Introducing Bukhara (Buxoro)

Central Asia’s holiest city, Bukhara has buildings spanning a thousand years of history, and a thoroughly lived-in old centre that probably hasn’t changed much in two centuries. It is one of the best places in Central Asia for a glimpse of pre-Russian Turkestan.

Most of the centre is an architectural preserve, full of medressas, a massive royal fortress and the remnants of a once-vast market complex. The government has pumped a lot of money into restoration, even redigging several hauz filled in by the Soviets. Although the centre has become a bit too clean and quiet (‘Ye Olde Bukhara’ as one traveller put it), the 21st century has still been kept more or less at bay, and the city’s accommodation options go from strength to strength.

Until a century ago Bukhara was watered by a network of canals and some 200 stone pools where people gathered and gossiped, drank and washed. As the water wasn’t changed often, Bukhara was famous for plagues; the average 19th-century Bukharan is said to have died by the age of 32. The Bolsheviks modernised the system and drained the pools.

You’ll need at least two days to look around. Try to allow time to lose yourself in the old town; it’s easy to overdose on the 140-odd protected buildings and miss the whole for its many parts.