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Celebrated as the most complete example of a medieval city in Central Asia, the old Silk Road trading post of Bukhara is more than 2500 years old. Founded in 500 BC as a vassal of the Persian Empire, the city initially flourished as an oasis and trade centre, evolving into a hub of Islamic culture and learning after the Arab conquest of the 8th century AD. Bukhara’s golden age was ushered in by the Samanids, the last of the great Persian Empires, who established their imperial capital in the city in the 9th century. Flourishing as the intellectual centre of the Islamic world – the fabled haunt of scholars, philosophers, scientists, and poets – the city expanded with immense religious architecture and academies. The sublime Ismail Samani Mausoleum is the last resting place of Ismail Samani, founder of the Samanid dynasty, a striking monument to the sober elegance and staggering prosperity of the era.Read more
Sacked by Genghis Khan in the 13th century, Bukhara fell into decline and was slow to recover. In the late 15th century, it was occupied by Uzbek tribesmen and became the capital of the Bukhara Khanate under Khan Sheibani – many of the city’s finest buildings date to this phase. By the 19th century, the city had resumed its role as one of the largest and most important centres of Muslim theology in the middle east, home to over two hundred Mosques and a hundred madrasahs, not to mention significant trade infrastructure, including 38 caravanserais, six trading arcades, and 45 bazaars.
Today, the city’s eclectic historical heritage spans several centuries. The famous 10th century Kalyan minaret is a masterpiece of brick decoration. Hewn from sand-stone, it offers commanding views over the city – there are just 105 steps to the top. The Bukhara fortress – also known as The Ark – is a vast, ship-like fortification that served as the seat of power for many dynasties. Today, home to an important history museum, it has been destroyed and rebuilt several times since its first construction in the 5th century AD. Dating to the 16th and 17th centuries, the Lab-i-Hauz complex includes two fine madrasahs and a khanaka (a lodging house for wandering Sufis). Ultimately, however, the city’s importance does not lie in any single work of architecture, but in its overall townscape – a largely intact historical urban fabric, not unlike a living open-air museum.