Bukhara, one of the oldest cities in Central Asia, was already a town in the first millennium BC, it became important historically in the eigth century, when it was conquered by the Arab Abbasid Caliphate (709 AD/90 AH). Bukhara flourished both intellectually and commercially, and by the tenth century, under the powerful Samanid Dynasty, it became a renowned center of the arts and learning, especially the sciences and mathematics. The city's rich cultural heritage, commissioned by the patronage of its rulers, includes many architectural landmarks of the Islamic world. Recent excavations by the Uzbek Academy of Sciences have revealed that present day Bukhara is built up on layers of past settlements. By dating some of the discovered remnants that have been excavated, it is quite likely that Bukhara can be considered at least 2,500 years old.
Bukhara lies on a flat plain and is surrounded by semi-desert lands. It is situated on the edge of the Kizilkum desert and has a dry and arid climate. In the past, the Bukhara oasis formed part of a vast region of Central Asia which had been conquered by Alexander of Macedon. These events led to the forming of feudalism in the Bukharan oasis.
The new social system introduced a social hierarchy: the individual principalities were ruled by kings supported by armed nobility. The process of town formation became very active and the ancient settlements surrounding Bukhara developed into the towns of Varakhsha, Vardanzi, Ramish, and Kermine. All these towns followed a similar structural pattern, they all were made up of: the Ark (citadel), the Shakhristan -well planned residential; core, and a necropolis on the outskirts of the city.
Bukhara in this period followed the same layout and pattern of development. It sprawled over an area of forty hectares. The Shakhristan which was rectangular was cut into four sections by two crossing main streets which led to gates opening out on all four sides of the city. At the turn of the tenth century, Bukhara had developed into a major cultural and religious center. Bukhara was almost leveled by Gengis Khan in 1226/623 AH; few monuments survived the destructiveness of the Mongol hordes. Bukhara revived under the Shaybanid Dynasty in the sixteenth century, but it's importance decreased with the decline in traffic along the Silk Road. In 1753/1166 AH, Bukhara became an independent emirate and remained so until 1868/1285 AH, when it was incorporated as a vassal state under Tsarist Russia. Bukhara was forcefully taken by the Bolshevik forces after WWI; a number of monuments suffered great destruction during the bombardment.
Recipient of the Aga Khan Award for Architecture in 1995.
The old city of Bukhara was founded 2,500 years ago. Within its ancient city walls and gates are 500 standing monuments: they include 24 madrasas, 48 mosques, 14 caravanserais, 9 mausoleums, 4 trading domes, the Ark citadel, and many hammams, old houses, and canals. The restoration programme began in the late 1960's under the USSR, and has been continued by Uzbekistan since its independence in 1990. The primary aim is to conserve the major monuments and landmarks in the centre of the old city, and to re-integrate them into the life of the bordering districts. Because most of the upgraded mosques, madrasas, mausoleums, and other monumental structures are no longer used as such, a new function was found for each. Some madrasas, for example, have been turned into craft centres, studios, and galleries. One has become a restoration institute where future restorers are trained. Other structures have had their old functions renewed. A caravanserai is once again a silk and cloth warehouse, and trading domes are renewed as active suqs. Among the great landmarks restored are the Samanid Mausoleum, the Mir-i Arab Madrasa, and the Kalyan Minaret. To open up the old centre, thereby allowing the monuments to be better seen, mediocre buildings of the 1950's were removed. Utilities have been upgraded, and the streets paved. Old Bukhara, no longer a derelict slum, is now a viable prosperous city. The jury believes that "the restoration of Bukhara sends a very strong message to the rest of the Islamic world of the need to restore and re-integrate old cities into new ways of life."