A stranger has only to seat himself on a bench in the Registan, to know the Uzbeks and the people of Bukhara.
Alexander 'Bokhara' Burnes. 1832
The leafy square lying at the fool of the Ark fortress is the Registan. This now deserted island of green was, until the Soviet era, the pulsating heart of the shakhristan, serving multiple roles as market place, public square and execution ground.
Up until the end of the century the Registan resembled far more closely its counterpart in Samarkand. The square was enclosed to the north by the Poyenda Beg Atligh Mosque, Daru i-Shifa (House of Healing) Madrassah and clinic, and to the west by the Sodhim Beg and Bazar i-Gusfand Madrassah. At the foot of the fortress walls lay the residence of the tupchi bashi, commander in chief of the emir's forces, equipped with a small arsenal and cannons captured from the rival khanate at Kokand.
Spokes led out from the Registan to the four corners of the globe and a seething mass of hawkers, barbers, beggars, butchers, bakers, dervishes and courtiers thronged the bustling square. Vambery even recollects a Chinese tea merchant with a stall in the Registan who could distinguish by touch all 27 varieties of his tea.
Never was the Registan more jam-packed than when the chain which normally closed the gatehouse of the Ark was withdrawn to a slow and heavy drumbeat, the signal for yet another in the macabre series of executions, floggings and torture that took place in the shadow of the Ark. Beyond the blood-stained square lay the equally nefarious slave market, where mostly Persian, but also occasional Russian, slaves were traded at dawn every Monday and Thursday.
It was thus natural that the Soviets should choose this medieval bastion as the location to sweep away the old and usher in the new. In September 1920 the Red Flag was raised from the Ark and a meeting convened in the Registan to proclaim the fall of the emirate. Four years later, when news of Lenin's death filtered through to Bukhara, a mass meeting of mourning was also held here and the following year a statue of the dead revolutionary was unveiled in the heart of the square. By 1992 the fallen idol had disappeared. Nothing has since taken his place.