Ark Fortress of Bukhara

Ark fortress of Bukhara. Photo taken from above The Water Tower

The Ark fortress of Bukhara “Kukhandiz” is the most ancient, historical and art monument of Bukhara. It attracts millions of visitors of Uzbekistan every year. Travel agencies in Uzbekistan always putt this sightseeing as highlights of tours to Uzbekistan. Gani Travel, as local travel agency in Uzbekistan also recommend you to visit Ark citadel of Bukhara even you are not in Bukhara as tourist.

The Ark was built 2.5 thousand years ago maybe more than that. This Fortress was home for Ruler of Bukhara, its walls height is 16 to 20 meters. The Ark citadel looks like a polygon; it is stretched from the West to the East. The Fortress’ wall length is 789 meters and its area is about 4 hectares. As the result of architectural research proved the Fortress was founded in the 4 Th centuries B.C.

The history of the Ark Fortress is very interesting. M. Narshaxiy wrote in his book “Xazinai al- ulum”:  “The Treasure of the knowledge “that this fortress is very ancient and he attributes this fortress to the legendary period of Afrosiyob and Siyovush . Siyovush, son of king Kaykovus left his country because of the intrigue of his step mother; he came to the rich country which was in desert oasis. The daughter of local king fascinated him and he wanted to marry her. But King Afrosiyob threw out skin of bull-calf to him and put condition: He said: “Build fortress in this calf’s skin for me”. But Siyovush was also very clever and he cut the skin to long stripes and connected to each other and inside that circle he built a fortress. Later on, they slandered him and Afrosiyob ordered to kill him, Siyovush was executed near the eastern gate inside of Fortress. This place was holy for the Bukhara’s Zoroastrians’. And each Navruz they sacrificed a cock at that place, also People of Bukhara sang a song named “Muglar Faryodi”. The Ark Fortress was rebuilt and destroyed many times for the long period of its history.

After that, the Ark was ruined for a long time. Only Before Arab’s occupation it was rebuilt in 7 th century A.D. Buxorxudot Bidun rebuilt the walls and built a big Fortress, he ordered to write name of master on the peace of iron and hang it above the gate of the fortress. According to this legend, the fortress collapsed and they tried to rebuild it but they could not do it again. After useless attempts, Bidun called scientists to get advice. He built fortress in the shape of a big bear constellation on the 7 big stones. Finally the fortress was strongly built and it stood for many centuries. At that time the fortress had two gates, the Eastern gate was Guriyan and Western gate named Registon as square in front. Later on that gate was called also “gate of cut straw sellers”, there was a broad road between two gates. In 1976–1978 E. G. Nekrasova, a head of expedition studied this place carefully, according to her investigation; construction of the walls of fortress is like this;

FIRST PERIOD- antique the base and first muddy walls belong to 4 th century B.C, in the 2nd-3rd cent A.D they started to put bricks. At that time the area of fortress was about 2 hectare .Old bricks might be watched at the open place of the northern slope. There, Scientists found bones of animals and pieces of dishes.

SECOND PERIOD 4-5-8 centuries AD It was marked that period of strong construction which wall was built additionally 15-18 meter horizontally. The Fortress’s area became wide and came up almost to dimension of nowadays.        

THIRD PERIOD 9-13 centuries AD   At the period of Samanids dynasty (9the-10the cent AD) the area of fortress widened because of construction which was built in the Middle Ages (Trace of tower saved at the northern west until now).

During the Qorakhanids dynasty it was built often because of unsteady situation but they paid attention to the firmness.

Aggressiveness of Mongol’s warriors became terrible disaster for Bukhara. They destroyed everything on their way.

FORTH PERIOD 15-20 centuries AD. The size of Ark became small because they restricted construction of platform.

The Ark was like a city. Inside of it situated yards of Emir and his wives, relatives and officials. There are Emir’s yard- greeting rooms, reception room, neighborhood police station, stable for horses, basement for treasure, carpets, room for crockery, clothes, basements for weapons and arms, also dungeon, place for coins, 3 mosques, cemetery and workshop for jeweler .   

Qulli qushbegi or Qushbegi-bollo – prime minister lived always in castle. He governed emirate on behalf of Emir. He could not leave the Ark. His Family also always lived here. Likewise, secret head of Police- a head of cannoneer “To’pchi boshi” lived also at the Ark.

At the Ark were 80 Civil servants and employees of prime minister “Qushbegi”, 30-40 servants and employees of a head of cannoneer “To’pchi boshi”, 20 cooks and chefs, 10-12 goldsmith, 6-8 carpenters, 1-2 plasterers, employees of coin room, musicians, stockers, employees for bringing water and etc. All of them lived in the city and they were in the Ark only work time which was from morning till evening. At evening nobody stayed here.

There lived almost 3 thousand people in the Ark at the beginning of 20 the century.

All of buildings of the fortress are belong to Ashtarxanids’ dynasty and Mang’it’ dynasty. They were built from wooden framework, bricks and plaster (stucco).        

The first saved staff is the Gate of the Ark; it is faced to the West-Registon square. This Gate was built in the reign of Abdul Ahadkhan (1885-1911). Edges and middle of the gate was made from elm tree, but low threshold made from mulberry tree intentionally, because mulberry tree is durable to moisture. At the southern part of the Gate was small door.

At this palace, prime minister and a head of cannoneer prayed on Friday near the open gate. Here Emir’s Muezzin called to prayer and waiting other muezzins hearing him joined and whole Bukhara called to prayer.

The Gate was usually opened early in the morning. Outside of the gate there are pedestals, on each pedestal were two mounted guards, at night after closing the gate they slept there. At the Entrance of the Fortress was wooden ramp. Under it was a place with bugs. A big whip was hung on the gate. It was symbol of Bukhara’s Emirs. At the entrance were cannons on a small platform. Above of the gate where at terrace was hanged a big clock. At terrace was a group of musicians was singing tune. Listening tune people knew the time. The sons of Emir watched holidays and executions from there. Guilty people were punished with birch on a wooden ramp. To do such punishment police officers had to have Emir’s written allowance. Punishment with birch had two limits: 39 and 75 times. Sometimes, they punished with four mirrors punishment. Hitting with birch: they hit 75 times to backside and 75 times to chest and 75 times to two sides of guilty people. They used peeled birch taken from hard tree. The covered passage-way brings you to jam’s mosque called “Dolon”. Length of dolon is about 20 meter and width is 3 to 5 meter. The roof was changed in 1893, the first one was from fir tree and replaced one is from elm tree. There are niches on two sides of the gallery. On the right side there were guards and on the left side there are three room which were water room, sand room and room with bugs. Until 16th century in two rooms there were water and sand after 16th century they used these rooms as probation jails. In the third Bug room they kept very dangerous criminals.         

Jome mosque was built as a city block mosque in 18th century; it is composed of winter hall with four columns and terrace with twelve columns.  Columns made from elm trees. The last repair was carried out in the reign of Emir Olimkhan (1911-1920). Repair of the mosque was performed by plaster decorator Shirin Murodov and G’affor. And carpenter’s work was accomplished by carpenter Abdusallom. Emir and other people who could not leave the ark prayed 5 times a day at this mosque.

                                The courtyards of prime Minister.

A path toward courtyard of prime minister leads us to two yards. The first one: straight horde where lived a family of prime minister. And the second one: to left side yard where prime minister concerned with Emirate’s jobs.  The gate of courtyard was made from elm tree and the bottom from mulberry tree in 1904. This gate was closed from midnight till early morning. Visitors walked through gallery to courtyard. There were benches from burnt brick which servants sat on it. There is yard on left side where Russian ambassadors, visitor and servant of prime minister lived together. Shogirdpesha – this was administrative servant’s services. Their ages were different. Among them were people from 20 to 70 years old. After all, in the Ark were about 300-400 administrative servants services. Prime Minister used them to do works of different kind.  40 of them were always with Emir (on journeys, wherever he went). They were on duty every 15 days and changed turn with others. A head of administrative servant services was mounted guard who obeyed directly to Prime minister. There was one assistant deputy mounted guard. Most of them (100 people) did all different kind of jobs and always were on travels with Russian ambassadors and travelers sent from Russian Empire. They delivered orders and tasks as postmen to border mayors. At the entrance on the right side is place from burnt brick where administrative servants slept on carpets at hot nights of summer months. At embassy was a telephone, two telephonist always were on duty. The first telephone brought from Kagan to the Ark and later on it conducted to summer resident of Emirs Sitorayi-mohixosa, Shirbidun and other buildings.

This dome-shaped place is called “chorsu”, if we translate “chorsu” from Persian language it means four ways. Ways to jome mosque, stable for horse, greeting yard and throne hall.

                                     Ceremony hall- Throne hall

Peculiarity of this hall is that it is open air hall and surrounded with terrace from three sides. In 1920 revolution started against monarchy and the Ark was under fire during four day, at the end, buildings of fortress burned to dust. Nowadays all of the eastern part is archeological preserve.   

 The ceremony hall was built in 17th century. The place of throne called “shaxnishin”

Which the throne was made from g’ozg’on’s marble by master of Nurato in 1669.

The Ceremony of sitting on throne happened on “Julus” times. They did turkey-mangit ceremony which uzbek-mangit dynasty of Emir’s foundation. And they lifted Emir on white felt put him on marble throne. White felt, quilt and carpet were holly and saved at treasure basement of Bukhara.  Ceremony of sitting on throne was in the morning at ceremony hall. For this rite Emir put on special clothes embroidered in gold. These clothes worn by his ancestors at that ceremony. Those holly clothes saved at treasure basement and carried out one time in each Emir’s life. Golden crown and turban were decorated with expansive stones and golden chain.

Putting the Emir up on white felt was planned by Umpires, prime minister and other officials- that day was fortunate, lucky for all jobs and everybody gathered about 10:00 am in the morning. They put holly things: carpet, quilt and white felt near the throne. When Emir was ready then he came from Rahimxaon drawing-room. Emir was lifted by honorable and oldest officials and clergymen (about 70 people). There were holes filled with 92 golden coins near throne and those coins were given to visitors. The reason they put exactly 92 coins coz it was seed number of uzbek ancestors. After the ceremony one military man and one mullah read the last pray.

Then Emir gave charity for people of Bukhara. Paper and pencil was given to Emir and he wrote his first words as Emir and it was announced by prime minister. (For example, the last Emir of Bukhara’s emirate, Said Olimkhan reduced one tanga for tax of wheat bread, expense of gardens for half of it and he released 70 persons from dungeon.) 

After it they read fatiha and Emir went out the room, none of entertainment or banquet became.

The wall blocking the entrance called “g’ulomgard”, if we translate the word from Persian language it means “return slave”. There are two reasons that this wall is here. The first: Visitors and ambassadors and officials had to start bow from there until going near to Emir, when they went near to the Emir they had right to talk. After finishing conversation, they again bowed and walked rear from there until reaching the wall, when their back touched the wall then they could go out. It means that nobody could turn back to Bukhara’s Emir. Whoever turns back to Emir, it meant disrespect for Emir and he or she was punished strictly.

Sovereigns used this hall rarely that why it was decorated very simple.

The portal of the entrance was decorated with white, yellow and blue bricks in 17the century A.D. On upside of portal was written name of Prophet Muhammad and verset. There were 6 stumps at the southern and eastern part of throne; The Stumps buried distance of 3-4 cm strait to ground which golden and silver coins were made on them. And those coins carried in that basement which was treasure holding place of Bukhara’s Emir. Place for coins was like Jome mosque and there were 4 silver and 6 golden coin producing workshop. In each workshop worked 9-10 men.  At the throne hall have basement with two windows which kept treasure of Emirate, The Square of this place is 30 to 30 meters and height is 4 meter, golden and silver coins putted in the bags called “sanoch” made from hide. In each bags had exactly 10 and 5 thousand coins. The key of treasure holding place was always with treasurer. He couldn’t give it to others.

                                                   Greeting Hall                  

At the period of Sovereigns travelled though from the Throne hall and The Koran recite’s room, entering the room of the Koran recite and waited the queue. At the western side of greeting hall had two room size of 2×2 near the last 2 windows. In it stood a lucky person who did success the pilgrimage hand of Emir. Emir sat on quilt folded in four on low board near the 56 x 56 cm window. When window was opened, it started reception. Firstly, two “O’daychi” came out. Muezzins of Emir answered to visitors greetings: “vaaleykum assalom”. In this hall also had the wall named “G’ulomgard”( turn slave) it was destroyed during the revolution against monarchy. Everyday 300-400 people visited to Emir’s yard.

                                                Stable for horses   

At without terrace yard horses was fastened to individual pegs. And to horses were given barley and Lucerne in weaved textile strings.

There were about 15-20 horses. Horses; for “Ulaq” (a game played on horseback using a decapitated goat), for cargo “podanok, polongi”, horses for travel. There were 4 horses for Emir, 8 horses for cargo on travels, 8 horses for fast runner competition. Those horses were only here when Emir was in the Ark. Those entered structure of Emir’s Rikob, in Bukhara this word means that people were on travels with Emir.

There were 50-80 horses at the southern part of Prime Minister Courtyard outside of the Ark except Emir’s horses. There were all different kind of pedigreed horses: Lokayd horses brought from Hisor and later on during the Abdulahadkhan American horses were appeared there. There was one more stable at the eastern outside of the Ark. In it were 50 horses for administrative servants . At the second floor were secretaries who set up communication with Russian Empire by sending Letters. In stable has pantry that called “borxona”, generally there are three pantries in the Ark. They are: basement for treasure and the others situated near the Emir’s courtyard. 

In the pantry were kept very expensive various staffs: all different kind of textiles, silk, woolen materials and robes. There were about 15-20 thousand expensive robes. Those robes sewed from velvet, silk and embroidered in gold. In the pantry saved women’s clothes, quilts, and metallic, porcelain wares. There is basement under the greeting hall and inside it kept more than 2 thousand unused carpets.

There is beautiful sight from stable to “sandy square” (registon). This ground is at the eastern part of the Ark. And it was social centre of the city during the Arabian period. Until 13th century there were administrative buildings of devan (council of ministers). Later on those places possessed and filled with selling booth of bazaar. The stalls of dome of arms (toqi tirgaron) at the entrance of the ground, here was sold commodities of arm and weapon makers. At the centre was dome of flour’s sellers (toqi ord furushon). At the entrance of the Ark were mosques: mosques of high navy minister, “downstairs” “Poyand” mosque and national handicraftsman mosque .and it was the madrassah of gusfand bazaar’s butchers. There were barbers, drugstore, and stall of tea near the pond. There was the first hospital “dar ash shifo” and National experienced doctors healed the people with healing food and beverage.

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