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Notes on the Geography of Uzbekistan: Bukhara: Street Scenes

Time for a walk.

If you're one of those people who expect information from your guides, you'll be pleased to learn that by 200 B.C. the core of Bukhara had been laid out on a grid, with each quadrant subdivided into eight blocks.  Though obscured, that tidiness is still discernible today.  Residents by 1900, however, were less likely to identify themselves with a block than with a neighborhood mosque.  By then, the city had about 200 operating ones, and accordingly there were 200 quarters, officially recognized by the kushbaigi, the head of urban administration.  The quarters ranged in size from 20 to 70 houses, each with eight or ten people.

 

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Uzbekistan: Bukhara: Street Scenes picture 1

We're starting near the Lyab-i-Hauz, which is off to the right here.  In front of us it the Shah Rud, or Royal Canal.  It once brought water from the Serafshan River, but there wasn't enough water in the river to keep the flow continuous.  Instead, the river was ponded.  Several times a month, the dam was broken and the canal filled with water.  Branching through the city, it ran along the edge of the city streets, which made travel precarious, especially in wet weather, when the unpaved streets became very slippery.  The water itself was diverted to ponds, where it was stored.  Running water, however, never reached the gridded core of the city, because it was slightly elevated, which put it out of canal reach. 

Uzbekistan: Bukhara: Street Scenes picture 2

It was suburban Bukhara, the rabad rather than the medina, that enjoyed running water.  These things are relative, though. There was no separate drainage or sewage system, so the canals quickly became dangerously polluted.

The buildings in the background are part of the Russification that occurred in this part of the city in the 19th century.  The minaret is obviously modeled on the Kalan Minaret. 

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The Kalan Minaret rises over a courtyard.

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Vines in another residential courtyard obscure the Mir-i-Arab Madrasa.

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Still another courtyard, in this case of a house that's been converted to a B&B.

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How did the rich live in old Bukhara?  A good place to find an answer is the house of Faizullah Khodjaev, which is now a museum.  Like other rich houses, it's built around three courtyards: the sais-khanah, or stable; the tashkari, for visitors; and the ichkari, for the family.  The pictures here are of the rooms around the ichkari. 

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The wealth of a house was indicated not by how many garages it had but by how many roof beams.

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Here's an interior room with massive beams and the locally distinctive trim known as ganch, or carved and painted plaster.

Uzbekistan: Bukhara: Street Scenes picture 9

The entire length of the room is ornamented with ganch panels.

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Another example.  Khodjaev, by the way, became a Bolshevik, despite his upbringing as a wealthy young man.  The system turned on him in the 1930s, and he was executed--liquidated, in the preferred jargon..  In Soviet times the museum was billed simply as the "house of a rich merchant."

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Another room in the house.

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The other end of the room.

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An iwan, not particularly remarkable, except for the people inside.

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This is Bukhara's synagogue.

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On the two sides of the courtyard, boys and girls.

Uzbekistan: Bukhara: Street Scenes picture 16

Outside town: the Jewish cemetery, of which this picture captures only a small part.

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Another vestige of the past. It's called Chor Minor, or "Four Minarets," but as you can see there are no galleries in the towers--no place for a muezzin to call the faithful to prayer.  It's the gatehouse of a now-destroyed madrasa, built in 1807.  Now it's used--but you can guess--as a boutique.

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And here's an abandoned mosque.

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Go inside.

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It's the Volidoi Abdul Aziz Mosque

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There are stairs up.

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From the top there's a view out to the Soviet city.

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The Soviets made a point of modernizing the old city's street network, mostly by eliminating dead-ends.  It would be good for traffic if there was any.


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