The Holy City of Bokhara

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September 26th 2014
Published: June 21st 2017
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Sorry, another brief history lesson. Bokhara had been a city on the Silk Road for a long time but blossomed under the Samanids in the 9th and 10th century and at its height it had over 300 mosques and 100 medrassas (my other book says 250) which schooled pupils from as far away as Yemen and Andalucia and had a Royal Library containing 45,000 volumes. Here flourished many notable Islamic scholars, scientists, philosophers etc including Avicenna who at the age of 18 cured the ruler of a chronic illness and was granted access to the library - to which he later added many works.
Wrecked by Ghengis Khan it flourished again in the time of Timur, though he had moved the capital to Samarkand.
Suffering from a shortage of water the city was built around a series of pools from which the population could draw their water (though it didn't get changed often and a number of plagues resulted). Most of those pools have now been filled in but other than that the ancient centre of the town is much the same shape it has been for centuries with its mix of mosques, medressas, mausoleums, covered markets etc. Not as many as there were and a stroll round the back streets soon uncovers the moulderng remains of quite a few mosques and medressas. But the Russians made few changes to the old centre - with the exception of bombing the Ark or Citadel which was the Amir's palace and Administrative centre - this in 1920 when the Bolsheviks turned up to persuade the City it really did want to be part of the Russian Revolution.
OK, enough history. This is a town of the desert, a traders town, caravanserai and bazaars, a pious town, a town that has seen much unfettered cruelty. The buildings are different from those in Samarkand - Samarkand is all flash with its glazed tiles and majolica. Bukhara is much more restrained - it has some of these things but much of the construction and the decoration is in plain, sand-coloured, fired brick. It is quite compact but there is so much to see it means a lot of walking.
I arrived by a 4 hour train ride from Samarkand - not the bullet train anymore, this one was called the Sharq. Pleasant hotel round a courtyard - though I'm in the annexe down the road which has its own not quite so nice courtyard and where the internet stopped working within hours of my arriving so I have to toddle over to the main hotel for that.
This is halfway through my trip (I know - doesn't time fly) so I'm taking it slow here before the mad dash through Turkmenistan and Iran - even so in 7 hours of walking and visiting I managed most of the major monuments on Day 1. It was Friday so some were closed to visitors - Friday Mosques and a medressa that was still in session. Day 2 I went to visit them assuming they would be open, but in the large square between them a Uzbek wrestling contest was taking place and the medressa was still closed. So I added a few more things to the visited list - like the dungeon where two British 'adventurers' (Stoddart and Connolly) were confined in the cockroach/lice/sheep-tick infested hole for some time before being beheaded - that was in the 1840s, not much new in the world. And as almost every other building is a handicrafts centre a little shopping was in order.
I've struck up a friendship with the Japanse gentleman in the next room (we meet a lot doing internet stuff), he is Adachi Susumu who is also retired, also over 60, also travelling alone taking two months to do the entire length of the Silk Road starting in Shanghai and finishing in Istanbul. (So I'm not the only strange one around!). He is also doing a blog and though its in Japanese you might want to take a look at

Many many more tourists here even than in Samarkand - more German than anything else by a long way, then French. Big group of Aussies today - few English. You always get asked where you are from and London/England always gets a surprised reaction and often gets you into a little conversation - like Lilly who I met carrying loads of bread which, she explained, he was taking to the mosque (as a charitable gift I thought) and would spend the afternoon painting (she paints using coffee rather than paint or ink)

So - enough words. Time to upload some photos.

The last photo shows a suffi 'fool' on a donkey holding a coin between finger and thumb. (There were once dervishes here). The statue is placed near the central pool. The story is:

A rich man fell into the pool and couldn't climb out. Lots of people rushed to help shouting, 'Give me your hand, give me your hand.' Being a rich man he didn't understand the word 'give' so didn't respond. The suffi 'fool' with coin between finger and thumb leant down and said, 'Here, take this coin'. The rich man reached up and grasped his hand in a vice;like grip, and was saved.

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28th September 2014

Good to see who you hang out with.x

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