The Holy City


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May 27th 2014
Published: October 1st 2017
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Long, long but great day. Too hot, too many sites, but I love Bukhara and wish I had more time to wander at leisure during cool days, to rest in the shade and contemplate the beauty of the buildings. However, when you have a day to see the Holy City, a forced march may be the only way. We had a good guide, which helped, and learned a lot, but my retention was limited. Below represents a small part of what we learned, with a focus on what I found charming.

We started with a van drive out to Ismail Samani Mausoleum, a mausoleum completed in 905 and built for the found of the Samanid dynasty. It is a very beautiful square building, all brick, without painting, but lovely in the design and pattern of the brick and of the color of the walls. They say the color of the walls change over the course of the day. It was built on the site of a Zoroastrian temple and still retains some Zoroastrian symbols, such as the triangle that represents "Good thoughts, good words, good deeds," the motto of the religion. Inside, three people were buried but only one tomb remains. It was built between the walls, which was devoted to a cemetery, as it was thought that enemy soldiers would not want to walk on the tombs of the dead, which brought the evil eye. My favorite story from this place: in the old days, pilgrims would leave notes with questions on the tomb. When they would return in the morning, their questions were answered. They believed that the spirit was answering their questions. But when archaeologists studied the ruins in the early 20th century, they found an underground passage that ran from the tomb to the Ark, suggesting that maybe the spirit had some terrestrial help.

From that point, we walked to the lake to get a view of the ancient city walls in the distance. The walls have wooden beams running through them, which helped aerate the adobe and extended the life of the walls.

Our next stop was Chashmai Yub mausoleum, which houses a spring, said to have sprung from the earth when Job (yes, that Job) plunged his staff into the ground. The spring waters are said to be good at curing skin diseases, which is good, because the ponds outside the main square are said to have brought skin diseases to the population. The mausoleum also contains a small display about the sources of water for Bukhara.

Our next stop was one of my favorites: Bolo Hauz mosque. It is a beautiful old mosque, with a colonnade of wooden pillars that support a very high ceiling. Inside, the room is small, and the dome is being restored, but you can see how the dome will amplify the sense of god in that small space. The imam was very friendly and allowed Sue to take his picture, which was nice.

From the mosque, we crossed the street to the Ark Fortress. This was the administrative center and inhabited continuously from the 5th century until 1920, when it was bombed by the Red Army (more about why later, maybe, if I remember to write it). We toured a couple of small museums in the fortress, but there is not much to see. One story I remember: the stables were built above the prison, and, when they washed the stables out, the nasty water rained down on the prisoners as an additional form of punishment.

Now, the highlight: the Kalyan or Kalon minaret and mosque. The minaret was built in 1127 and was for a time the tallest structure in Central Asia. According to the legend, Genghis Khan found it so beautiful that he could not destroy it, although he was happy to destroy most of the city. The mosque itself is gorgeous as well. We walked through the arched passageways – now the ceilings are mostly just plaster, but, before the Red Army destroyed it, each small dome had brick work of a different pattern. Our guide said that it was a bazaar during Soviet times; her mother would come here to buy shoes. But now it is a place of worship again, and, as almost no one was around, there was a real sense of peace and calm in the mosque.

- UNESCO rug store

· Taki Zargaron: One of several famous covered bazaars in Bukhara – this one is known for its jewelers.

· Summer Palace

· Lyabi-Hauz complex: a plaza built around a pool, where locals gather to gossip and discuss trade. In older times, there were many pools and canals, but the water was not changed often, and plague was common. The Soviets drained and destroyed most of the pools.

· Magaki Attari mosque: Amidst the covered bazaars, this is an ancient holy spot. Archaeologists found the ruins of a Zoroastrian temple beneath the mosque, and it might have also been the site of a synagogue.

We had drinks in the courtyard, which was lovely, then went upstairs for a most welcome shower. Rest, then out in the evening for a bit of dinner. We went to a new restaurant, which had opened recently, designed to serve locals. Again, Keegan's language skills came in very handy as we ordered a variety of salad, bread, and dumplings.


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