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  • Day33

    Mosques, madrassas & minarets

    June 17 in Uzbekistan ⋅ ☀️ 32 °C

    It was a relief to finally arrive in the pleasant city of Bukhara- until we stepped off the bus into 35 degrees! Escaping into the cool of our lovely hotel, we were even more delighted to discover fully functional plumbing in our room. After a quick shower it was off to a football match between the local team and the hot favourites from Tashkent. It felt great to be experiencing a slice of life for a short while, instead of visiting yet another tourist destination. The match was pretty one-sided (5-0 to the visitors) but still good entertainment and the indigo blue sky as the sun set was spectacular. Females over the age of 10 were pretty much non-existent, despite there being no restrictions on their attendance. We'd got used to being stared at and photographed a while back.

    At its peak, the ancient city of Bukhara boasted 250 madrassas, 200 minarets and a mosque for everyday of the year. By this stage of our trip, we'd seen our fair share of each of these, as we travelled through the predominantly Muslim countries of Kyrgyzstan and Uzbekistan (as well as Western China). So it wasn't surprising that monument burnout was beginning to set in. However, Bukhara still had a few surprises in store for us.

    The 10th century tomb of Ismail Samani, founder of the cultured Samani dynasty, was one such surprise. Cleverly designed using basket-weave brickwork, it reflects the status of science in society at the time, with its mathematically derived form. There's a legend that if one particular brick was removed, the entire building would collapse. So it's basically a giant Jinga game! Apparently it survived the perils of the Mongols because Ismail instructed his army to cover it with sand. When Genghis Khan arrived, he found only a large mound. Clever!

    The Ark is the heart of ancient Bukhara, around which the city has formed. Fortified, destroyed and rebuilt many times, this complex of buildings became home to the emirs (leaders). From the roadside, with the cars buzzing by, this spectacular structure seemed quite otherworldly.

    A welcome afternoon rest from the oppressive heat, followed by a visit to the Kalon Minaret and Mosque (where I managed to lose my hat). At the time it was built (1127), the minaret was probably the world's tallest building. Apparently Genghis Khan was so awestruck that it was spared from the general Mongol destruction policy. The minaret was nicknamed the "Tower of Death" in the 19th century, when criminals were tied in sacks and hurled over the side.

    Dinner turned into a repeat of at least 3 previous experiences, in which my meal failed to materialize! "We don't have ...." I'm told, once the rest of the party has finished eating. Just as well there's plenty of bread!
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