Bukhara is one of the most historically significant cities in Uzbekistan (with Samarkand and Khiva), and it holds a special place in the country’s cultural and architectural heritage, with a rich history that dates back over two millennia.
Bukhara, in the southwestern part of Uzbekistan, is situated on the Silk Road, the famous historic trade route that connected China with the Mediterranean. It has a significant role in Islamic history as well, being a center of Islamic scholarship.
While Bukhara has many nicknames, the “City of Saints.” seems to be the most common as it emphasizes the city’s status as a center of Islamic scholarship, and spirituality, as well as the final resting place of many revered figures in Islam. The historic center of Bukhara is a UNESCO World Heritage Site and a travel photography paradise.
Some of the notable landmarks including the Kalyan Minaret and Mosque, the Ark of Bukhara, the Po-i-Kalyan complex, the Chor Minor, and others are described in the short article below.
The Po-i-Kalyan complex is a historic architectural ensemble that comprises several important religious buildings and structures. It is one of the most significant landmarks in Bukhara and a UNESCO World Heritage Site.
The name “Po-i-Kalyan” translates to “The Foot of the Great” in reference to the Great Minaret of the Kalyan Mosque, which is a central feature of the complex.
Here are the main components of the Po-i-Kalyan complex:
The Great Minaret of Bukhara is one of the most iconic and historically significant landmarks in Bukhara. The Kalyan Minaret is a remarkable example of Central Asian Islamic architecture, standing at a height of 46.5 meters (152 feet). The minaret is constructed from baked bricks and is adorned with intricate geometric and floral designs, including blue and turquoise tiles.
The minaret was built in the early 12th century, specifically in the year 1127, during the reign of the Karakhanid ruler Arslan Khan. The primary purpose of the Kalyan Minaret was to serve as a call to prayer. The muezzin would ascend the minaret’s spiral staircase to the top and call the faithful to prayer five times a day.
The Kalyan Minaret has been well-preserved over the centuries and is recognized as a UNESCO World Heritage Site. It has survived earthquakes and other challenges that have impacted the region.
The Kalyan Mosque (or Masjid-i Kalyan) has a long and storied history, dating back to the 16th century. It was built during the rule of the Shaybanid dynasty, specifically during the reign of Ubaydallah Khan (also known as Abdullah II) between 1514 and 1515.
The mosque is known for its grand and spacious design. It features a vast open courtyard with a large central dome flanked by smaller domes and numerous iwans (vaulted chambers) with intricate tilework and architectural details.
The Kalyan Mosque is adjacent to the Great Minaret of Kalyan and the Mir-i-Arab Madrasa, creating a stunning visual and spiritual focal point.
The mosque has served as a place of worship and prayer for centuries. It continues to be an active mosque, welcoming both local worshippers and tourists interested in its historical and architectural significance.
Mir-i-Arab Madrasah is a significant Islamic educational institution and architectural gem located in the historic center of Bukhara, as part of the larger Po-i-Kalyan architectural complex
The Islamic school was, like the Kalyan Mosque, founded in the 16th century during the reign of Ubaydallah Khan. It was named after Mir-i-Arab, a prominent 16th-century Sufi scholar and spiritual leader who played a significant role in the development of Islamic education and spirituality in the region.
The madrasa is known for its stunning architectural design and intricate tilework. It features a traditional layout with a central courtyard, surrounded by student cells (hujras), classrooms, and an impressive facade with multiple tiers of decorative tiles and calligraphy.
The madrasa underwent significant restoration and renovation in the 20th century to preserve its historic integrity and beauty. The restoration work was carried out with great care to maintain the original design and tilework.
Madrasah of Emir Alimkhan
Aside from the Po-i-Kalyan, you can see the Madrasah of Emir Alimkhan as well. It was constructed in the early 20th century during the reign of Emir Alim Khan, who was the last emir of the Manghit dynasty which ruled over the Emirate of Bukhara.
Like many other madrasahs in Bukhara, the Emir Alimkhan Madrasa served as an Islamic educational institution. Madrasahs were places of learning where students studied various Islamic subjects, including theology, law, and sciences.
The Ark of Bukhara is an ancient fortress and historical citadel. The Ark is one of the oldest and most historically significant architectural and archaeological sites in Bukhara, and it has played a central role in the city’s history.
The Ark of Bukhara has a history that spans over a thousand years. It is believed to have been originally constructed in the 5th century and served as a royal residence, fortress, and administrative center for various ruling dynasties, including the Samanids, Khwarezmians, and later, the emirs of Bukhara.
The Ark is a massive structure that occupies a prominent place in the heart of the old city of Bukhara. It is constructed of massive clay and brick walls and features a distinctive architectural style, with high walls, towers, and battlements. The fortress has been expanded and renovated multiple times over the centuries.
The Ark served as a seat of power, housing the ruling authorities of Bukhara, including the emirs and their courts. It functioned as a royal palace, a military stronghold, and an administrative center for the city. It played a pivotal role in the governance and defense of Bukhara.
The Ark complex is divided into various sections, including living quarters, administrative buildings, and defensive structures. The Jome Mosque (or Jomeh Mosque) is as well located within the Ark Fortress.
It is believed to be one of the oldest structures within the Ark, and its construction may date back to different periods, with elements from various eras.
The Jome Mosque served as a place of worship for residents of the Ark Fortress and was likely an integral part of the daily life within the citadel. It is one of the historical elements that contribute to the significance of the Ark as a whole.
Shukhova Water tower
The Bukhara Water Tower is named after Vladimir Shukhov, a Russian engineer and architect.
The tower, which features a hyperboloid structure made of steel latticework, was constructed in the early 20th century to serve as a water tower. Beyond its (fancy) lighting in the evening, the main interest is the view over Ark fortress from the top
The Chor-Minor (or Char Minar,) is a unique and picturesque architectural monument that was built in the early 19th century, by Khalif Niyazkul. Despite its relatively recent construction compared to many other historic sites in Bukhara, the Chor Minor has become an iconic symbol of the city. Chor Minor translates to “Four Minarets,” and the monument is characterized by its four slender minarets, each with a different design, rising from the corners of a small building, as a representation of the four major schools of Islamic thought or the four caliphs.
Ismail Samani Mausoleum
The Ismail Samani Mausoleum was built in the 9th and 10th centuries and is considered one of the oldest and most remarkable monuments of Islamic architecture in Central Asia. It was constructed during the reign of the Samanid dynasty, a Persian dynasty that ruled over a large part of Central Asia.
While small, the mausoleum is known for its unique architectural style as its design is a testament to the skill of Persian and Central Asian artisans of the time.
Bolo Hauz Mosque
The Bolo Hauz Mosque (or Bolo Khauz Mosque) was built in the 18th century during the rule of the Bukhara Khanate, a period of significant architectural and cultural development in the city.
It was constructed during the reign of Emir Shah Murad. The Bolo Hauz Mosque is noted for its elegant wooden columns and intricately painted ceilings.
The wooden columns are adorned with fine geometric and floral designs
This is clearly a beautiful playground for travel photography, especially if you can find charming models like Sarah & Zarina 😊.
So, here is my little takeaway in images from Bukhara, the city of Saints on the sick road …
If you are interested, you can read my articles about the two other wonders of the Uzbek Silk Road. I hope this will engage you to visit that beautiful and friendly country!
Khiva (article to come very soon 😊)