'Noble Bukhara' is the jewel of the Silk Road, a centre of overland trade but also of pilgrimage and medieval scholarship. Find out why Bukhara is the highlight of a trip to Uzbekistan...
Legend has it that the Old Testament prophet Job performed a miracle in Bukhara: he struck the desert sand with his staff, and water burst forth. This is why Bukhara is an oasis, and the Chashma-Ayub (spring of Job) Mausoleum is a place is pilgrimage.
Followers of the Naqshbandi order of Sufi Islam also come to pay their respects at the shrine of Bahauddin Naqshband, one of the few religious sites in Uzbekistan which is still a place of active worship. Local believers come here to listen to the Imam preach, to say their prayers, and to seek cures for sickness. There are finely painted ceilings and carved wood pillars around the saint’s holy marble tomb.
Sightseeing can be hungry work, so climb onto the roof of one of the dozens of cafes and restaurants in Bukhara’s Old Town and treat yourself to lunch with a view of the trading domes, mosques, and minarets. Not only will you appreciate the vast extent of this UNESCO World Heritage Site, but you will also have the chance to taste Bukharan delicacies.
There has been a Jewish community in Bukhara for 3,000 years, and they have their own distinctive food. Look out on restaurant menus for mouthwatering dishes such as oshi piyozi (stuffed onion), boyjon (pureed aubergine) and fried fish with garlic sauce, which is particularly popular on Friday, the Jewish Sabbath.
The last Emir of Bukhara, Mohammad Alim Khan (1880 to 1944), built Sitorai Mokhi Khosa (Palace of Moon-like Stars) to be his summer palace. The emir was a Russofile who had studied in St Petersburg, and this is reflected in the palace’s architectural style, as well as its interiors and furniture.
He showed off his wealth and his cosmopolitan tastes with Venetian mirrors, rare porcelains from China, and a glittering chandelier. He was blissfully unaware that just two years after the palace’s completion, the Bolsheviks would seize control and the Emir himself would have to flee into exile.
Today, Sitorai Mokhi Khosa has been well restored. Some of the buildings have their original furniture; others house exhibitions of costumes and embroidery.
Uzbekistan’s craftsmen produce all manner of fabulous handicrafts and textiles, and the best selection is for sale in Bukhara. From hand painted plates for £1 a piece, to eye-wateringly expensive handmade silk carpets that take months to knot, make sure that there is plenty of spare room in your suitcase for souvenirs.
Bukhara’s historic trading domes still fulfil their original function: inside each one you will find dozens of stalls. The haggling prowess is the Silk Road merchants of old is still alive and well. There are also plenty of workshops, including just off Lyabi Hauz, where you can watch the artisans at work. The movement of the ikat dye looms is particularly entrancing.
Prepare to be dazzled by the architectural splendour of Bukhara. Countless monuments have earned the Old Town its UNESCO World Heritage status, and whether your interest is in the vast and imposing Ark citadel, or the more elegant Bolo Haouz Mosque with its painted facade and carved wooden pillars, there’s no doubt you’re going to be wowed.
The architectural highlight of Bukhara, though, is the Poi Kalyan, the city’s central square. The Kalyan Minaret is the only structure in Bukhara to have survived destruction by Genghis Khan. It is flanked by the Mir-i Arab Madrasa (one of the few religious universities still functioning in Uzbekistan) and the Kalyan Mosque, which was built to rival the Bibi-Khanym Mosque in Samarkand.
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