Magical lands, sparkling nights, and fragrant bazaars come to mind when imagining the Silk Road. One of the stopping points of this ancient route, Bukhara is a 2,000 year-old treasure trove of its history. Onion-domed mosques, caravanserais, and 17th-century madrasas are elegant reminders of a time when this central Uzbekistan city was a crossroads for world trade and a center of culture, astronomy, philosophy, mathematics, and religious studies.
In the Middle Ages, Bukhara was one of the most prosperous cities in Central Asia and signs of its former glory remain. The fifth-century Ark, the oldest structure in Bukhara, was the residence of the emirs. Chinggis Khan was so impressed by the Kalon Minaret, a lofty feat of architecture dating to 1127, that he spared it when his troops invaded the city. The tapered minaret features 14 layers of patterns that swirl all the way to its stalactite-shaped top.
Your eyes will wander up to take in the absolutely dazzling display of tile-work on the facade of the Abdulazizkhan madrassa. Based on a Persian model, look closely and you will spot a Chinese dragon and a legendary Persian bird all created with intricate pieces of colorful tiles.
Visit the Museum of Wood Carving Art to learn about the people who decorated the mosques, madrasahs, doors, and tombstones around town. Bukhara’s textile industry made it renowned by travelers on the Silk Road. Today women still sit cross-legged on the floor and weave delicate patterns onto gloriously vibrant rugs. Silks, cottons, carpets, leather, clothing, and gold embroidery work are still produced by craftsmen who have been doing this for generations.
Tea houses buzz with lively conversations over cups of warm green tea, and markets brimming with nuts, dried fruits, and spices are an explosion of scents and sights. Men gather to play chess under the leafy mulberry trees in the Lyabi-Hauz Plaza, the social heart of town where a jade lake shimmers with the reflection of the Nadir Divan-Begi Madrassah’s beautiful arch. Nearby, the Jewish Quarter was once home to a thriving community with their own dialect and style of dress. In the evenings watch a traditional performance with live musicians accompanied by dancers in traditional garb, their graceful hand movements flowing with the melody.
Leafy trees and blossoming flowers add color to the courtyards. The smell of fresh bread wafts into the air, ferried by cyclists through the labyrinthine streets. Hear the morning call to prayer as it echoes off the dusty homes and get taken back to a time when Bukhara was a hub on the Silk Road.