About Uzbekistan

Bukhara. Part IV: Poi-Kalyan
12 April 2018

Zargaron, the last of the four trading domes of Bukhara shown in the previous part, is located almost in the geometric center of Bukhara, between the beautiful ensemble of two madrassas in the east and the Poy-Kalyan square by the minaret of the same name dated by the pre-Mongolian times in the west. For Bukhara, these places are as much important as Registan for Samarkand, especially since its own Registan Bukhara, as well as Tashkent, have not managed to preserve.

The connecting link of two ensembles, which we will discuss in this post - "dome of jewelers" Zargaron - was shown in the previous chapter. This is the view opening from its eastern portals, a typically Bukhara kosh, that is, a couple of buildings with facades to each other on one axis. The more interesting thing is that they were built with a difference of two hundred years - on the left is Ulugbek madrasah (1416-20), on the right is the madrasah of Abdulaziz Khan (1652), and the dynasties of Timurids and Ashtarkhanids that built them ruled Bukhara not even in succession. Pay attention to the huge stork nest on the far tower of Abdulaziz - once storks were integral part of Bukhara nesting directly on the city towers and portals, but with the drainage of marshes around city they had nothing to eat and left in the end. There are only giant nests left now that existed, perhaps for centuries:

The grandson of Tamerlane, the Khan-scholar Ulugbek is perhaps the most famous of Timurids in Uzbekistan, who apart from famous Samarkand Observatory built three madrasas in Samarkand, Bukhara and Gijduvan. Samarkand madrasah build in the capital city is the largest, but the one in Bukhara is the oldest. Above the entrance is the inscription "The quest for knowledge is the duty of every Muslim man and woman", and this quote of the Prophet himself is worth remembering in our century when so many destructions of cultural treasures are done in the name of Islam. However, Ulugbek's own desire for knowledge resulted tragically - he lost several wars and was killed by conspirators.

The Ulugbek Medrese is small and modest, but it is the largest construction of the Timurids era in Bukhara, who preferred Samarkand to other cities. From that time here are only walls and geometric mosaics, whilst majolica, including absolutely amazingly twisted pilasters, similar to serpents, decorated the madrassas in 1586 under Sheybanids. In both madrassas they now sell suzanne, silk and ikat, and patterns of fabric are similar to patterns on the walls:

Interestingly, the courtyards of both madrasas are practically not restored. The yard in Ulugbek madrassah is small and cozy, and the small notice asks not to go under the cracked ayvan:

View in the opposite direction. Since the yard is considered unsafe, there is no trade here, and hence tourists:

All khujra-cells are open, may be serving at night as the warehouses for all the goods that they sell to the tourists during the day. I heard that in the old days Bukhara students were receiving not only a room in madrasah, but also a small living allowance that was enough to rent a basic place in some caravan-saray or in some house of local residents, and to rent out their room in madrasas to traders.

The madrassa of Abdulaziz, one of the largest in Bukhara (60x48 meters), looks altogether different, and, perhaps, not counting the birds of Divanbegi madrassa by Lyabi-hauz, is the most beautiful. They say it also has the images of birds and even Chinese dragons, delicately encrypted in the ornament. Like the madrassa of Ulugbek, it has a "twin" in the Samarqand Registan - the same Abdulaziz Khan built a Tillya-Kari madrassa there, it's just they stand there not opposite but cornerwise from each other. Although the last flourishing of Bukhara and most of its medieval buildings is associated with the Sheibanids, it seems to me that the Ashtarhanids built more beautifully.

Actually, so often happens - in the same Russian North, most of the masterpieces were built in the 18th century, when trade routes had already moved from Arkhangelsk to St. Petersburg; The most luxurious palaces of the Baltics were built not by colonizing the New World Ketler dinasty, but by Biron dinasty who lost independence. This is a period when there are already no prospects, but the resource is not yet wasted, it often turns out to be the most productive for culture. Same happened with the Ashtarhānids, Central Asia was constantly fading away: the caravan roads lost their role, oriental goods were shipped now to the West by caravels and clippers, and even the Amu Darya changed the channel and instead of the Caspian flowed to the Aral, turning from a transit artery to a dead end of the desert. Trading centres were poor and deserted, the rulers mumbled, the roads covered by desert sand, and the oases were constantly robbed the nomads. Abdulaziz-khan, although he ruled for 36 years, was seriously ill, for this reason he retired and passed the throne to his brother. The disease and decay of the Khanate made him deeply religious, and his madrassah turned out to be, and apparently was conceived as a "swan song," the last masterpiece of Bukhara.

What strikes me in the local architecture is its multilayer nature. It doesn't matter how many times you look, all the time new details are opening up:

The courtyard of the madrassah with an abundance of souvenir stalls. Pay attention to the well:

And do not get surprised with the shabby look, this is the Museum of Restoration of Architectural Monuments of Bukhara, that is, everything here is left in the same condition as it reached the twentieth century. Medieval Central Asian pottery does not really fade, but it can peel off, and 3/4 of the decor, which can be seen on Turkestan masterpieces nowadays were recreated in Soviet times. And although the composition of the ancient mosaic is deciphered by 97%, without the remaining 3% it is not possible to make their shine "eternal", therefore, in a hundred or two hundred years all that recreated mosaic will fade. But the original one will shine even in a thousand years and their brilliance is really a bit different:

Experts of Oriental architecture criticize these restoration up hill and down dale. Here some of the comments to my post about the antiquities of Tashkent: (...) Turkestan got into the history millstones, which grinded it into dust and, among other things, practically destroyed its most interesting cultural heritage (...). Monuments were built according Soviet drawings of reinforced concrete, cladded with ceramics produced at Soviet industrial enterprises. Take the Kukeldash madrassah (in Tashkent) (...) The shape of the portal is calculated "mathematically", the portal itself is a concrete box, a cladding - industrial ceramics. The same concerns Registan also restored in the times of USSR. Bibi Khanum - Soviet fantasies and disgusting post-Soviet execution. The mausoleum of (supposedly) Samanids - cleared and restored by Zasypkin in line with modernist ideal.

Alas, my eye is not so trained to see this in such a different culture, therefore, I just only shared this opinion, and not yet ready myself to confirm or refute it.

In addition to the madrasah, there were also khanaka (Sufi dormitory), summer and winter mosques. The last one, with a small exposition of wooden threads, is perhaps the most beautiful part of the madrassah and the most beautiful interior of Bukhara, despite looking dark and dilapidated:

Some of the exhibits I showed in a post about Bukhara crafts, and here you can see the top of the column, the gate and the minbar (the mosque's chair):

In any guidebook they write that birds and Chinese dragons are "encrypted" in the ornaments of the central portal, but I see them here:

How it could be not the phoenix tail?

Another room in madrassa, not sure where it was exactly. Possibly, darshana - a ceremonial room in khanaka:

And now will go to Poi-Kalyan past Zargaron. Here is Zargaron itself, on the right:

We are on lively street - in the background Zargaron, behind it is the edge of Ulugbek madrasah portal, on the right is grandiose madrassah of Miri-Arab of the 16th century. Its dimensions are 77x55 meters, and yet in Bukhara it is only the second largest - the boring and bulky madrassa of Kukeldash by Lyabi-hauz is even bigger. But here the architecture is more beautiful and the location is better, therefore, on the eye the Miri-Arab seems significantly bigger:

The facade looks at the Poy-Kalyan Square, which, as already mentioned, serves as Bukhara's registan (although the real registan was in another place). Kalyan, or in the correct transcription Kolon means "Great", and "poy" is accordingly, the "foot", and this amazing simplicity of the names of the old Bukhara squares (Lyabi-hauz - "Pond shore", Poi-Kalyan - "The Footprint of the Great", etc.) speaks only of the fact that they were given not by the khans, but by ordinary people. Poi-Kalyan is again the kosh madrassah of Miri-Arab and the Great Mosque (that is, Kalyan), to which adjoins from another side looking like trading dome Alim Khan madrassah of the early twentieth century.

But all this is just the foot of the Great Minaret, stuck here as the ax around which the city turns: Kalyan is visible even from some of the outskirts. The sense of a constant is added by age - the minaret was completed in 1127, and most of Bukhara was younger than minaret for at least a few centuries. It is doubly impressive that the oldest (with several contemporaries in Vabkent, Dzharkurgan, Kyrgyz Burana and Uzgen) minaret of Central Asia is also the largest - its height is 45.5 meters, the diameter is 9 meters at the base and 6 meters in the neck. Such gigantic minarets, the natural "beacons of Islam", were built in those days throughout Central Asia: as the cathedrals of Europe accommodated the population of all its cities, same way these minarets covered the whole city with its azan. Kalyan probably was neither the first nor the best - in those times at still flourishing Paykend they excavated foundation of the minaret of 11th century one meter wider than the foundations of Kalyan. And the pre-Mongolian origin can be judged by décor - if the post-Mongolian architecture of Turkestan is famous for the colored ceramics of the walls, then the pre-Mongolian is dominated by the most complicated brick and terracotta ornaments, that formed not repeating each other belts on minarets (especially this was characteristic of the Karakhanids - all the pre-Mongolian minarets, except the one in Dzharkurgan were built by them). Kalyan has 12 such belts:

It was built by master named Baco, whose name is written on the wall ... it is interesting that the master with the same name, although one hundred years later, built the Russian pre-Mongolian cathedral in Yuriev-Polskij. According to legend, the construction was succeeded on the second attempt: the first architect was pressed by khan to finish it ASAP, and as the result of this hasty construction the minaret collapsed in 1121, and the architect had his head cut off. Bako proved to be more cunning, and at the right moment (for example, when the solution had to hardened) was simply disappearing in an unknown direction. Generally, the legends about Kalyan are all very interesting: people were calling it the Tower of Death, because it was supposedly used for punishments of criminals in Bukhara - to throw them from the minaret to the feet of the crowd. There are 104 steps leading to the top from where opens the magnificent views of Bukhara... but all viewing platforms in Bukhara for some reason were closed in 2012. The top of the minaret resembles the head of Khan in a heavy crown:

To the minaret, as it is easy to guess, is attached the mosque with the same name. It was supposed to be the Juma Mosque (Friday, that is, the Cathedral), but this name in Bukhara was "taken" by a mosque in the Ark, so it just became Great. Its construction began under the Timurids in the place of the pre-Mongol mosque, and ended in 1517, when Sheybanids already ruled Turkestan, but Samarkand was still remaining the capital. Kalyan mosque is rather squat, significantly lower than Samarkand's Bibi-Khanum, but the largest in Central Asia by area - 127 x 78 meters:

Pay attention to the photo above - the mosque, in contrast to the madrassas, has a through portal without a foyer, as everyone, even a slave or stranger, could enter it. Most of it is occupied by a yard larger than the mosque's space itself:

View in the opposite direction, perhaps the most canonical view of Bukhara:

The octagonal arbor-chair was built in 1915, and I would call its style as "neo-karakhanid", taking into account brick ornaments:

The courtyard of the mosque is supposed to fit 12,000 prayers, whilst the main building under the dome could fit only fifty of them.

And the heart of the mosque is the Mihrab turned to Mekka. Do you see in its ornaments a distant and inviting city of the Prophet? And I believe that those semi-literate people with hungry eyes gathering for Friday's worship could definitely saw it:

The Great Mosque is impressive with galleries - 288 pillars and 208 domes on the roofs. In some places galleries form crossroads, and although there are many tourists in the mosque, it is easy to remain in this stone forest in complete solitude:

Through the galleries I returned to the exit:

Outside is Miri-Arab madrasah - it's more compact, but its facade and two symmetrical domes are higher and more grandiose. The name can be translated as the madrasah of the Arab Emir, that is, Sheikh Sayyid Abdullah al-Yamani Khazaramawti, who came from Yemen according to his name. He belonged to the Sufi Order of Nakshabandi, originated in Bukhara, and was the mentor of the Ubaidullah Khan of Sheybanid dynasty, who in 1533 transferred the capital from Samarkand to Bukhara, laying the foundation for the Bukhara Khanate itself - and perhaps this was done not without the influence of this man from Yemen. According to one version, the madrasah was built in the 1510s by three thousand (!) captive Iranians as a monument to the Gijduvan Battle of 1512, the victory of the Sheibanid Mā warāʼ an-Nahr over the Safavid Iran; according to another version - in the 1530s as a symbol of the new capital with the money received from the sale of the same 3000 Persian slaves. In any case, among the numerous Sheibanid architecture of Bukhara this is a clear masterpiece.

Under the left dome rests Sayyid Abdullah Yemeni himself, under the right dome is a mosque, but you can see only the courtyard as this is a working madrassah. The most famous graduate was Ahmad Donish Bukhari, an educator and writer of the 19th century, after the conquest of Turkestan he traveled a lot through Russia with the Bukhara embassy and returned with the huge impression of the achievements of European thought. In fact, he was the forerunner of the Young Bukharians and was the first in the history of this city to raise the question of Europeanisation and restrictions on khan's power. He was not rather radical in his ideas, he proposed only a reform of governance and not a scrapping of all the old orders, but at those times it was something unheard of. Thanks to his great respect at the court, he was only exiled to to East Bukhara (present Kashkadarya and Surahvardarya), the far-off bekship of Husar, from where he refused to return to Bukhara at the invitation of the next emir.

The Medrese was closed only in the 1920-30s, and in the 1940s-1980s it was the only active in Central Asia and the best in the whole of the USSR. The list of its famous graduates is in Wikipedia,  many of them is known Muslim clergy.

The last Poy-Kalian building is the Alim Khan madrasah, that is, the last emir of Bukhara. In the whole Shaybanid (16th century) and Ashtarhanid (17th and first half of the 18th century) center of Bukhara, large public buildings of the last dynasty of the Mangyts, especially those built under its last emir Alim Khan (ruled in 1907-1920), are looking like new buildings. The portal is interesting - looks like a "Bukhara Art Nouveau":

Houses behind the square are mostly new buildings built to keep the original style of the city

Looking at the side wall of the Great Mosque is a modest local quarter mosque Siddikiyon of the 18th century:

View through its thin columns:

Life in mahallas and perhaps the most colorfully dressed Bukhara resident that I've seen:

The 19th century women's bath at the far corner of Kalyan-mosque:

Another local quarter Kunjak mosque of the 17th century - there are at least dozens, if not hundreds of them in Bukhara:

In this street are the two most beautiful in the whole of Bukhara (of course, of what I have seen) carved doors, which I showed in the first part. I have not explored this huge massif of mahallas and alleyways in the west of the Old City, where there are antiquities like the Balyand mosque of the 15th century with rich decorations. In the alley one can clearly see the slope of the Ark, mostly covered by a wall:

Here is the bazaar, which Big Diagonal passes through, as I understand this is the beginning of the road from Ark to Samarkand, that goes through all the ensembles shown in these three parts. And if this is true the Samarkand road, then it was just here, where caravans with goods were coming from distant Asian lands.

The last glance at Kalyan among the blue domes:

And on the other side of the bazaar is inviolable Ark - we came under the menacing eyes of the Khan citadel:

More about Ark, this Kremlin of Bukhara - in the next part.

More news about Uzbekistan
Bukhara. Part VII: Jewish Quarter

The first Jews appeared in Central Asia even before Bukhara was founded, about 2500 years ago, when the Persian king Cyrus the Great crushed Babylon and allowed the Jews captured by Nebuchadnezzar to return to their Judea. However, there were also those who settled in Babylon and who believed that it was better to stay in Persia, which became the strongest power in the world. The first Jews appeared in Central Asia even before Bukhara was founded, about 2500 years ago, when the Persian king Cyrus the Great crushed Babylon and allowed the Jews captured by Nebuchadnezzar to return to their Judea. However, there were also those who settled in Babylon and who believed that it was better to stay in Persia, which became the strongest power in the world. 

15 April 2018
Samarkand: in the wilds of old mahallas

In this part we will talk about the Samarkand makhallas and the people inhabiting them, from Uzbeks with Tajiks to Jews and Lyuli Gypsies. We will try to refute the widespread opinion that apart from architectural heritage there is nothing interesting in the ancient city. 

03 January 2018
Gijduvon ceramics

Gijduvon is mostly known now for its ceramics: the so called "Bukhara ceramics" that is known all over the world is actually comes from Gijduvon, a small satellite city 40 km from Bukhara. If you are travelling to Uzbekistan to see the local arts take our local crafts tour that will introduce you to ancient pottery traditions of Uzbekistan

22 December 2017
Did you know?

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!

Did you know that Uzbekistan lies in the very heart of Eurasia, the coordinates for Uzbekistan are 41.0000° N, 69.0000°

Uzbekistan is home to the Muruntan gold mine, one of the largest open pit gold mines in the world! The country has 4th largest reserves of gold in the world after South Africa, USA and Russia

Uzbekistan is the world capital of melons. They have in excess of 150 different varieties, which form a staple part of the local diet, served fresh in the summer and eaten dried through the winter.

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

Tashkent’s metro features chandeliers, marble pillars and ceilings, granite, and engraved metal. It has been called one of the most beautiful train stations in the world.

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.

You would be surprised to know that modern TV was born in Tashkent. No joke! The picture of moving objects was transmitted by radio first time in the world in Tashkent on 26 of July 1928 by inventors B.P. Grabovsky and I.F. Belansky.

Uzbekistan is the only country in the world all of whose neighbours have their names ending in STAN. This is also the only country in Central Asia that borders all of the countries of this region

Uzbeks are the third populous Turkik ethnicity in the world after Turks and Azeris (leaving both in Azerbaijan and Iran)

Did you know that there was silk money in Khiva? Super interesting right? Of course, but the best part of having silk money was that it could be sewn into your clothing.

Famous Islamic physician Ibn Sina (Avicenna in the Latin world) who was born near Bukhara was the one of the first people to advocate using women’s hair as suture material – about 1400 years ago.

Uzbekistan has a long and bloody history. The most notorious leader of Uzbekistan was Timur (or Tamerlane) who claimed descent from Genghis Khan. His military campaigns have been credited for wiping out some 5% of the world’s population at the time.

If you have thought that some of the Islamic architecture in Uzbekistan resembles that from Northern India, then that is because Timur’s great great great Grandson, Babur Beg, was the founder of the Moghul Empire that ruled much of India for almost four centuries! Babur’s great great Grandson was Shah Jahan, who built the Taj Mahal.

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
  • Norway
  • Iceland
  • Finland
  • Uzbekistan
Exchange rates
100 RUR
14449.76 UZS
100 USD
1262518.91 UZS
100 EUR
1359374.21 UZS
100 GBP
1594055.66 UZS
Weather in cities