Siyavush and Afrasiab

The Legend about the founding of the Ark Fortress

The majestic Ark, serving as a stronghold of all the rulers of Bukhara, has its own history and legends. The Citadel was built on the remains of settlements, which lie at the depth of twenty meters below the Ark, in the archaeological layers of the early Common era. The Ark was repeatedly destroyed and rebuilt later. In the historical sources ("History of Bukhara" by Abubakr Narshakhi) Ark is also known as Kuhindis.

According to the legend Ark was built by the legendary hero Siyavush who married the daughter of the king of Turan Afrasiab, the legendary founder of Samarkand. The Legend of Siyavush and Afrasiab is described in many medieval sources, based on folk tales. Also, this legend is mentioned in Avesta, the holy book of Zoroastrianism, which dates from 7th-6th centuries BC. All these sources tell the following legend. Siyavush was the son of the Iranian king Kay Cavus and a Turan captive woman from a royal family.

Ark Fortress, Bukhara
Ark Fortress, Bukhara
Ark Fortress, Bukhara

After the death of his wife Kay Cavus remarried to Sudabe who inflamed with love for Siyavush. When she realized that he did not love her back, the queen became angry and defamed Siyavush before his father. Kay Cavus, believing his wife, drove his son out of Iran. And Siyavush arrived in Turan, the hostile territory, which was ruled by King Afrasiab. In the court Siyavush met Farangis, a beautiful daughter of Afrasiyab, and fell madly in love with her. Afrasiab did not want this marriage, and decided to make Siyavush refuse Farangis by stealth (not without reason in the Avesta

Afrasiab is referred to as “mairya”, which means a deceitful, insidious person). He set an impossible condition to Siyavush: if he wanted to marry a princess, he had to build a palace which would fit under the skin of a bull. Siyavush was even trickier. He cut the skin in thin strips, joined the ends together and built a palace within this boundary. Thus Siyavush outwitted Afrasiab and built a magnificent castle of Kangdez (or Kuhindis in Persian sources), which later became known as the Ark.

Siyavush’s subsequent fate was tragic. Afrasiab couldn’t accept the fame of Siyavush, and betrayed him, giving the order to kill him. However the justice prevailed, and, by the legend, Afrasiab was punished by his grandson, the son of Siyavush and Farangis, a legendary king of Iran Kay Kasrou.