Sunday, 22 April 2018

The magic of Bokhara - endless - wonderful images of a glorious past

Bukhara or Bokhara has been always on my bucket list with Samarkand and Tashkent. It is a city one can visit at any time and any number of times due to its history, its beauty and its antiquity. Life moves at its own pace here. Humans have inhabited the region around Bukhara for at least five millennia, and the city has existed for half that time. The mother tongue of the majority of people of Bukhara is Persian. Located on the Silk Road, the city has long served as a centre of trade, scholarship, culture, and religion. UNESCO has listed the historic centre of Bukhara (which contains numerous mosques and madrassas) as a World Heritage Site.
It is now the capital of Bukhara Region of Uzbekistan. During the golden age of the Samanids, Bukhara became a major intellectual centre of the Islamic world, second only to Baghdad. As an important trading centre, Bukhara was home to a community of medieval Indian merchants from the city of Multan (modern-day Pakistan) who were noted to own land in the city.

Bukhara is situated on a sacred hill, the place where sacrifices were made by fire-worshippers in springtime. This city was mentioned in a holy book "Avesto". Bukhara city is supposed to be founded in the 13th cent. B.C. during the reign of Siyavushids who came to power 980 years before Alexander the Great. The name of Bukhara originates from the word "vihara" which means "monastery" in Sanskrit. The city was once a large commercial centre on the Great Silk Road. 

There is a small park and a metal sculpture of Nasruddin Hodja, the quick-witted and warm-hearted man, who forms the central character of many children's folk stories in Central Asian, Afghanistan, and Pakistan, sitting atop his mule with one hand on his heart and the other with an 'All OK' sign above his head..
Bukhara lies west of Samarkand and was once a centre of learning renowned throughout the Islamic world. It is the hometown of the great Sheikh Bakhouddin Nakshbandi. He was a central figure in the development of the mystical Sufi approach to philosophy, religion and Islam. In Bukhara there are more than 350 mosques and 100 religious colleges. Its fortunes waxed and waned through succeeding empires until it became one of the great Central Asian Khanates in the 17th century.

Like Rome, Bukhara with more than 140 architectural monuments is a "town museum" dating back to the Middle Ages. 2,300 years later, ensembles like Poi-Kalyan, Ismail Samani Mausoleum, the Ark, Lyabi-Khauz are attracting a lot of attention. The city consists of narrow streets, green parks and gardens, historical and architectural monuments belong to the different epochs, but locate very close to each other.

The main square in Bukhara is attractive as it is wide and large. At one end is the street which progresses from one end to another. Across it is the small artificial lake with the restaurant and its 540+ year old mulberry tree. The restaurant has excellent food. If you go from the street to one side you come across one of the most ancient archaeological sites of the city. 
This is a cute little building tucked away in bye-lanes. The four towered structure is mistaken for a gate to the madrassa. Its functions are to provide ritual and shelter. The main edifice is a mosque. The building’s cupola provides good acoustic properties and therefore takes on special significance of 'dhikr-hana' – a place for ritualized 'dhikr' ceremonies of Sufi, the liturgy of which often include recitation, singing, and instrumental music.
On either side are dwelling rooms, some of which have collapsed, leaving only their foundations visible. Each of four towers has different deco rational motifs. Some say that elements of decoration reflect the four religions known to Central Asians. One can find elements reminiscent of a cross, a Christian fish motif, and a Buddhist praying-wheel, in addition to Zoroastrian and Islamic motifs.  On the esplanade to the right from Char-Minar is a pool, likely of the same age as the rest of the building complex. Char Minar is now surrounded mainly by small houses and shops along its perimeter. 
The most famous of all the monuments is the Po-i-Kalan complex; It is vast. The title Po-i Kalan (also Poi Kalân meaning the "Grand Foundation"), belongs to the architectural complex located at the base of the great minaret Kalân known as Minâra-i Kalân or Tower of Death as according to legend it is the site where criminals were executed by being thrown off the top for centuries. 
“The minaret is most famed part of the ensemble, and dominates over the historical centre of the city. The role of the minaret is largely for traditional and decorative purposes - its dimension exceeds the bounds of the main function of the minaret which is to provide a vantage point from which the muezzin can call out people to prayer. For this purpose it was enough to ascend to a roof of mosque. This practice was common in initial years of Islam. The word "minaret" derives from the Arabic word "minara" ("lighthouse", or more literally "a place where something burn"). The minarets of the region were possible adaptations of "fire-towers" or lighthouses of previous Zoroastrian eras.
The architect, whose name was Bako designed the minaret in the form of a circular-pillar brick tower, narrowing upwards. The diameter of the base is 9 meters (29.53 feet), while at the top it is 6 meters (19.69 feet). The tower 45.6 meters (149.61 feet) high, and can be seen from vast distances over the flat plains of Central Asia.
Standing in the centre square of the complex, one is in awe at the grand style of each of the structures in this complex. 
Masjid-i Kalân was completed in 1514 and surely is equal to the Bibi-Khanym Mosque in Samarkand in size. The mosque is able to accommodate 12,000 believers. Although Kalyan Mosque and Bibi-Khanym Mosque of Samarkand are of the same type of building, they are different in terms of art of building. 288 monumental pylons serve as a support for the multi-domed roofing of the galleries encircling the courtyard of Kalyan Mosque. The longitudinal axis of the courtyard ends up with a portal to the main chamber (maksura) with a cruciform hall, topped with a massive blue cupola on a mosaic drum. The edifice keeps many architectural curiosities, for example, a hole in one of domes. Through this hole one can see foundation of Kalyan Minaret. Then moving back step by step, one can count all belts of brickwork of the minaret to the rotunda”. 

Ismail Samani’s mausoleum is an exquisite example of Central Asian architecture. Built in the 9th C (between 892 and 943) as the resting-place of Abū Ibrāhīm Ismā'īl ibn Amad, May 849 – November 907,aka Isma'il ibn Ahmad and popularly as Ismail Samani. He was the  Samanid emir of Transoxiana and Khorasan and his reign saw the emergence of the Samanids as a powerful force. It was the last native Persian dynasty to rule the region in the 9th / 10th C.  after the Samanids established virtual independence from the Baghdad Caliphate. 
The site is unique for its architectural style combining both Zoroastrian and Islamic motifs. The building's facade is covered in intricately decorated brick work, which features circular patterns reminiscent of the sun - a common image in Zoroastrian art from the region at that time which is reminiscent of the Zoroastrian god, Ahura Mazda represented by fire and light. The building's shape is cuboid, and reminiscent of the Ka'aba in Makkah, while the domed roof is a typical feature of mosque architecture. The syncretic style of the shrine is reflective of the period - a time when the region still had large populations of Zoroastrians who had begun to convert to Islam.  

The shrine is also regarded as one of the oldest monuments in the Bukhara region. At the time of Genghis Khan's invasion, the shrine was said to have already been buried in mud from flooding. Thus, when the Mongol hordes reached Bukhara, the shrine was spared from their destruction. The mausoleum of Pakistan's founding father Muhammad Ali Jinnah was modeled after the shrine.

 Bolo Haouz Mosque is a historical mosque with 20 columns carved from rather tall trees! Built in 1712, on the opposite side of the citadel of Ark in Registan district, it is inscribed in the UNESCO World Heritage Site list.  It served as a Friday mosque during the time when the emir of Bukhara was being subjugated under the Bolshevik Russian rule in 1920s. Thin columns made of painted woods were added to the frontal part of the iwan in 1917, additionally supporting the bulged roof of summer prayer room. The columns are decorated with coloured muqarnas.

Part of the ancient archaeological site in the main centre of the city. 
 Artisans work at various tourist sites - in or near  mosques as well as historical sites like the Ark. 

There is an interesting museum in the Ark. 

Though this is a functional mosque the rooms are used for various purposes. There are many where artists, silversmiths, wood carvers, and other specialists ply their trade.
We visited this small museum in Bukhara which is about its water resources and how it was obtained over the centuries. 
Bukhara – after nearly three days there, one could not get enough of it. We shall return. 

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