Bukhara city tour
Bukhara is 2,500 years old and has a population of 270 thousand people. Poets and sages lived here, among them Ibn Sina, Omar Khayyam, Rudaki, Firdausi. The Chinese called the city “Bukhar”, “seat of the idols”, and in the XIII century it became the center of Islam, which ousted Zoroastrianism. Pilgrims come here to perform rituals before the hajj to Mecca. Nevertheless, the monuments of Zoroastrian architecture are still impressive. Most of the historical buildings in Bukhara are a UNESCO World Heritage Site.
On arrival in the hot city it is a pleasure to visit the architectural ensemble Lyabi-Hauz – a large pond is refreshing and the restaurant on the shore has a delicious meal. There are Madrasah and khanaka of Nadir Diwan Begi, Madrasah Kukeldash and a monument to Khoja Nasreddin, and a great rarity – one of the first Islamic mosques, which looks more like a Zoroastrian temple.
One full day is enough to walk around all the most interesting sights. They are marked “must visit”. All are located in the old center, within walking distance of each other. To visit all the others, you need two more days and will have to travel around the suburbs by cab.
Nadir Diwan Begi Madrasah and Hanaka
Vizier Nadir Diwan Begi and his wife’s earring
One day a vizier decided to get married and gave his bride only earrings. She was offended. A few years later he built khanaka (1620) with wonderful acoustics – the main cultural place of Bukhara.
Following it, he built madrassah (1622), decorating it with Semurg Birds of Happiness.
His wife took offense: no money for gifts, but for construction – yes. The vizier offered her to open a box with a wedding gift – and lo and behold, there was only one earring! He showed his wife the value of the earrings, having built the khanaka and madrassah at the expense of one of them.
The vizier’s ingenuity did not stop there. A large pond would have fit perfectly between the khanaka and the madrasah, but it could not be dug out – the land belonged to an elderly Jewish widow, and she refused to sell it. The trickster dug a ditch so that the water would wash under the landlady’s house, and then the latter demanded another plot suitable for building a synagogue in exchange for the land. The vizier had to give him his, and soon a synagogue was built on it, and a modern Jewish quarter (mahalla-kukhma) was established around it. And the pond was called Hauz-i-Bazur – “built with coercion. This did not prevent the inhabitants to take water from it for drinking for many centuries.
Bukhara Emir Kulbaba received the court title of “milk brother” – Kukeldash – for the fact that he managed to maintain good relations with several khans, who ruled at different times. With his own money he built one of the largest madrassas in Central Asia – Kukeldash (1569). It has 160 rooms for students. It looks so austere and stylish that one realizes at once: you have to study seriously.
The Magoki-Attori Mosque
The most interesting structure. It is believed that in its place there used to be a Zoroastrian temple of fire. But in the architecture of the mosque the fire-worshipper tradition is so strong that one feels just in front of the Zoroastrian temple. The building somewhat subtly resembles the Temple of Fire in Iran’s Yazd, the world’s main temple of fire worshippers, now in operation. But Magoki-Attori is much more beautiful. The first mosque here was built in the IX century, then it burned down and was rebuilt in the XII century, and in the XV again was destroyed and rebuilt in the XI. But the fragments of plaster carvings made in the 10th century can still be seen today, and the brickwork is a real masterpiece. The building is two meters below ground level.
must to visit.
Bukhara is characterized by trading domes – covered bazaars at crossroads. Here you can buy interesting and valuable things and admire how Bukhara beauties weave carpets. You can even try to do it yourself.
It was built by Ulugh Beg (1417) in the hope of making Bukhara not only a religious center, but also an academic one. Eighty students studied here at the same time. Apparently, the clergy held a good defense against the progressive scientist-astronomer, and he had to build a madrasah in Samarkand, which became the scientific capital. Still, Ulugbek Madrasah is very beautiful, and many talented philosophers have come out of its walls.
Abdulaziz Khan Madrassah
Madrasah is situated opposite Ulugh Beg, but was built two centuries later – in 1652. In contrast to the austere first, this madrasah shines with luxury.
Built almost 900 years ago, has never been restored. The diameter of its base is only 9 m and its height is 46.5 m.
Nearby are the Kalyan Mosque (1514) with its blue domes and the Miri Arab Madrassah. It was built in 1536 and even now is a religious school. Nearby there are cozy cafes from the balconies of which it is pleasant to admire the whole ensemble. The view is especially good in the evening sun.
The foundations date back to the 3rd century BC. It was destroyed and rebuilt again, it remembers the siege of Genghis Khan in XIII century, Ferdowsi, Rudaki, Avicenna, Omar Khayyam lived here. In 1920 it was badly damaged by bombs, throwing them from airplanes on the head of the last khan of Bukhara. Now it is a big museum.
Mosque of the Forty Pillars (Bolo House).
Actually there are 20 of them, but another 20 are reflected in the water of Bolo-Hauz, a pool that served as a storage tank for drinking water. The elegant mosque was built in the 17th century for the emir himself. It is active and on Fridays so many men pray there that even the square in front of the mosque is full. On other days you can freely go inside, it is very nice, quiet and peaceful.
The most ancient monument of Islam in Central Asia (10th century), besides it is incredibly beautiful. Because of the complex brickwork it looks different at different times of day. Family tomb of Samanid dynasty.
It is extremely interesting because it is transitional from Zoroastrian to Islamic architecture. In addition, it has a roof, and Islam forbids it. So the mausoleum is unique in every way.
Chashma Ayub Mausoleum
If you have time, it is not far from the Samanid mausoleum.
It was built in the 12th century and completed by Tamerlane in the 14th century. In 1022 the scientist Hoji Hofiz Gunjori was buried here, then – several more prominent people. Now there is a museum of water, and in the source, created by Ayub (the biblical prophet Job) – healing water, which come from afar.
If you have time, is located in the northeast of Bukhara.
Unusual shape and unusual history. It was built by a Turkmen merchant on the Silk Road so that Turkmen travelers could stay there. Four minarets talk about the equality of all parts of the world and all people on earth. At the same time, all minarets differ from each other in shape and decoration, embodying the four world religions united by a dome – a common sky. This is the only entrance portal to the great madrasah that has survived to this day.
Sitorai Mahi-Hasa Palace (19th – 20th centuries) – “The Palace of the Moon-like Star”.
If time permits, is located 4 km north of Bukhara.
Suburban Palace of Bukhara Emirs, very beautiful. The buildings were built in places where fresh meat did not spoil the longest – an ancient win-win method. That’s why it’s comfortable here even in severe heat. Built for the wife of the emir – Sitoria. There are many beautiful curiosities in the palace: plaster carving on a mirror background, intricate decorations of the walls and windows, beautiful Chinese vases, as well as the legendary mirror, in which there are about 40 reflections. It is said that in the past the concubines of the Emir used to look into it: how many reflections a girl saw, how many rivals she had.
Saint Bahautdin Naqshbandi Complex (16th century)
If you have time, it is in 12 km from Bukhara.
It is a beautiful place which is very good. Muslim pilgrims from all over the world come here. The famous philosopher lived from 1318 to 1389, was the mentor of Tamerlane and founded the Sufi order. His motto was “heart with God and hands in labor. The complex was built for four centuries and today there are two mosques, a minaret, a madrasah, an interesting Sufi museum and a pond in addition to the tomb.
There is also a mulberry tree, to which there is a line of those who want to break off a piece. Also, you are supposed to crawl under it to make your wishes come true.
If you have time it is in 5 km to the south-west of Bukhara.
Started to be built in the 16th century. Mausoleums, madrasahs, mosque, khanaka, minaret, garden. Atmosphere of detachment, especially good in the far part of the necropolis, located to the left of the garden. Here are the tombs of women and the mosque, which makes you want to stay longer.
In Bukhara it is worth spending a few days wandering through the ancient streets, where people still live today. You can stay in the colorful hotels, arranged in the former madrassahs. For example, in the one called Mehtar Ambar.
Attractions marked “must-see” are written exactly in order, convenient for walking tours. To easily navigate in an unfamiliar city, install the Mapsme application on your smartphone, download the map of Uzbekistan and open the file with points of Bukhara. The file with the points is here. Save it on your smartphone to any location, and open it with the Mapsme app.
After the hike in the Fann Mountains, we went to Bukhara and Samarkand, the pearls of the East, these cities over 2000 years old. It is a mixture of Oriental color, warm hospitality and innate cunning :), the incredible beauty of mosques and madrassas, bazaars, where you must bargain to win, the heat of the day, the smell of spices, freshly baked cakes and ripe melons, dust carpets, many colors of clothes, the famous Bukhara ceramics and embossing, cozy courtyards and teahouses, crowds of tourists from around the world. You have to come back here for sure.
Going to Bukhara for a weekend: my personal itinerary
It has become fashionable to travel to Uzbekistan – have you seen Ksenia Sobchak on Instagram against the background of golden mosaics of Samarkand? The country, which a couple of years ago was frightening because of its weird customs rules and bad hotels, is becoming a landmark on the map of jet setters. I know where to fly for the sophisticated traveler, and I was happy to tell my colleagues at TheVanderlust about it.
As a rule, everyone wants to see Samarkand and its blue domes first. Those who have more time than a couple of days, go on a long tour of the country and go as far as Khiva, lost in the sands. But I offer you another, more comfortable way to discover what Uzbekistan is all about: find 72 hours and fly to Bukhara, the country’s liveliest and most intuitive city, which will not scare even those who have never been to Central Asia.
On this map, I’ve gathered all my addresses in Bukhara without holding back anything!
Day One, Friday. Hammam and hookah.
This is what the center of Bukhara looks like in the early morning
The Moscow plane lands in the afternoon – and before dinner you have time to recover and look around. It will take you 20 minutes by cab to the hotel (choose one of boutique hotels near Lyabi-Hauz square). From there you will take a 15 minutes walk through the old city to the medieval hammam “Hammam Kundjak” and then leave your things.
Inside the hammam almost nothing has changed since the Middle Ages
Hammams have always been an important part of the urban environment: at least 16 existed in Bukhara in the early twentieth century. Only two have survived – one for men and one for women. “Kundjak Hammam is a traditional women’s bathhouse where the wives and concubines of the Emir used to bathe, and where local women still come in the morning, for which it is both a hobby club and a spa, and where the rites and rituals associated with childbirth are conducted. In the afternoon, the hammam welcomes tourists: expect about an hour of bathing procedures (tea drinking, scrubbing, massage, resting on heated stone slabs) and be sure to ask your bath attendant to tell you about the history and legends of the hammam. The manager of the hammam is called Hushwaht – give her my regards.
Read more about my hammam experience here.
From the Old Bukhara terrace – beautiful view of the city panorama
For dinner go to the restaurant Old Bukhara, the owner Sharif is one of the most advanced restaurateurs in Uzbekistan. He has a secret room with decent European wines (in case you don’t drink anything but Italian), though I recommend you try Uzbek wines like chardonnay and cabernet sauvignon with the Peri label. Be sure to order the salad “Shakarob” – thinly sliced tomatoes without skin, transparent rings of onion, purple basil, which in Uzbekistan is called rayhon. You won’t find a tastier salad in all Uzbekistan! The evening must end with Uzbek tea with lemon and sugar and hookah. Hookah, you say, is a strange entertainment from the noughties? You just have not tried a good hookah! I don’t smoke, but I couldn’t resist.
Day 2, Saturday. Residence of the last emir, shopping and lots of meat
The white hall at Sitorai Mohi Khosa. The walls are decorated with gancha – plaster carvings.
On Saturday morning, preferably with your guide and in his car, go to the country residence of the last Emir of Bukhara Sitorai Mohi-Khosa . Emir Mohammed Alim Khan was an extraordinary man – he studied in St. Petersburg, was close to Nicholas II, and was open to new trends. He ruled Bukhara until 1920, and he did not have time to spend much time in the palace, which was completed by 1918. Strange mixture of Eastern and European style in architecture (the lions at the porch alone!), gorgeous interiors with technical innovations of that time (just imagine, the emir had a mini-bar!), an interesting collection of suzane from different regions of the country, a selection of clothes and shoes of bygone times and a beautiful park with peacocks – make sure you have at least an hour and a half for the palace.
The dining hall in the Old House restaurant gives an idea of how the living rooms in Bukhara houses were decorated
Back in the center, go to the Old House Restaurant, which occupies an old Jewish house, for lunch. Such houses are the most valuable objects in the Bukhara real estate market, they are now transformed into hotels and restaurants. The Old House was one of the pioneers. Consider the carved dish niches in the dining room, the rich paintings, the lace columns supporting the aivan, taste the samosa or plov…
Bukhara Shopping Domes – Medieval Shopping Centers
After lunch it’s shopping time. The entire historical center of Bukhara, which is under UNESCO protection, is a colorful oriental bazaar. In terms of shopping, Bukhara is the best city in the country. There are wonderful furs, first of all karakul, silver jewelry, embossed plates, hand-made fabrics, embroidered robes, knives with bone and horn handles, carpets, spices… I always go to Feruza for fabric and dresses; ask anyone in town and they will show you her store Feruza Ikat Store at Toki Sarraphone trading dome. Shopping domes in Bukhara covered road intersections for protection from the heat or rain. These medieval shopping centers are still active trade.
Check out Akbar Hakimov’s small family-run Akbar House Collection for a collection of national textiles. Have an amazing saffron tea with traditional Uzbek sweets at Silk Road Teahouse. Under the shopping dome of Toki Zargaron, find a shop with antique robes, where Alexander Vasilyev stocks his collection.
When the sun starts to go down, walk to Poi-Kalyan ensemble – a square with carved minaret (it’s 20 years older than Moscow!), with one of the most prestigious Miri-Arab madrassah in Central Asia and with Kalyan mosque with internal courtyard surrounded by galleries with hundreds of white slender columns.
Poi-Kalyan ensemble after sunset
If you stand so that you have the madrasah on your right and the mosque on your left, you will see the wooden terrace of Chasmai-Mirob . It has the best view of the city and the sunset in Bukhara. I don’t recommend ordering food (trust me!), but you can enjoy tea. Dinner is waiting for us elsewhere.
Chor-Bakr Chaykhana is a legendary place, one of the tastiest in Bukhara. Only advanced travelers get here, you won’t find tourists here. Most of the locals are here. There is a phenomenal way to cook meat (I hope you like lamb) on fire. The meat is accompanied by several kinds of flatbread, the simplest tomato salad with onions, suzma (or chakka, a sour milk product, something between yogurt and sour cream), tea. Wine is here, but not the best. On the way back to town, ask the cab driver for a ride to the Chor Bakr necropolis itself – its silhouette, illuminated in the dark, looks like something out of the pages of a Thousand and One Nights.
Third day Sunday. Bazaar, museum, strudel and dinner in a yurt.
Variety of Uzbek pastries at the bazaar.
Sunday begins with the bazaar! What to buy? First of all dried fruits and nuts: take the most ugly, wrinkled, dark, sun-dried apricots, whole walnuts without the shell, apricot kernels baked in ash. Wander between the rows of fruits, vegetables, tortillas… Pick up some bright orange Uzbek lemons. And do not forget to haggle and knock down the price by at least forty percent.
Samanid Mausoleum and its reflection in the smooth surface of the pond
Before lunch you can admire the Samanid Mausoleum (the oldest Bukhara building), learn the Uzbek version of the story of Job in the Chashmai Ayub Mausoleum, hear about the ceremonies of the Court of Emir in the Ark Fortress and solve the mystery of the 40 columns of Bolo Houz Mosque. Have lunch at one of the restaurants on Labi-Hauz square by the pond with swans – now that you know Ayoub Mausoleum, you know its history and purpose. Nowadays we look at the pond as an element of beautification, but in the past it was a part of the complicated branched water supply system of the city.
Bolo-Hauz Mosque or the Mosque of 40 Columns. Actually there are 20 of them – the number 40 in the name refers to the reflection in the water of the hauz placed in front of the mosque.
After lunch – Art Museum named after Kamoliddin Bekhzod. The two-story building, built in the early twentieth century, used to be the store of Savva Morozov. Now it is an art museum, interesting first of all for its collection of paintings by Uzbek and Russian artists related to Uzbekistan. The most interesting works are by Pavel Benkov and Mikhail Kurzin. I hope that you will be interested enough to decide one day to make your way to Nukus and the Savitsky Museum. Savitsky Museum with a phenomenal collection of Russian and Uzbek art of the first half of the twentieth century.
The facade of Abdullaziz Khan madrassah. According to one of the versions, it was here where yellow color was first used for decoration.
And if yesterday you were drinking oriental tea with spices, today I suggest you stop for coffee and strudels at Café Wishbone . Imagine that a German woman, Gertrude, once arrived in Uzbekistan, fell in love with Bukhara so much that she opened her first coffee shop there – with real coffee, strudels, and pies. During the season, which in Uzbekistan is April and May, September and October, Gertrude often hosts her own guests. Just around the corner is one of Uzbekistan’s most beautiful madrassahs, the Abdullaziz Khan Madrassah. Be sure to go inside to see what the country’s monuments looked like before the restoration – it’s very beautiful.
Inside Abdullaziz Khan Madrasah
Dinner is planned in an amazing place – a yurt. If you were going on a long trip across the country, you would have a chance to visit a yurt camp and see how everything is arranged there. It is good that there is a Sham restaurant in Bukhara – my driver, Uncle Borya, to whom this city is native, showed it to me. There are several real yurts on the territory of the restaurant, which even have air conditioning. Inside there are the usual tables and chairs (they know that not everyone is comfortable sitting on the floor on the kurpacha), the menu offers all kinds of meat. Ask to make a mix to decide which kind of kebab you like more, lumpy or chopped – it is common in Uzbekistan to call it ground.
Day four, Monday. All the things we didn’t get to do, and some more
In the doll studio.
The plane to Moscow leaves in the afternoon, so you have time for everything else you haven’t had time to do. For example, take a walk in the early morning, when the city is still waking up. Have breakfast with cheesecakes on the terrace of the Lyabi House Hotel and check out the old synagogue and marvel that Jews and Muslims have always lived peacefully enough in Bukhara.
Go to Iskander’s puppet studio and learn how to make puppet shows or see the unique Chor-Minor madrassah with four domes and rummage in the junk shop across the street. Wander around the mahallas and old neighborhoods and buy all the things you didn’t have time for.
Toss a coin into an aryk and wish to come to Uzbekistan once again and for at least a week!