Bukhara, Uzbekistan

Jacobi's Stay in Bukhara: ca. December 5 to 6, 1932

A major center of trade, culture, religion, and scholarship on the Silk Road during the Middle Ages, Bukhara holds an important place in the history of Islam. The city’s splendor revolved around an astonishing array of Islamic monuments: 360 mosques, 280 madrassas, and 84 caravanserais (Marozzi 372). The historic center is now a World Heritage Site.

Referred to as the “Dome of Islam,” Bukhara produced some of the most well-known Muslim scholars, such as Bakhauddin Nakhshbandi (1318-1389) and Imam al-Bukhari (810-870) (Marozzi 366). Furthermore, during the Mongol period, Bukhara was the most important center of Sufism in Central Asia. Bakhauddin Nakhshbandi was a contemporary of Timur (r. 1370-1405 CE) and Central Asia’s greatest Sufi leader (367). Imam al-Bukhari produced one of the most well respected comprehensive collections of hadith, sayings of the Prophet Muhammad (366).

Timur had a personal connection to the city of Bukhara, as his mother was born in Bukhara and he spent his childhood in the city (Marozzi, 370). Bukhara was the second city of Timur’s empire, after his capital Samarkand, but Bukhara was the religious center of the empire (370). One of the most impressive pieces of architecture in Bukhara is the free standing minaret of Po-I Kalyan, or “the Great One,” also known as the “Tower of Death.” Built by the Seljuks in 1127, the tall structure (151 ft/50 m) towers over the city of Bukhara, making it easy to identify the city from a distance.

In 1511, the Uzbeks took over Transoxiana, the Roman name for the region in Central Asia between the Amu Darya and Syr Darya Rivers, inheriting much of the land and cities previously controlled by the Timurids. The leader of the Uzbeks, Shaybani, made Bukhara the capital of his empire, the Shaybanids (Stierlin 112). The Shaybanids drew on the style of the Timurid’s architecture, referencing Timur’s structures in their own buildings. The Kalyan Mosque built by the Shaybanids, between 1512-1539, has a layout similar to Timur’s Bibi Khanum mosque in Samarkand. Both complexes are symmetrical with axial structures and are entered into through a large pishtaq (Stierlin 113).  

Lotte Jacobi photographed a number of Bukhara’s Islamic monuments, many of which were in ruins when she visited the city in the fall of 1932 but which have undergone extensive restoration since the late 1960s. Her photographs also depict scenes of daily life on the streets of the city.

Contributor: Marina Schneider

Works Cited:

Bregal, Yuri “Bukhara iii. After the Mongol Invasion” Encyclopedia Iranica, Last updated Jan 1, 2000. http://www.iranicaonline.org/articles/bukhara-iii

Marozzi, Justin. Tamerlane Sword of Islam, Conqueror of the World. Cambridge, MA: Da Capo Press, 2004.

Stierlin, Henry. Islamic Art and Architecture. Thames & Hudson, 2002.