We breakfast well in an elegant room in another part of the hotel then set off again in search of the Ark Fortress. We were actually very nearly there, yesterday, at Poi Kalyon Square – you wouldn’t think it was possible to miss something so large…
The walls remind us, again, of Kano city walls. They tower nearly 20 m above us as we approach the main gate.
There has been some sort of fortification on the site for well over a thousand years and the Emir lived here until it was destroyed by arson in 1920. The first mosque in Bukhara was pointedly built on the site of found a pre-Islamic Zoroastrian fire temple in the fortress. The present walls are 16th Century and enclose an area large enough to house around 3000 people and their key workplaces, as well as the royal family. Sadly, there is not much to see inside – only a small proportion of the buildings remain and most of these host rather dry museums, with very limited labelling in English. The natural history museum was interesting, mainly, for its rather desiccated specimens of silkworm cocoons and cotton bolls.
Silkworm cocoons in a mulberry branch (left) and cotton bolls (right)
There is a rather beautiful, hand-painted illustration of different soil types in the region…
…but also some slightly sinister, one-sided propaganda about the merits of irrigation. Photo number 6, below, is labelled irrigated soil, and contrasted to numbers one to five which show various desert soils.
We leave the Ark, feeling slightly underwhelmed, and walk across the road to the 18th Century Bolo Hauz mosque. This has a beautiful wooden porch supported by twenty elegant pillars, some of which are currently being restored and replaced. The mosque was one of the few in this area to avoid destruction by the Soviets, operating as a working men’s club!
The carved and painted porch ceiling, Bolo Hauz mosque
We are ready for a tea break by this time and find a tea house which ticks the boxes – ladies sit in a screened off area and men lounge around over shaslik and tea on a comfortable looking divan. They provide good subject matter for Martyn to sketch whilst I enjoy the plate of fruit and nuts that comes with the tea.
We head further north, aiming for Samani Park. Chashma Ayub mausoleum marks the spot where Job is supposed to have effectively founded the city of Bukhara when he struck dry ground and produced a miraculous spring of water. Timur built the mausoleum in 1380 – the atypical pointed dome at the back is supposed to be modelled on the shape of a desert nomad’s tent.
Chashma Ayub mausoleum
Appropriately, the mausoleum incorporates a museum dedicated to the city’s water supply. Not the most exciting museum I’ve ever been in, and the chatter of visitors sits uneasily with the elderly ladies praying at Job’s shrine at the back of the room. We take a quick look inside the elegant modern building next to it which serves as a memorial to Imam Al-Bukhari, one of the most important collectors of the Hadiths. Unfortunately, nothing is labelled in English and the building, opened with some fanfare by the president ten years ago, is damp and rather smelly inside.
Samani Park also houses an assortment of slightly seedy-looking fairground rides and a grubby looking reservoir or hauz, now used as a boating pond, but also the beautifully-simple mausoleum of Ismail Samani.
Ismail Samani mausoleum
Samani was the founder of the Samanid dynasty, who ruled the region for much of the 9th and 10th Centuries and his mausoleum is one of the earliest and holiest Islamic monuments in Bukhara. The cube is supposed to be a reference to the Kaaba in Mecca and the patterns of the textured brickwork reflect recent mathematical discoveries.
Detail of interior and exterior brickwork of Ismail Samani’s mausoleum
We decide to carry on walking through the park and end up at the two madrassas built by Abdullah Shaybani Khan in the late 16th Century. He built the first for his mother, in 1556, (the Moder-i Khan madrassa) then decided he needed a bigger and better one for himself (the Abdullah Khan madrassa)! The Abdullah Khan madrassa seems to have coped rather better with the ravages of time, or maybe it’s just been more recently restored.
Portico of the Abdullah Khan Madrassa
By this time we are getting hungry. Martyn is very keen to try a traditional pulse and rice dish we’ve read about called moshkitchari but we fail to find it in any of the restaurant menus we can understand. We head for the hotel to ask the helpful staff and discover it’s more like a home cooked dish than a restaurant one – ‘peasant food’, for want of a better expression. However Kabir comes up with a solution – the hotel has links to a couple of traditional houses where the family will prepare a meal for small groups. He negotiates a meal for us this evening, with moshkitchari as the main course and we head off in search of more somsa for lunch. Sadly, there is no food at the lakeside café today and the pasty versions we find instead turn out to be nowhere near as nice.
After lunch I persuade Martyn to come with me to the Ceramics museum, housed inside the Khanakha – people are asking me questions about how the tiles are made (that’s you, Sue) so I feel I ought to try and find out something about it. This turns out not to be too much of a chore as the building is lovely inside, particularly the decoration inside the mihrab, and the information about ceramics very limited.
Inside the Khanakha
The Khanakha was built around the same time at the reservoir, in 1620, as a place where Sufi mystics could stay and meditate.
None the wiser about ceramics, we head off to buy some brightly coloured pottery as souvenirs, anyway.
We head back to the lakeside café for a coffee, having found that Espresso coffee is a thing in Bukhara, only to have our peace shattered by a local television crew who want to interview us about our experience of Uzbeksitan, and Bukhara in particular. Fortunately we have nothing but good to say! Martyn wants some more sketching time so I head back to the hotel and sit reading and writing in the ‘tea lounge’ at the top of the building. A real pleasure, especially when there is the usual green tea and but brittle snacks to hand!
Dinner is in another old Jewish merchant house just five minutes walk from the hotel. The son of the house explains that we are in the summer dining room – a high-ceilinged, whitewashed room with a double row of windows which stays cool all year, apparently. The food is delicious (really, John MacGillivray) – fresh tasty salads, light noodle soup then the much-awaited moshkitchari. This turns out to be a kind of pottage with rice, mung beans and black eyed beans, cooked in a meat and vegetable stock – definitely worth a try at home. There is even apple cake and more espresso coffee to follow – it definitely feels more like family rather restaurant food. The son has a gentle try at persuading us to buy some of his handcrafted jewellery or to employ him as a guide tomorrow but, as we’ve found with all Uzbekis, he isn’t persistent and we part on good terms. We enjoy strolling amongst the crowds around Lyabi Haus square for a while before heading back to the hotel. We try to watch episode two of Sam Willis’s programme on the Silk Road which we downloaded at home and which covers both Samarkand and Bukhara, but I’m just too sleepy.