About Uzbekistan

Bukhara. Part V: Ark
12 April 2018
Bukhara. Part V: Ark

As can be understood from previous parts, Bukhara has always been the city of merchants and clerics. But also, all these centuries Ark was hovering over the trading city - the "Bukhara Kremlin", an impregnable Khan citadel on a lone high hill with fortified slopes. In the previous chapter we crossed the Poy-Kalian Square and reached Ark's foot, now we will enter to the abode of the Bukhara nobility.

There is still no unanimous opinion on hot the Ark's hill was formed - whether it's just a residual hill (which seems to me most likely) or an artificial embankment (according to legend, it was built by Siyavash - a Persian prince-hero who was slandered by a stepmother in his homeland, but who found glory and died in a foreign country), or maybe even a cultural layer that accumulated for centuries. Bukhar Khudat Bidun was considered its founder about one and a half thousand years ago, and in the 10th and 11th centuries the place was visited by the "king of doctors" Avicenna, the philosopher Al-Farabi, the founder of Persian poetry Rudaki, the author of the Persian epic "Shakhname" Ferdowsi, the most famous poet of the East in the West Omar Khayyam ... In the plan, similar to the constellation of the Great Bear without a tail, Ark is small, just 789 meters in perimeter (about twice smaller than the larger Kremlins like the one in Kazan), but "on the eye" is much larger, and by the beginning of the twentieth century there lived about 3000 people (out of 70 thousand of total Bukhara population): Emir, senior officials and military leaders, their innumerable servants and wives ... But alas: 3/4 of the Ark are now ruins - in 1920, all this part of Bukhara was destroyed by the artillery of Mikhail Frunze, the third in the history foreign-conqueror of Bukhara after Kutebai and Genghis Khan. There was practically nothing left from the mahallas around the Ark, and the Ark itself, burned either by Soviet airplanes, or by the retreating emir, was restored only partially. In fact, only those places that are marked by numbers on the plan are now available; visiting the rest seems quite possible if you manage to agree informally or even stupidly climb "from the rear", but I did not succeed in the first, and was lazy to do the second:

View of the Ark from the southeast. All this is clay, only somewhere structured. We will bypass it in a circle and will return to the wall on the right:

The restored section of the Ark is impressive and at the same time causes conflicting feelings - on the one hand, the 20-meter walls are terribly high (especially if you do not know that the bulk of clay is behind them for most of the height), on the other - there is everything for the convenience of the enemy to climb up the walls by drainage logs. The triangulation point - the highest point of the hill - can be seen above. A wide square is not esplanade, it was "cleared" in 1920 by red artillery.

The square becomes even wider around the corner - once there was the Bukhara Registan, from which there was no trace left. But still there are huge Registan gates of the 16th century, over which for centuries hung a whip as a symbol of power, according to legend belonging to another epic hero Rustam. On the other side of the Ark were the Gurian Gates, but they were destroyed a very long time ago, and at least since the time of Astrakhanids the only entrance to the fortress is here:

From outside most notable is Nagorhana - in some places they write that it is a veranda above the gate (photo above), in others that this is that the courtyard on the cornice with this gazebo. It was an analogue of the city clock - there was an orchestra playing a separate melody for each time of the day, and at night, apparently, not playing anything.

The look from the gate back is amazing, interestingly that at the former Registan now stands the Shukhov Tower! I have written many times that there are a lot of them in Uzbekistan, but all except this one are located at railway stations. Like the other, it was a water tower (1927-29), but in 1979 it burned down, and the authorities decided not to demolish it (the value of the Shukhov's towers was still poorly understood by the others), but to convert into an observation tower. Alas, at my arrival, it turned out to be closed for visitors like the Minaret Kalyan.

Behind the gates is the box office (how much is the entrance - I do not remember, but it was not a lot) and a steep curved passage with museum windows, among which there was such a room. Who are these dummies - slaves, whose lord at the reception of the khan, or the prisoners brought to court, or anybody else?

The upper part of the gate, from which diverged two ways - to the mosque and the throne room:

As you can see, there are a lot of tourists in the Ark, and in the overwhelming majority it is not foreigners:

This is the view from the gate. This is Salom-khana, in the translation Welcome room - a kind of corridor-hall, where important delegations and distinguished guests were met from Tamerlane to Russian embassies, and the long building in the middle also was part of it. On the right is the portal that I nicknamed The Arch of Ark - it leads to four sides, including directly to the throne room of Kurinish Khan. The small Juma mosque is seen on the left:

Same mosque from the other side, on the left side can be see the courtyard of Kushbegi (visier). It turns out that in Bukhara there were two Friday mosques -  Kalyan for ordinary people and here for their masters. Of course, the mosque existed at this place for at least a thousand years, but the current building was built in18th century, in the times of Bukhara decline, and most of the buildings of the Ark are even younger:

In general, it is very strange, but the Ark buildings are one of the most unpresentable in the city. Probably, every khan or emir tried to reconstruct everything according to his own needs, and under the last dynasty of Mangyths Bukhara like all Turkestan was already a remote poky hole of place, where they could not even imagine to afford the luxury of ornaments from the glazed tile ... Or maybe simply the decor of Ark's buildings could not be reconstructed - only the emir was photographed in it. The mosque has a carved ceiling, I do not know how authentic it is:

The hall of the mosque

The best part of which is again the ceiling with carved tops of the columns:

Behind the mosque was the observation deck on the slope ... and I must say that the current Ark is arranged so that its abandoned part could not be seen from public places in any way. There were once dozens of buildings, from which I found references to harem, saunas of the emir and vizier, a couple of mosques and khanakas of court Sufis. On the plan at the beginning of my post there are two "black" (that is, above the cultural layer) building - in the south one of the khanakas, and in the north is the Mosque of 40 Virgins (Childuhtaron), apparently built for the inhabitants of the harem. Alas, I never found their photos, and they are most likely in ruins without roofs, and one of the reasons why I did not try to penetrate into the Dead Ark was the understanding that basically I would only see there a gray clay with barely noticeable outlines of the walls - I have already seen same things in Khorezm. The foreground of this photo is what I am talking about:

In the picture above, a huge white theater on the outskirts can be seen, which I will show more in the chapter about the New City. To the left is an unexpectedly original building in the cemetery, I do not know for sure what is meant for:

The Hazrati-Imam cemetery behind the city walls has existed since the beginning of the 9th century, spreading around the mausoleum of Abu Hafs Qabir, the mentor of the great Muhammad al-Bukhari, the creator of the second Muslim book after the Qur'an, and the great mentor in the east is often honored no less than the great person himself. As I understand it, the ensemble here is of 16th century: on the left is the mausoleum of Abu Hafs looking like the mini Taj Mahal, and on the right is the Namazgoh Mosque with aivan facing the for open air worship services. Well, and now ... very honored by Muslims, the Bukhara Hazrat Imam (unlike the Tashkent one) is completely unknown to tourists.

That is actially all that is visible from the platform behind the mosque. On the opposite side is a narrow street between Salom-khana (right) and the courtyard of Kushbegi, ahead is the Arch of Ark that we have already seen

Going deeper into Ark is very narrow alley between the back wall of Kurinish-khana and the Kushbegi Palace itself. Behind the gates to which this alley leads is the Dead Ark, but they sealed it completely:     

Ark's buildings are now occupied by museums. These buildings themselves are looking very gloomy:

Kushbegi was the chief vizier, managing the state affairs, the administration of the emirate, relations with the Beks (the emirate was divided into 27 bekshis), appointed officials, and personally every day reported to the emir what was happening in the country. The second most significant official was the divanbegi, who was in charge of treasury and taxes (Nadir divanbegi built the ensemble of Lyabi-hauz). The emir himself was the chief judge in the state, and the first judicial official is Kazi-Kalyan who headed the council of the muftis, who were giving verdict on the cases, and also was in charge of the notaries, the clergy and educational institutions. Locally, the judiciary was represented by the Kazis, the role of the police was carried out by mirshabas, headed by mirshabboshi. All three officias - kushbegi, divanbegi and kazi-kalyan - were obliged to stay in Bukhara permanently, who were guarded by trained warriors - Nukers. The list of top officials also included Rais-kalyan (overseeing the strict abising to Sharia law and protecting morals) and the "Minister of Defense" Topchi-Lashkar, who had an army of regular Sarbaz soldiers and the militia. The senior officials had their residences, mosques, harems and baths in the Ark. Here is a portrait of a senior Bukhara official by Prokudin-Gorsky - if it was shot in the Ark, then it is clear that the place was not always as gloomy as it is now:

Now for the third time we will pass under the Arch of Ark - on the left side is Salom-khana, behind Nagorkhana and the stables' courtyard, in front is Juma Mosque, on the right side is a lane to the courtyard of Kushbegi, and the nearest passage of the ark leads to Kurinish-khana:

Kurinish khana, the largest part of the Ark and is nothing more than a throne room, or, to say more correctly, the throne court. At the entrance you run into the Gulom-Gard stone (Stop, Slave), where visitors had to leave their servants, so that they did not insult their view of the emir ... or even the khan: the throne room of the 17th century - the oldest preserved building inside the Ark:

There is even a majolica portal in the style of Ashtarkhanids, where the eyes of emir could rest

There was his throne standing there:

Now the throne, or rather its replica, is in another room of the Ark:

The penultimate emir Abdul-Ahad-khan, photo of Paul Nodar (against the the carpet background!). But look at the ruler's sad eyes. In 1885 Russia for the first time has taken a tougher stance towards emirate that was vassal since 1870 - now the import of goods from all other countries was banned, and the Political Agency of the Russian Empire was opened in the Ark. Soon they built a railway passing nearby and Russian New Bukhara, the present Kagan, began to grow. The Emir could not do anything about this, knowing that his father Muzzafar got off easy, comparing to the colleagues from Kokand (whose khanate was completely wiped off from the map) and Khiva (whose authority was squeezed to Khiva itself only).

Detail of the decor over the Emir throne:

Most of Kurinish-khana is, of course, replica - everything was burned down in 1920. Somewhere there are relatively intact authentic columns, and behind the door under the floor were treasury and archive: emir Alim Khan managed to leave with treasury (and live without trouble in Afghanistan until 1944) and flooded the archive. Lion at the entrance to the treasury: returning from a trip to St. Petersburg with its stone lions, Alim Khan decided to put the same for himself ... but it was one and a half thousand years ago when the local tsars hunted cheetahs, and by the beginning of the twentieth century the last Turan tigers shuddered along the Syrdarya bogs. How the lions looked the local architects knew only from the stories, so that's how they created this creature of unknown species:

Let's go back to Arch of Ark - this is, if I am not mistaken, the former Sais-khana, that is, horse stable:

The other side of the yard where famous Akhal-Teke stallions ate their hay:

View along the wall to Nagor-khana

Registan Gate, Shukhov Tower, Bolo-Hauz Mosque (1912) and the conical dome of the Chashma Ayub Mausoleum of the 14th Century - the last two we will visit in the next part:

In the meantime, let's go back "to the ground" and go around Ark from the north. At the top of the site is Juma Mosque. These tower-cliffs are the most spectacular part of the Bukhara Citadel:

On this side, the mahallas are very close to the Ark, protected from the fire of the Frunze cannons. But as you see, the walls still hopelessly melted striving for their original state.

Mahallas northeast of the Ark:

The mosque of the 17th century more characteristic of Samarkand than Bukhara .... the blue dome does not belong to it, but to the main Bukhara mosque, Kalyan, mentioned in the previous part:

In these alleyways is hidden the branch of the Ark, which once was horrifying every resident of Bukhara -  Zindan, or a prison. Built in the 18th century, it is now one of the most popular Bukhara museums, and the Soviet guides were very fond of telling horror stories of the feudal despotism:

Zindan's plan. There were about 40 prisoners held in it, most of them debtors, but the imprisonment was not the main form of punishment - death penalty, strokes with a whip or a stick, tying up to the post of shame, the burial in the sand or the cutting off the hand was a trivial thing in the independent emirate.

Debtors' cells, the same "debt pit":

Guard room with their tools:

Shackles, lashes, sticks and a description of the consequences of the execution (70 strokes of a stick) from Sadriddin Aini who survived it. It is hard to believe that all this is was at the beginning of the twentieth century, and the Russian soldiers who came to the cell looked like angels in a uniform. But even here, in these medieval times they started slowly to dream about Europeanization or communism.

The strictest part of Zindan, a kind of punitive confinement - a pit, to where the prisoner was lowered on a rope:

On the roof of Zindan are the domes of cells and the grave of some ancient saint Kashkar-ata. Saints with such nickname ("sheep father", that is, "shepherd") are found in various places in Central Asia and lived in different epochs. This one was buried here long before the zindan was built:

Alleyways between Zindan buildings

Prisoners in the photo of Prokudin-Gorsky:

View from Zindan to the ruins of Ark, which will never again be terrible:

In the next part about the external defense of Bukhara and Samanid Park adjacent to the Ark from the gate side.

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Uzbekistan is one of only two countries in the world to be ‘double landlocked’ (landlocked and totally surrounded by other landlocked countries). Liechtenstein is double landlocked by 2 countries whilst Uzbekistan is surrounded by 5!

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It is Uzbek tradition that the most respected guest be seated farthest from the house’s entrance.

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The Uzbek master chef is able to cook in just one caldron enough plov to serve a thousand men.

When you are a host to someone, it is your duty to fill their cups with for the whole time they are with you.  What you must not do, however, is to fill their cup more than half-full.  If you do that as a mistake, say it is a mistake immediately.  Doing it means you want them to leave.  Wow!  Amazing, right?

To Uzbeks, respect means a whole lot.  For this reason they love it if, even as foreigners, you endeavour to add the respectful suffix opa after a woman's name; and aka after a man's.  Example: Linda-opa and David-aka.  You could also use hon and jon respectively.

Having been an historic crossroads for centuries as part of various ancient empires, Uzbekistan’s food is very eclectic. It has its roots in Iranian, Arab, Indian, Russian and Chinese cuisine.

Though identified with the Persia, the Zoroastrism probably originated in Bactria or Sogdiana. Many distinguished scholars share an opinion that Zoroastrianism had originated in the ancient Khorezm. Indeed, today in the world there were found 63 Zoroastrian monuments, including those in Iran, India, Afghanistan and Pakistan. Thirty-eight of them are in Uzbekistan, whereas 17 of these monuments are located in Khorezm.

One of Islam's most sacred relics - the world's oldest Koran that was compiled in Medina by Othman, the third caliph or Muslim leader, is kept in Tashkent. It was completed in the year 651, only 19 years after Muhammad's death. 

Tashkent is the only megapolis in the world where public transport is totally comprised of Mercedes buses. And due to low urban air polution it is one of the few cities where one can still see the stars in the sky.

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Uzbekistan was once a rum producig country. There is still a real arboretum in Denau (city near Termez on the border with Afghanistan), grown from a selection station that studied the prospects of plant growing in the unusual for the Soviet Union subtropical climate of Surkhandarya region: only here in the whole of the USSR sugar cane was grown and even rum was produced!

Uzbekistan has been ranked one of the safest countries in the world, according to a new global poll. The annual Gallup Global Law and Order asked if people felt safe walking at night and whether they had been victims of crime. The survey placed Uzbekistan 5th out of 135 countries, while the UK was 21st and the US 35th. Top five safest countries:

  • Singapore
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  • Uzbekistan
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