Bukhara History - Part 15

Bukhara architecture

In pre-lslamic Bukhara, religious buildings were closely connected with the Avestan religion, which was a local version of Zoroastrian-ism. Along with Zoroastrians, Christians and Buddhists also lived in Bukhara (one suggestion is that the very name of the city is related to the word vikara, meaning «Buddhist shrine»). However, the religion of the magi (Zoroastrianism) was the most prevalent. Historians mention that numerous atoshdana (fire-worship shrines) were located throughout the Bukhara oasis, especially in Bukhara and Paikend. One of these shrines was situated in Bukhara's Shakhristan, in the Moh market, named after the moon deity. On popular festival days, clay and wooden idols were sold here. The fact that the Bukhara ruler himself sat on his throne near the temple attests to the importance of this ritual. Later on, the Magoki-Attori Mosque was erected on the site of the Moh Temple.Once Bukhara had been defeated by the Arabs, the first mosque was built in Kukhendiz.

Having overcome the consequences of the Arab conquest, the Bukharan rulers, especially the Samanids, implemented an extensive construction program. Palaces for the Emir, as well as his courtiers, military commanders, and feudal nobility, were built during this time. Official buildings were also erected, with a concentration in the West and the Northwest sections of Bukhara. Dikhkans street, (the Street of Nobles) was located in the West section of the city. Near the Ark, the Registan Square was built, where the palace of the Bukhar-Khudats stood even in pre-lslamic times. Under the Samanid ruler Nasr ibn Ahmad (914-943), the Emir's palace and ten divans (central authority bodies) were built here. Thus, the Reghistan became the governmental centre of the capital of one of the most powerful states in the medieval Orient.

A considerable number of the former suburban castles (keshks), situated northwest of Bukhara were included in the city limits under the Samanids as an aristocratic section of the city, becoming known as Keshki-Mukhan. According to Narshakhi, the cost of the land was extremely high. However, the Bukhara land owners, together with the Emir, built palaces not only within the city proper, but also in the suburbs. The most famous palaces were the Djui-Muliyan and the Kalai Allavian. The Muslim clergy became extremely influential during this period. Under the Samanids, many mosques were built in Bukhara, and madras-as were erected for the first time in this region. They have not survived, but it is known that the Farjek Madrasa burnt down, evidenced by the fact that wooden structural units have been found, as well as clay walls, columns, and a beam roof.

Regarding secular structures, mention can be made of trading buildings and caravanserais that played a significant role in international trade along the Great Silk Road, on which Bukhara was an important node.

Extensive construction activity was accompanied by progress in construction techniques. Massive buildings were still made of adobe (pakhsa), using clay and frame systems and flat wooden roofs. Objects of monumental construction involved some innovations; for instance, kiln-dried bricks were utilized in the brickwork of walls and the system of domes. The use of kiln-dried bricks made possible both greater durability and an ever-increasing scale of buildings, thus giving to many buildings an impressive artistic effect. Bricks were used as decorative materials, in addition to their construction function. Pattern-forming brickwork attached a rich ornamentalism of mostly a geometric type to facades and interiors. The process of kiln drying large-size slabs led to the emergence of ornamental terracotta, for which masters used geometric and vegetal patterns, along with inscriptions using the Arabic Kufi and Maskhi scripts. Gypsum and wood carving, as well as ornamental mural painting in interiors were common methods from pre-Islamic times, when such decoration was practiced. One further achievement in the field of architectural decoration of the eleventh and twelfth centuries was the application of glazed bricks and slabs and glazed ornamental terracotta.

Geometric patterns (girikh) dominated decorative practice from the tenth to twelfth centuries. This Arabic term refers to both the basic element of geometric patterns and the patterns themselves. A developed level of girikh coincided with the rise of mathematics and exact sciences in the Muslim Orient at that time. In particular, the study of geometry was applied widely in architecture. It was not only useful in developing pattern systems, but also the overall proportions of structures so that the buildings developed a sense of balanced oneness. To train skilled professional architects, it was necessary to master these methods. In Bukhara, architectural monuments built from the tenth through the twentieth centuries have survived to this day.