Bukhara Travel Guide
For more than a millennia, Bukhara was a famous city on the Silk Road. Over eons, it amassed wealth from merchants passing through the region. While it suffered setbacks in the form of Mongol invasions, it remained a place of significance right up to the present.
With forts, mausoleums, mosques, and more, you’ll be busy sightseeing during your entire stay here.
Come check out our Bukhara travel guide as we cover the best things to do in Bukhara, Uzbekistan.
Begin your visit to Bukhara by checking out the Great Minaret of the Kalon. It was an engineering feat of sorts, as it became a struggle to keep the 47-metre tower vertical.
This fact may not sound impressive in this modern day and age, but it was a struggle back in the 12th century. During construction, their first attempt failed spectacularly, as it collapsed into a pile of sun-baked masonry. Construction crews did better the second time around – that time, they dug a foundation ten metres deep. Underneath the structure, they stacked reeds – an early attempt to allow towers to sway in earthquakes.
As impressive as this ornately-carved minaret was, it almost met its end just a century later. In the 13th century, Genghis Khan and his men rolled into town. After defeating the armies of Bukhara, they razed and ransacked everything in sight. However, upon seeing the Kalon Minaret, he ordered that the landmark remain untouched.
As the centuries progressed, the spire picked up a gruesome nickname – The Tower of Death. As recently as 1920, executioners carried out death sentences by tossing the condemned from its apex. Today, muezzins still use the tower to deliver the “call to prayer”, five times per day. As darkness falls, the Kalon Minaret becomes bathed in light, making it a great night photography subject.
Pay respects to one of this region’s greatest rulers at the Samanid Mausoleum. It dates back to the 9th century AD, making it the oldest structure in all of Bukhara. Earlier, we mentioned that Genghis Khan has everything in Bukhara burned to the ground (except for the Kalon Minaret). However, he missed the Samanid Mausoleum as a significant flood buried it under metres of mud centuries before.
In 1934, Soviet archaeologists discovered signs of the ancient structure and began excavation work. Two years later, they unearthed the entire building, mostly intact. They found the small-yet-attractive mausoleum was the resting place of Ismail Samani, among the most significant Samanid dynasty emirs. To get the most of your visit, hire a local guide.
During the dark days of the Mongol invasion, frightened civilians took refuge in the Ark of Bukhara. It was initially built in the 5th century AD to protect the region from foreign invaders. Its hulking walls repelled foes until they proved to be no match for the Mongols in the 13th century.
After being razed in that invasion, they were rebuilt and continued to serve the region right up until 1920. That year, its ramparts fell for the final time to the Bolsheviks. Rumours state that Alim Khan, the last Emir of Bukhara, ordered vital parts of the castle blown up to prevent Russians from looting them.
At 60,000 som, the price of admission is higher for foreigners. However, travellers report that if you walk away, it may be possible to secure a discount.
Chor Minor is another architectural highlight worth seeing in Bukhara. It has four distinctive towers, each capped with a light blue dome. Despite translating from Persian as “four minarets”, the spires of this complex do not serve this purpose.
Instead, they use three spires for storage – only one has a staircase to the top. Within, you’ll find murals and motifs that reference each of Bukhara’s major religions – Islam, Christianity, Buddhism, and Zoroastrianism.
Check out one of the most modern royal residences in Bukhara by visiting the Palace of Moon-like Stars. It was built to be the summer place for Alim Khan, the last Emir of Bukhara. As you walk through, you’ll see the Russian influence in its construction, as Uzbekistan was a Russian protectorate in the early 20th century.
After the October revolution, though, Bolsheviks were hunting people like Alim like dogs. He fled for Afghanistan with haste, with the royal treasury in tow. While the palace remains in rough shape, its elegant construction provides hints of better days.
See where Bukhara educated its youth by visiting the Mir-i Arab Madrasah. This Islamic school was built in the 16th century to celebrate victory over a neighbouring kingdom. Unlike other defunct buildings, it continues in this role today.
One of the few artificial ponds remaining in Bukhara, Lyab-i Hauz has an amusing story behind it. Long ago, the uncle of the ruling Emir wanted a house with an ornamental pond. However, a Jewish widow occupied a property he wished to buy.
After she refused, he got tricky. He constructed a small reservoir nearby – to feed it, he built an irrigation channel. This channel was dug very close to the widow’s house – over time, it eroded her foundation.
She agreed to sell if the Emir offered her a parcel of land where Bukhara Jews could build a synagogue. The emir granted the request, and thus, his uncle finally got his pond.