Monday, December 10, 2012

Uzbekistan | Bukhara | Magok-i Attari

Bukhara claims to be one of the world’s oldest cities. In 1997 the city celebrated its 2500th anniversary, although admittedly this date seems to have been chosen somewhat arbitrarily. According to archeological findings, the earliest levels of settlement in Bukhara date from somewhere between the fifth and second centuries b.c. A “large, sprawling settlement” and earliest manifestation of the Ark (Citadel) appear somewhere in this time frame. Whether they existed by the time Alexander The Great And The Greeks Swept Through The Region is unclear. An ark did soon appear however (apparently on roughly the same spot as the current-day Citadel). and by the third century b.c. it had been re-enforced with walls over twenty feet thick.
The current-day Ark is a much later structure, but it supposedly stands on the same site as the ancient arks of 2300 or so years ago. (Click on photos for Enlargements)
 At this time the Bukhara Oasis was part of the Bactrian Kingdom founded by the descendants of the Greek adventurer and centered around the city of Balkh (Bactria) in the current-day country of Afghanistan. In the second century b.c. nomads from the east known as the Yuezhi (also “Yüeh-chih”) occupied the land between the rivers. Later they expanded south of the Amu Darya and eventually established the Kushan Empire, from the first through fourth centuries a.d. a principal power in Inner Asia and what is now Afghanistan. Coterminous with India, the Kushan Empire was heavily influenced with Buddhism. Many Buddhist texts were translated into the Kushan language and from the Kushan into Sogdian and Chinese. Under the Kushans the first through fourth centuries a.d. Buddhism was introduced into the land between the rivers, although to what degree it flourished is unclear.

Archeological evidence suggests that the former Magok-i Attari Mosque in Bukhara may have been built on the site of a Buddhist monastery during the Kushan era. Magok-i-Attari, or Maghak-i Attari, means “scented pit” according to some renderings, or the “moque in the pit” according to others. The first rendering may refer to the aromatic herb markets once found in the area. Both renderings refer to the structure’s sunken structure, the base of which was lower than the surrounding area even in Sogdian days. Today the building remains in a sunken area approached from all directions by steps. The lowest levels of the structure date to at least as far back as the fifth century and maybe much further. The early use of the building is veiled in mystery, but it have have first been a Zoroastrian temple and later a Buddhist temple, or vice-versa. It or a adjacent structure, now missing, may also have been a temple to Moh, the lunar deity beloved by moon worshippers, myself included. Apparently it was converted to a mosque soon after the Arab invasion of Bukhara in the early eighth century. Nothing now remains of this early mosque. The southern portal, now the best restored part of the building, was built in the twelfth century by the Qarakhanids, who also built the Rabat-i-Malik, an immense caravanserai for the use of merchants and travelers on the Royal Road from Bukhara to Samarkand, and the Kalon Minaret. The Ashtarkanid ruler Abdulaziz Khan (r. 1645–1681), who also built the Abdulaziz Madrassa, updated the building to approximately its current configuration in 1546-47. The eastern portal is a twentieth century addition and clearly the production of a much more mundane era. The building now serves as a carpet museum.
Magok-i Attari. As can be seen, it is now ten or more feet lower than the surrounding area. 
The southern facade, added by the Qarakhanids in the twelfth century, with probably more additions by Abdulaziz Khan in the seventeenth. 

Portal on the southern facade
Details of the southern facade
Details of the southern facade
Details of the southern facade. The insert ornaments are thought to be Zoroastrian symbols. They were frequently incorporated in the designs of mosques and Other Islamic Buildings.
Details of the southern facade
Details of the southern facade
Inside the building is a archeological digging which reportedly goes down to the Zoroastrian and/or Buddhism levels of the building. 
I drooled over carpets now on display in the museum.