Desktop version

Home arrow Sociology

  • Increase font
  • Decrease font

<<   CONTENTS   >>

Restoration of Bukhara Old City, Uzbekistan (awarded 1993–1995)

Bukhara is an ancient city, which was founded in the 6th century BCE as an outpost of the Persian Empire. Due to its central location in a fertile oasis, it was for centuries invaded, conquered, and occupied by many different peoples, all of whom left their mark on the culture, language, and architecture of the town. After the Arab invasion in AD 650, Bukhara became an important commercial centre due to its strategic position on the Silk Road. The residents of the town were a multi-religious mix of Turkmen, Persians, central Asians, Arabs, Jews, and other ethnic minorities. After the Arab conquest in 751, many of the residents converted to Islam. In 850 Bukhara became the capital of the Samanid Empire. The main language of communication was Persian. The Persians introduced many arts and crafts; their artisans, who specialised in ceramic tiles, pottery, delicate miniature paintings, and ornate floral decorations, soon found willing and eager apprentices ready to learn from these master craftspeople.

By the following century Bukhara was well established as the main central Asian hub for religion, scholarship, art, and culture. A century later the city was occupied by Turkic-speaking Karakanids. Many of the most beautiful Islamic monuments, madrassas, and mosques were built during their rule, which continued until the arrival of Mongols led by the fearsome Genghis Khan in 1226. Uncultured and wild, these hordes almost destroyed the city, but thanks to the resilience of its people, it slowly revived and once again began to flourish. The city was later conquered by the Timurids who, like previous conquerors, left their mark on the language, culture, and architecture.

Due to its strategic location on the Asian silk trade routes, Bukhara was able to reinvent and reassert itself to eventually become one of the most splendid cities in the Islamic world (Al-Radi, 1995). This pattern of invasion, pillage, survival, and revival continued for centuries as various tribes from central Asia sought to control the wealthy trading city. It became a khanate and then an emirate; in the 19th century, it attracted the rival interest of the Russians and the British. In due course, it became a colony of the Russian Empire. After World War I, Bukhara was occupied by the Russian Bolsheviks. For a short period, from 1920 to 1924, it existed as the Bukharan People’s Soviet Republic. Then in 1924 the city became part of the Uzbek Soviet Socialist Republic. In 1990, with the collapse of the USSR, Uzbekistan became an independent republic, and Bukhara became a provincial capital.

Bukhara is located about 500 kilometres southwest of Tashkent, the capital of Uzbekistan, and 200 kilometres west of Samarqand. The old city of Bukhara has 500 standing monuments, some of which date to the 8th century, within its walls (Figure 3.6). The buildings are usually made of brick, with a low skyline of two or three floor levels. Many of the streets feature tall minarets near or part of ancient madrassas (Elnokaly and Elseragy, 2013). Surrounding the walls of the picturesque old town, new Bukhara has many eyesores in the brutalism style of unattractive concrete high-rise hotels and government buildings, many of which were constructed during the Soviet period (Al-Radi, 1995). Despite such ugly structures, several ancient caravanserai are still in use as covered bazaars selling traditional crafts, goods, and carpets. Even the courtyards of some of the madrassas have been repurposed as market places and shops targeting tourists.

Proud of their ancient heritage and concerned about its decline and deterioration, the local community took collective action to reclaim and rehabilitate the old city. The main restoration objective was to conserve the major monuments and architectural landmarks in the centre of Bukhara Old Town and to integrate them into the fabric of life of the surrounding city. Key project elements included restoring major monuments and the areas around them as

Restoration of Bukhara Old City, Uzbekistan, by the Restoration Institute of Uzbekistan, Tashkent, and the Restoration Office of the Municipality of Bukhara

Figure 3.6 Restoration of Bukhara Old City, Uzbekistan, by the Restoration Institute of Uzbekistan, Tashkent, and the Restoration Office of the Municipality of Bukhara

Source: © Aga Khan Trust for Culture/Reha Gunay (photographer) well as demolishing the ugly Soviet-style buildings within the walls of the old city. This demolition enabled the creation of open spaces and squares within the old town, thus promoting visual integrity; in addition, many buildings, such as the caravanserai and madrassas, were restored to their original forms using traditional motifs, thus adding effective and relevant landscaping elements (Elnokaly and Elseragy, 2013). The restoration of a few singular monuments in Bukhara had started in the 1920s, after the Soviet occupation, but the major restoration programme for the old town began during the early 1970s. This was mainly for economic purposes and to promote tourism. The Institute of Restoration of the Ministry of Culture in Tashkent was tasked to revitalise the historic centres of old Uzbek towns, like Bukhara, Khiva, and Samarqand, by restoring, reconstructing, or upgrading the monuments. Each monument had to be given a functional role that was appropriate to its architectural image and spatial organisation (Al-Radi, 1995).

<<   CONTENTS   >>

Related topics