29 October 2005

The Most Interesting City in the World


Samarqand is the beauty of the earth, but Bukhara is the beauty of the spirit.

Bukhara has a fairly similar history to Samarqand up till the Timurids. The Timurids didn't do nearly as much with Bukhara, but the Uzbeks who ruled afterwards made Bukhara their capitals. Bukhara is what it is today because of Abdullah Khan and his descendents.

Bukhara also had a thriving Jewish community for many years; almost all have emigrated to Israel. They used to make up 7 percent of Bukhara's population.

But one of the most fascinating things I've read about Bukhara is a description of everyday in the late 1800s. By this time Bukhara had declined quite a bit from its glory days in the 1500s. In the summer the only water source was often the open canals and pools throughout the old city- obviously less than sanitary. Nasty parasites were a real threat. The city government was thoroughly corrupt. Basically all the bad things about living in an old, relatively poor city were there. But George Curzon, an Englishman who traveled to Central Asia in the late 1800s said:

For my own part, on leaving the city I could not help rejoicing at having seen it in what might be described as the twilight epoch of its glory. Were I to go again later years it might be to find electric light in the highways. It might be to see windowpanes in the houses, and to meet with trousered figures in the streets. It moight be to eat zakuska in a Russian restautant and to sleep in a Russian hotel; to be ushered by a tchinovnik into the palace of the Ark, and to climb for fifty kopeks the Minor-i-Kalian....Already the mist of ages is beginning to rise and to dissolve. The lineaments are losing their beautiful vague mystery of outline. It is something, in the short interval between the old order and the new, to have seen Bukhara, while it still may be called the Noble, and before it has ceased to be the most interesting city in the world (quoted in Uzbekistan by Calum MacLeod and Bradley Mayhew, page 248).

This picture probably is better with the Samarqand post, but I couldn't get it to go up yesterday. But Ulugh Beg (his scientific achievments are represented in this picture) did build a madrassa in Bukhara and that's good enough for me.

We're hoping to visit a cemetery in Bishkek tomorrow. Pictures will follow, of course, if we make it.

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