Central Asia’s holiest city, Bukhara has buildings spanning a thousand years of history, and a thoroughly lived-in old centre that hasn’t changed too 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, minarets, a massive royal fortress and the remnants of a once-vast market complex. Government restoration efforts have been more subtle and less indiscriminate than in flashier Samarkand, and the city’s accommodation options are by far the best and most atmospheric in the country.
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, although it's most famous, Lyabi-Hauz, remains a cool, mulberry-tree shaded oasis at the heart of the city.
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.