Bukhara History - Part 7

Architecture in the Samanid period

During the Samanid period the city consisted of several parts. The ark (citadel) was the most strongly fortified area. The citadel was completely walled, so that it was nearly impregnable because of its high and thick walls.

East of the ark, there was the fortified Shakhristan (the oldest part of the city). The suburb (rabad) also had walls and consisted of two parts: the inner rabad and the outer one. At the foot of the ark there was the wide Reghistan Square surrounded with offices for the 10 principal governmental entities (divans]. Hear this square a palace was built; it was most magnificent. Mukaddasi, who visited Bukhara in the late tenth century, said that it was the most spectacular that had ever been seen in the Islamic world. There also was a musalla (the place for holiday prayers) in the Registan square, but under the Samanids the urban population had grown, so that the old musalla could not cope with such numbers of people, so in 971 a new musalla was built at a half forasakh distance (3-4 km) from the citadel. Another royal palace rose on the bank of the Dju-i Mulian canal.

The only monumental structure that survived from the Samanid epoch in Bukhara is the Samanid Mausoleum which is the oldest Muslim memorial structure in Central Asia and the oldest building made of fired bricks from basement to crest. Bricks served as the only decorative material. With plain make-up (cubic, domed space) and comparatively small dimensions (10.75x10.75 m.), this mausoleum gives an impression of monumental stateliness but, at the same time, a feeling of harmony, lightness, grace, elegance, and taste. This mausoleum is recognized deservedly as a masterpiece of Central Asian architecture which, in S. Khmelnitskiy's opinion, is the most beautiful architecture in the Islamic countries, while the ninth-tenth centuries are the most brilliant period in the development of this culture.

In addition to its talented architects, there were many representatives of other crafts among the masters who lived in Bukhara. Between the ark and shakhristan near the cohgregational (Friday) mosque, there was a large workshop that manufactured beautiful fabrics and carpets to export to Syria, Egypt, and Rum (Asia Minor). According to Mukaddasi, prayer rugs, copper lamps, grease, wool, oil, and even bridles, manufactured by the prisoners were also exported.

Bukhara was also a venue at which coins were minted. In the tenth century Bukhara minted golden coins (dinars), silver coins (dirkhems) and copper coins (felses). Dinars were not circulated in large numbers and did not play a significant role, whereas dirkhems circulated in considerable quantity. Dirkhems were named after Ismail b. Akhmad - "ismai-lf. Being high-grade coins, they were used actively used in international trade; therefore, tenth century Samanid dirkhems can be found in Iraq, Iran, Transcaucasus, and frequently all over East and north Europe, including in Germany.

Under the Samanids duties were raised in dirkhems and gitrifi. However, if one can trust Mukaddasi, one could avoid the tax or ushra (tithe) collector. Apparently, tax-exemption was granted to some citizens of the capital in the late tenth century. It is not incidental that Mukaddasi wrote: "The citizens enjoy the justice of Sultan and dwell in stability and bliss."

Bukhara itself made contradictory impressions on Mukaddasi. According to his writings, this city was "blessed for those eager to get it, enlivening for those dwelling in it, kind to those who inhabit it. In this city cooking is pleasant, and baths are tidy, and waters are fresh, and streets are wide, and buildings are precious. It is good to live and sojourn in, abundant with fruits and madjlises (places for meetings). Plain people have a good command in fikh (jurisprudence) and literature". Also, however, he mentioned that the urban area was dense and crowded ("the most crowded city in the East"), the city was notorious for frequent fires, and an unfriendly climate ("now hot, now cold").