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Notes on the Geography of Uzbekistan: Bukhara: Poi Kalon

Poi Kalon means "foot of the great" and is the plaza at the foot of Bukhara's Kalon or Great mosque.  Facing the mosque and across the plaza is Bukhara's only functioning madrasa.

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Uzbekistan: Bukhara: Poi Kalon picture 1

We're approaching the Poi Kalon plaza from the Ark--not a great way to do it, because you have to run a gauntlet of souvenir shops apparently laid out by someone addicted to old Hollywood westerns.  Bet you can't get through without being pestered. That's the nice thing about pictures: we can calmly consider the--miracle of miracles!--Mongol-surviving minaret, built in 1127.  To its left is the Mir-i-Arab madrasa of the 1530s.  Just to its right is the great mosque, built by Ubaidullah between 1512 and 1539 and known familiarly as the Kok Gumbaz, or "Blue Dome."

Uzbekistan: Bukhara: Poi Kalon picture 2

The Poi Kalon with its minaret, 164 feet high and the surviving part of a mosque the Mongols otherwise destroyed; its successor is on the right.  The odd little cone at the top of the minaret is new.

If it all looks sterile, remember that this plaza was once a bazaar, filled with bales of cotton, people, and camels.

Uzbekistan: Bukhara: Poi Kalon picture 3

The brickwork of the minaret is a thing to behold--and reminiscent of the nearby Samani Mausoleum, coming up in the next chapter.

Uzbekistan: Bukhara: Poi Kalon picture 4

The mosque, modelled on the Bibi Khanum mosque in Samarkand, was built to hold the city's male population--say about 10,000.

Uzbekistan: Bukhara: Poi Kalon picture 5

The thousands of men crowding the courtyard and unable to see or hear the imam inside the prayer hall could rely on a second imam, who from the kiosk would relay the order of prayer.

Uzbekistan: Bukhara: Poi Kalon picture 6

The interior of the prayer hall is now very simple.  For decades the mosque was nothing but a museum, but recently a few people have begun coming back here on Fridays.

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The mihrab is one of the few bits of surviving color.

Uzbekistan: Bukhara: Poi Kalon picture 8

The madrasa and minaret, seen from the mosque.

Uzbekistan: Bukhara: Poi Kalon picture 9

The madrasa, also built by order of Ubaidallah.

Uzbekistan: Bukhara: Poi Kalon picture 10

It memorializes Sayyid Mir Abdullah as-Sairami, who is buried under the dome on the right.

Uzbekistan: Bukhara: Poi Kalon picture 11

The madrasa is closed to visitors, but a glimpse of its courtyard is possible from the top of the minaret.

Uzbekistan: Bukhara: Poi Kalon picture 12

So is a view of the domed arcade surrounding the mosque's courtyard. In the distance is the Ark or citadel.

Uzbekistan: Bukhara: Poi Kalon picture 13

An anti-photogenic view of the ensemble, taken from a street behind the bauble gauntlet. With its evocation of rubble, this picture is more accurate than prettier ones.

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