man or woman of the Islamic umma.

The madrassah was a big school where students lived in 80 cells. They learned Arabic, astronomy, geometry, and Islamic dogmas. The overall study lasted as long as 20 years. The school was a famous source of scholars, philosophers, and poets of that epoch.

Ulugbek Madrassah
Ulugbek Madrassah

Sitorai Mohi Hasa Summer Residence

A few miles north of Bukhara, Emir Akhadkhan, a westernized Emir of the Bukhara Emirate, ordered to build a new summer residence in the late 1890s. The ruler was impressed with the luxury of palaces he saw while traveling in Europe. He ordered to send the most knowledgeable architects and builders to Russia to learn new construction techniques and reproduce them locally.

Amir Akhadkhan, allegedly, was in love with a Russian princess named Olga. He invited her to visit Bukhara. To impress her, he started the construction works in a suburb of Bukhara, trying to create a palace that would match the best architectural landmarks in Russia and Europe.

The Palace has many separate buildings. A mix of Western architectural techniques with local traditions and ornaments is attracting visitors with unusual patterns and designs. It took more than two years and the work of 30 artisans to create lavish decorations in the famous White Hall. Its carved plaster ornaments on the mirror background are fascinating. The entire palace is located in an area where the medium temperatures are several degrees below the usual Bukhara weather. There is a shady garden around it, with paved roads and ponds.

Sitorai Mohi Hasa Summer Residence
Sitorai Mohi Hasa Summer Residence

Video Excursion in Bukhara

See a short video displaying the main landmarks and the spirit of its people.

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