Bukhara History - Part 1

The ancient city - Bukhara

The ancient city of Bukhara was for many centuries a major center of enlightenment and religion in the East. It ranked among other cities of Turkestan, such as Balkh, Herat, Men/ (Mary), Samarkand, Termez, Nasaf (Karshi), Chach (or Shash, present-day Tashkent), and Khorezm (Khiva) as a well-known center of trade and culture.

During the Middle Ages, Bukhara was the trading and administrative center of Maverannakhr. It lay on the Silk Road, the ancient international trading route that linked the countries of the Middle East to India and China. This route also served in wartime as a road for conquerors during their military campaigns. At other times, it served merchant caravans but also envoys, travelers, and dervishes.

Throughout history, Bukhara was periodically invaded, plundered and terrorized. Despite this, during the early Middle Ages, it became the primary center of science and enlightenment in ancient Turan. Religion and secular sciences (such as history, poetry, astronomy, medicine, mathematics, and jurisprudence)developed here. Great scientists and philosophers such as Ismail Bukhari, Abu AH ibn Sina, Marshakhi, Rudaki, Dakiki, Hoja Bahauddin Makshbandi, and many others led creative lives in Bukhara. Over the years, dozens of madrasas were erected for the education of thousands of students.

For centuries, Bukhara was famous not only for the development of science, culture and trade, but also as a large administrative center for Turkestan. It was the capital of the ancient state of Bukhara whose population was situated downstream from the Zarafshan (sixth to eighth centuries A.D.). It was also the capital of a number of other states, including the Samanid Dynasty (ninth to tenth centuries), the Sheybanid Empire (sixteenth century), the Ashtarkhanid Dynasty (seventeenth to eighteenth centuries), the Bukhara Emirate (eighteenth to twentieth centuries) and the Bukhara People's Soviet Republic (1920 to 1924).

Despite the fact that Bukhara is credited with many important historical events, there are few written records of its history. Although Bukhara is mentioned in some ancient sources, only the western section of ancient Soghdiana is referred to, not the city itself. A brief but more accurate description of the city is found in Chinese sources dating back to the early Middle Ages.

There is no accurate data on the age of this ancient city, known in the Muslim world as "Kubbat ul-Islam" and "Bukhara-i-Sharif." Written sources that have been preserved do not provide the information necessary to determine the exact age of Bukhara. Based on legends taken from Narshakhi's History of Bukhara, the people of Bukhara claim that the city has been around for three millennia.

Mukhammad Narshakhi's History of Bukhara, written in Arabic and translated into Persian in 1288 by Abu Masr Akhmad Kubavi, a courtier and translator from Ferghana, has been one of the most valuable sources of information about the city's history. Abu nasr Akhmad Kubavi asserts that Mukhammad ibn Djafar Narshakhi did not give credit to the chapter about the emergence of Bukhara which, according to Akhmad Kubavi, was taken from the Treasury of Knowledge, a medieval book by Abulhasan Hishapuri which has not survived. In this chapter, Abulhasan nishapuri elaborately describes the historic and geographic process that formed the Bukhara oasis along with its landscape, hydrography, flora and fauna, the hunting, fishing, and farming activities of the people, how the population of Bukhara got there, and where they came from.

According to Nishapuri, the people of Turkestan were attracted by the abundance of plants and animals. There was no the city as such but some villages (with names such as Nut, Kharkanrud, Vardana, Taravcha, and Safna Is-vana) were established. The History of Bukhara recounts that the western area of this territory was preferred for habitation. The people who came to the place where Bukhara is now situated initially lived in tents and yurts and, later, in houses they built for themselves.

Abulhasan nishapuri links the construction of the Bukhara Ark with a legendary Iranian prince, Siyavush. Siyavush ibn Kaykawus had fled from his father, crossed the Djeykhun River and was welcomed by Prince Afrasiab who then married him to his daughter. Afrasiab also granted him an apanage within the Bukhara district. Siyavush liked this place so much that he decided to build the Bukhara fortress where he spent most of his time. But, because of some provocation, Afrasiab killed Siyavush and buried him at the entrance of the eastern gate of Ark, "Darvaza Quriyan" (which means "The Maysellers' Gate").

Narshakhi recounts that after Siyavush had been killed, his son Kaykhusraw, longing to revenge his father's murder, summoned a large army and set off for Bukhara. Afrasiab found refuge in the Ramitan fortress, which Kaykhusraw besieged for two years. Kaykhusraw attacked Afrasiab from the Ramus settlement he built opposite Ramitan. Finally, Kaykhusraw managed to conquer the fortress and kill Afrasiab. This legendary ruler of Turan was buried on the Khadji Imom Abu Khafs Kabir hill near the Mabad Gate of Bukhara, narshakhi asserts that "these events occurred over three millennia ago".

Similar legendary data that hints at the age of Bukhara is scattered throughout the pages of narshakhi's book. As a tenth century writer said, "the townsfolk of Bukhara sang a mourning song called 'Kini Siyavush' - 'The Battle of Siyavush" narshakhi repeats that these events took place "a millennia ago." Thus, according to narshakhi, Afrasiab built Bukhara and Ramitan, Siyavush - the Bukhara Ark, and Kaykhusraw, a son of Siyavush - the Ramish fortress. If we take this date as the benchmark, then the age of the Bukhara Ark would be over 4,000 years while that of Bukhara would be about 3,000 years, but not 4,000 as the townspeople of Bukhara assert.

While talking about the date of the establishment of Bukhara, attention should be given to one more piece of trustworthy evidence attributed to narshakhi's book. It covers the period when Bukhara had not yet developed into an urban unit, narshakhi writes: "The population increased and one man was elected to be emir. His name was Abruy". Thus, the first ruler of Bukhara was Abruy, who was a historical figure, unlike Afrasiab or Siyavush. Sources mention that in the 580s he led a popular uprising against the ruling powers in Paikend. To suppress it, landlords from Bukhara and Paikend asked the Turkic Kagan Karachurin for assistance. Kagan Karachurin sent a large army under the command of his son Sher-i-Koshvar to Bukhara. In 586, the uprising was suppressed and Abruy was killed.

According to Narshakhi, Sher-i-Kishvar built the Shakhristan in Bukhara, as well as the Mamastin, Sakhmatin, Samtin, and Farab settlements. If the above-mentioned date can be believed, then Bukhara should only be about 1400 years old, not 3000 to 4000 years. Thus there are two contradictory dates for the founding of Bukhara.

In addition, Narshakhi talks about the settling of the Bukhara oasis. The author asserts that such big settlements as Vardana, Varah-sha, Paikend, Ramush and Ramitan are "older than Bukhara", Narshakhi writes that Vardana was a big settlement containing the Kuhandiz Ark, a fortified inner city. From "time immemorial" the rulers of Vardana - the Vardan-khudats - resided here. Vardana was founded much earlier than Bukhara. It was built by the Samanid prince, Shapur Khusraw I (531 to 578 A.D.) and situated on the fringe of Turkestan. Remnants of the old Vardana settlement, now known as Vardanze, have survived as a large hill. Vardana, riarshakhi believed, was older than Bukhara, having been built in the 6th century A.D.

The book mentions that rulers had residences in Varahsha and Paikend as well as Vardana. "The big settlement that was the residence of the shah bore the name of Paikend". The author implies that Kalai Da-busi (The Dabusi fortress) was a city. There are some books that use the name Ramitan Bukhara. "In ancient times, this was the rulers' residence and later on, after the emergence of Bukhara, rulers used it only as a winter residence. The same happened during its transition to an Islamic state." By analyzing Narshakhi's data, we may conclude that the Ramitan fortress was named Bukhara in ancient times.

It is important to note that Narshakhi gives contradictory information on who built Vardana, Paikend, Ramitan, Varahsha, and Ramush and when Bukhara emerged. This information rests on legends that circulated among folklore narrators. If the sixth century is accepted as the limit according to this valuable source, one can definitely assert that the author of The History of Bukhara had no idea about the earliest features of the history of the city or the age of Bukhara. The opportunity to resolve this problem came later, after archaeologists had conducted research on Bukhara and other old urban centers around the oasis, namely Vardana, Paikend, Varahsha, Ramitan and Ramush.