The Imperiia Project: a spatial history of the Russian Empire

Bukhara [1873]


Bukhara; a city that is as culturally and historically significant as it is ancient. The contemporary historical consensus, based off of exhaustive archeological surveys and excavations, is that the city of Bukhara was established approximately 2500 years ago. The “alluvial plains” formed by the Zerafshan River formed what came to be the Bukhara oasis. In an epic and continuous 3000 year transformation, this wetland area of marshes, lakes and wild weeds would transform into one of the cultural capitals of the East. But for this transformation and all of the consequential history to take place, the marshy area had to fill with soil to form a silt covered plain. It was this land mass that eventually came to be known as the region of Bukhara and which came to contain the capital city of Bukhara. Tectonic shifting in the twelfth to tenth millennia B.C. caused the Zerafshan River’s flow to be blocked by the Bukhara oasis. The oasis was quickly filled with a population of migrant people who used the land primarily for agriculture and cattle-raising. Archeologists have excavated graves from these ancient farmers which reveal a society that believed in an afterlife. The dwellings of early Bukharan farmers, called “Zamanbobo” were large sturdy huts made of pillars, compacted clay, and interwoven branches which housed nearly 65 people. These early Bukharan huts were found in the midst of a dam construction which likely inspired the development of early irrigation systems in the area. 

In the 18th and 19th centuries, Bukhara was known as the most important religious center of the Middle East--a characteristic which allowed it to attract many Muslim intellectuals and priests from the entire neighboring region. (Azizkhodjayev, 119)

Through countless fires, seizures, and transfers of power, Bukhara gained notoriety as a city that could not be destroyed (Azizkhodjayev, 28). It is, perhaps, more accurate to say that Bukhara was a city that would not be destroyed without soon being rebuilt.

The success and ingenuity of the early Bukharan farmers, which proceeded the development of the city of Bukhara, are indicative of the characteristic Bukharan spirit of endurance and ingenuity. 

Many cattle-raising people came to settle the Bukhara Oasis. These people first lived in yurts and huts and then began to build houses in what would someday be the city of Bukhara. It was these nomadic people who brought their tastes for the visual and musical arts to Bukhara. Ancient kilns and excavated artifacts reveal a strong culture of pottery, jewelry, and instrument-making that laid the groundwork for what would become one of the most aesthetically advanced cities of its time. 

Bukhara gained its nickname, “The City of Gates”, from the thick Ark for which the city was known. 

Because of the strong visual culture of Bukhara, it is hard to describe the city in any other terms. However, a short list of translated nicknames gives meaningful insight into the character of the city throughout time. Bukhara was referred to as “Copper City”, “The City of Merchants”, and “The Honorable City” by the Arab people. The “Copper City” alluded to the city’s fortress walls as well as its placement along the Silk Road. The name, “The City of Merchants” was a self-explanatory reference to the majority of the wealthier population who were traders. Perhaps most notably, the name “The Honorable City” was derived from the religious warriors who dutifully served Islam. 


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