Thursday, March 29, 2012

Uzbekistan | Caravanserais | Vabkent Minaret | Tavois | Rabat-i-Malik

Before indulging in further Ambulations of Bukhara City itself I decided to wander north through the Bukhara conurbation and look for other monuments which pre-dated the Mongol invasion and managed to survive down to the present day. My first stop was Vabkent, seventeen miles north-northeast of Bukhara. When first Chingis Khan and his army approached the Bukhara Oasis they may well have  homed in on Vabkent’s minaret, which was visible for miles around and served as a beacon for caravans and travelers approaching from the north. Commissioned by Abd al-Aziz II, a member of a powerful Bukhara family during the time of the Qara Khitai Khanate (c. 1125–1218), the 127-foot high minaret, completed in 1198–1199, was the second highest in Mawarannahr, after the Kalon Minaret in Bukhara itself. The Qara Khitai, as you probably know, were a remnant of the old Khitan Dynasty in China—they also Controlled Most of Mongolia At The Time)—who had migrated west and established an empire in Inner Asia. They were Buddhists, with perhaps a smattering of Nestorian Christians among them, but they left the local people to whom they were suzerains practice their own religions, hence  this imposing minaret and accompanying mosque in Vabkent. The Mongols left it unharmed, although the mosque it was once attached to has long since disappeared.

 Vabkent Minaret 
Vabkent Minaret 
 Vabkent Minaret 
 Vabkent Minaret 
Vabkent Minaret 
Sixteen miles east of Vabkent is Tavois. In the thirteenth century it was large town or even city, but now it is a mere village overshadowed by the nearby modern town of Kizil Tepe. Up until the eighth century the town was known as Arqud. Arab invaders renamed it Tawais (“Endowed with Peacocks”) in 710 because it was here they saw their first peacocks—not a native bird of Arabia—in the gardens of the town’s prominent citizens. The town had a large Friday mosque, but by the time Chingis arrived the local fortress had fallen to ruins, already destroyed in earlier fighting between the various contestants for the Bukhara conurbation. The town was formerly famous of its Zoroastrian temple, although presumably it too had disappeared by the thirteenth century, by which time Islam had long since dominated the area.

Every autumn Tawais hosted a great trade fair which lasted seven to ten days. Merchants from all of Mawarannahr and the Fergana Valley attended this fair, which operated under one unusual condition: no item bought could be returned, even if it was later proven that the seller had engaged in illegal trickery and deception. Although probably in a hurry to get to Bukhara, presumably the Mongols took time to engage in at least a cursory looting of the town and to dragoon levies for the anticipated lengthy siege of Bukhara. Now, as in the thirteenth century, it marks the place where the cultivated land of the Bukhara Oasis abruptly ends and the desert steppe begins. 

Tavois, the current name of the village, is a corruption of the original Arab word Tawais.
Tawais was located just inside the great wall known as “Kanpirak”. This wall, measuring some 150 miles in length, had once surrounded the entire Bukhara Oasis. Kanpirak is supposedly an archaic term for “Old Woman”, which would at first glance seem an inappropriate term for a wall. One local historian points out, however, that “old virgin” might be a more accurate translation, in which case the term might connote that the wall was thought to be impenetrable. In any case, the wall was probably built in the fifth or sixth century a.d. Between the years 782 and 830 it was repaired and upgraded as a bulwark against the continuing incursions of nomadic peoples from the north. Maintaining the lengthy wall was an immensely expensive undertaking, however, and required enormous outlays of man-power. At the beginning of the Samanid era in the ninth century Amir Ismael famously declared, “While I live, I am the wall of the district of Bukhara,” implying that he would guarantee the safely of the area by force of arms and that expensive walls were no longer needed. The Kanpirak was henceforth abandoned, and by the time the Mongols arrived it may have been in ruins. In any case, neither Juvaini nor any other Persian historians of the thirteenth century even mention the wall and it proved no obstacle whatsoever to the Mongol invaders. Some commentators insist that ruins of the wall can still be seen at places, but local historians could not point me to any remnants and I was unable to find any traces of it. I apologize for this failure and will attempt a more diligent search during my next trip to Uzbekistan. 

Tavois also marks the beginning of the so-called Royal Road to Samarkand, further on east. An ancient trunk of the Silk Road connecting the two pearls of Mawarannahr, Bukhara and Samarkand, the route still serves as the main highway between the two cites. Eighteen miles east-northeast of Tavois are the ruins of Rabat-i-Malik, a immense caravanserai built by the Qarakhanid Khan Shams-al-Mulk Nasr (r. 1068–1080) for the use of merchants and travelers on the Royal Road. Nearby was a huge well of sweet water which would have slaked the thirst of the men and their horses (the huge brick dome which now covered the well was not added until the 14th century). 

The well, with 14th century brick dome
Entrance to the well 
Entrance to the well 
The huge portal of the Malik Caravanserai
Another view of the portal 
Detail of brick work on the portal (see Enlargment
Interior of the caravanseria, showing layout of the rooms. The entire complex measuring about 300 feet by 300 feet. 
These now-truncated columns may have belonged to a mosque in the middle of the caravanseria. 
View of the portal from inside the caravanserai.
Ruins within the caravanserai
Ruins of what may have been ovens

Wednesday, March 28, 2012

Uzbekistan | Bukhara | Kalon Mosque

The first big mosque in Bukhara was constructed in 713 within the walls of the Citadel. In 770 a new congregational mosque with accompanying minaret was built outside the Citadel, apparently on the site of the current Kalon Mosque. From the eighth to the eleventh centuries the mosques on this site was repeatedly damaged or destroyed by earthquakes and fires and subsequently rebuilt and enlarged. In 1121-22, during the rule of the Qarakhanids, a still larger mosque and minaret was built on the same location using wood from the previous structure. The minaret soon collapsed, seriously damaged the mosque. In 1127 the mosque was rebuilt yet again, along with the accompanying 153-foot high Kalon Minaret.

In the year 1220, on the 10th, or the 16th of  February, depending on whose account we believe,  the hitherto noble city of Bukhara Fell To Chingis Khan and his army. He and his son Tolui rode their horses into the big Friday Mosque on the site of the current Kalon Mosque, where Tolui dismounted and ascended the minbar, or pulpit. According to the Persian historian Juvaini, Chingis then asked if this was the palace of the Khorezmshah: he was informed by the imams in attendance that it was not the palace of an earthly ruler but the House of God. He too then dismounted and climbed up onto the pulpit. Although it may have been the House of God, he had more earthly concerns. The Mongols’ horses were hungry and must be fed, he ordered from the pulpit. The city’s granaries were opened and the grain dispensed for horse feed. Chingis’s men dragged the cases which were used to store Qurans out of the mosque, dumped out the sacred books, and used them as feeding troughs for their horses. Their horses having been seen to, they ordered up wine and dancing girls for their own entertainment. Soon the mosque rang with the sound of Mongol songs bellowed by the celebrating inebriates. 

Juvaini, although a scribe in pay of one of Chingis’s descendants, was a Sunni Muslim himself, and he could not keep a note of disapproval out his account of these carryings-on. Hitherto dignified imams, sheiks, and sayyids, he tells us, were made to look after the Mongol horses while their owners partied. When the bacchanalia was over the Mongols rode away, trampling under the feet of their horses the leaves of the Qurans which had been scattered around the courtyard of the mosque. At this point, an imam named Jalal-al-Din Ali b. al-Hasan Zaidi, “chief and leader of the sayyids of Transoxiania . . . famous for his piety and asceticism,” turned to an imam named Rukn-ad-Din Imamzada, “one of the most excellent savants in the the world,” and lamented, “ . . . what state is this? That which I see do I see it in wakefulness or in sleep, O Lord?” Apparently all of which he had just seen seemed like a nightmare to him. His companion replied, “Be silent: it is the wind of God’s omnipotence that bloweth, and we have no power to speak.” 

The mosque was totally destroyed in the fires that followed the Mongol sack of the city. It is not clear when a mosque was first rebuilt on the site. In 1539, under the Shaybanids (r. 1500–98), whatever structure did exist was replaced by a completely new mosque with 289 vaulted bays. This is the version of the mosque which has survived down to the present. 
The Kalon Minaret, center, survived the sack of the city by the Mongols and can be seen to this day. On the right is the entrance to the current Kalon Mosque. On the left is the front of the Mir-i-Arab Madrassa
Front of the Kalon Mosque
Another view of the front of the Kalon Mosque
Entrance to the Kalon Mosque
Courtyard of the Kalon Mosque. It can reportedly hold 10,000 people. 
Courtyard of the Kalon Mosque
 Courtyard looking the other way (Enlargement for a mes)
The Courtyard
Courtyard of the Kalon Mosque
Current Minbar (pulpit) in the mosque, obviously not the one mounted by Chingis Khan and his son Tolui.
Vaulted bays on either side of the Courtyard
Vaulted bays on either side of the Courtyard (Enlargement for a mes)
Vaulted bays on either side of the Courtyard
Graybeard fingering his beads in the courtyard
Dome of the Kalon Mosque
Bukharan Skyline, with the Kalon Mosque on the right 

Monday, March 19, 2012

Uzbekistan | Bukhara | Mir-i-Arab Madrassa

On the other side of the square from the Kalon Minaret and Mosque is the Mir-i-Arab Madrassa, built around 1535. The Shaybanid ruler Ubaydullah Khan reportedly used his share of the money from the sale of 3,000 Persian slaves to finance its construction. The project was carried out by Sayyed Mīr ʿAbd-Allāh, a Sufi shaikh from the Yemen (some sources say from Sayram in what is now Kazakhstan—take your pick) who arrived to Bukhara around 1515 and became Ubaydullah Khan’s friend and spiritual advisor. The finished madrassa became known as Mīr-i-Arab, another version of Sayyed Mīr ʿAbd-Allāh’ name. 

The madrassa was active from its founding until the 1920s. Only Arabic language was used in the study of theological subjects. Mathematics and the sciences were not encouraged and anyone caught reading secular history, literature, or poetry was immediately shown the door. The madrassa was closed down in 1926 and not reopened until 1946, when Stalin decided to  placate the Uzbek people by throwing then a few bones of religious freedom. The madrassa is currently active and hosts a hundred or more students who pursue studies in Arabic language and theology. 
 Mir-i-Arab Madrassa
  Entrance to Mir-i-Arab Madrassa
Entrance to Mir-i-Arab Madrassa 
 Decoration of facade
 The tomb of Sayyed Mīr ʿAbd-Allāh’—Mir-i-Arab—is in a room just to the left inside the front entrance. The tomb of his patron Ubaydullah Khan is just behind it. 
 Decoration in Tomb Room. Reportedly it is the original and not restored.
Detail of decoration in Tomb Room 
MIr-i-Arab Madrassa at night 
 MIr-i-Arab Madrassa at night
MIr-i-Arab Madrassa at night. A curious optical illusion is created whereby the entranceway looks convex instead of concave.

Friday, March 16, 2012

Uzbekistan | Bukhara | Kalon Minaret

I already mentioned that only two structures in Bukhara survived the invasion of the city by Chingis Khan in 1220: the Ismael Samani Mausoleum and the Kalon Minaret. The later is located right in the very heart of city, in a large plaza between the Kalon Mosque, the largest mosque in Bukhara, and the Mir-Arab-Madrassah. The current structure is 153 feet high, making it visible, some say, for as far as eight miles from the city. Chingis Khan, approaching from the north, no doubt had the Kalon Minaret  in sight as he zeroed in on the city. 

A Friday Mosque has stood on the sight of the current Kalon Mosque since at least the tenth century. The first Kalon minaret was built to accompany this mosque in 919, during the time of the Samanids, but it was destroyed by “an act of God”, perhaps an earthquake, in 1068. A wooden minaret was built to replace it by the Arslan Khan of the Qarakhanids, who ruled Bukhara at the time, but this structure later collapsed, reportedly killing many people who were worshipping in the mosque at the time. Another account claims the minaret was destroyed during one of the many sieges of city in the eleventh and early twelfth century.

In 1127 Arslan Khan ordered a new minaret (some sources say it was completed in 1127), one that would withstand any acts of either God or man. A foundation of mortar fortified with camels’ milk, egg yokes, and bulls’ blood was set forty-five feet into the ground and allowed to harden for two years. Then construction began on what would be at the time the largest fresh-standing tower in the world. Arslan Khan was overjoyed by this monument which glorified his city throughout the Islamic geosphere, but the architect, a man named Usto Bako, was dissatisfied by the end result: “The flight of my fancy was greater than the minaret I built,” he lamented. Reportedly he was buried 153 feet from minaret, the same distance as its height. 

Chingis Khan was reportedly so impressed by the minaret that he ordered his troops not to destroy it. Even to this day tour guides tell the story that when Chingis first approached the minaret he bent his head backwards to take it all in until the fur hat he was wearing fell off his head. The underlying theme of this story as told by Uzbeks is that Chingis was basically a country bumpkin from the steppes of Mongolia who had never seen the sophisticated monuments of an advanced civilization before and was thus amazed that human beings could have created it. This story may of course be completely apocrophal, but for whatever reason the minaret has survived down to the present day.

The Kalon Minaret, with the Mir-Arab-Madrassah on the left and the Kalon Mosque on the right 
 The 153-foot high Kalon Mosque
The current minaret stand on an octagonal base and has twelve separate bands of distinctive brickwork. Each band is different and the patterns never repeat themselves.
 The gallery at the top has sixteen windows
Another view of Kalon Mosque

Tuesday, March 13, 2012

Uzbekistan | Bukhara | City Walls

The dating and location of the various city walls which have surrounded Bukhara for the last 1500 years or so is an extremely complicated subject which has flummoxed many a determined investigator. Original sources are scarce, contradictory, and confusing, but the ever-resolute W. Barthold has waded into the morass and emerged with a short synopsis, although even this hallowed Orientalist at times displays a lamentable lack of cogency. Other secondary sources, including guidebooks to the city right down to the present day, only succeed in piling on more layers of obstrufication. 

We might assume that the city was protected by walls from the attacks of nomadic raiders and bandits as far back as the early Sogdian period, starting around the beginning of the Christian Era, and that the city was surrounded by walls by the time of the Arab invasions in the eighth century. We do known that the old pre-Samanid town, dating back as far as the time of Abu Muslim in the first half of the eighth century, had both a wall around the rabad, or outer town, and an inner wall around the Shahristan, or inner town. The rabat wall had eleven gates, but no accurate information is given about its length. These double walls was rebuilt by the Qarakhanid Arslan Khan Muhammed in first half of the twelfth century, again by Qilich Tamghach Khan in 1165, and finally by the Khorezmshah at the beginning of the thirteen century. The walls repaired or restored by the Khorezmshah were the ones encountered by Chingis Khan when He Arrived At The City In 1220

Yet the available accounts of Chingis’s investment of the city mention his troops besieging only one wall. This must be assumed to the Shahristan Wall. Perhaps the Rabad Wall was only intended to keep out bandits and small raiding parties and not a large and determined army like Chingis’s. Also, manning the outer wall  might have spread the available troops dangerously thin. Thus the military commanders of the city may well have decided to cede the outer wall to Chingis and set up a defensive ring on the shorter inner wall, which was also presumably stronger and higher than the outer wall. 

In the event, however, the Shahristan Wall was easily stormed by Chingis Khan’s army and was later completely destroyed. According to local historians not a trace of it remains to the present day. We do know however, that the vast cemetery (now Kirov Park) where the Ismail Samani Mausoleum was built was outside the Shahristan Wall, and inside the Rabat Wall. The Shahristan Wall must have run somewhere, therefore, somewhere between the Ark, or inner Fortress, and the Samanid Mausoleum. 

The city walls, now partly restored, currently visible just beyond the Samanid Mausoleum in Kirov Park, were built by the Shaybanid Dynasty in the sixteenth century and probably rebuilt and repaired in the eighteenth century. How closely this Shaybanid Wall follows the old pre-Chingis Rabad Wall is uncertain. In any case, these partially restored walls may give a general idea of the appearance of the walls Chingis faced when he arrived on the outskirts of the city in 1220.
Partially restored gate in the Shaybinid Wall
Shaybinid Wall
Shaybinid Wall
Another restored gate in the Shaybinid Wall
Shaybinid Wall
Shaybinid Wall
Modern Bukhara: Shaybinid Wall to the left; shopping center to the right