Top choice fortress

in Bukhara
Image by Zoonar RF / Getty Images

The spectacular-looking Ark, a royal town-within-a-town, is Bukhara’s oldest structure, occupied from the 5th century right up until 1920, when it was bombed by the Red Army. For centuries it was the residence of the emirs of Bukhara. It’s about 80% ruins but there are still some remaining royal quarters, now housing several interesting museums.

At the top of the entrance ramp is the 17th-century Juma (Friday) Mosque, with some beautiful stalactite carved column heads. Next are the former living quarters of the emir’s kushbegi (prime minister), where foreign ambassadors were received and now houses exhibits on the nearby archaeological sites of Paikend, Varakhsha and Romitan, once important Silk Road trading centres.

Second on the left is the oldest surviving part of the Ark, the vast Reception and Coronation Court, whose roof fell in during the 1920 bombardment. The last coronation to take place here was Alim Khan’s in 1910. The submerged chamber on the right wall was the treasury and mint, and behind this was the harem.

To the right of the corridor were the open-air royal stables and the noghorahona – a room for drums and musical instruments used during public spectacles in the square below.

Around the Salamhona (Protocol Court) at the end of the corridor are what remain of the royal apartments. These apparently fell into such disrepair that the last two emirs preferred full-time residence at the summer palace. The most interesting displays here cover Bukhara’s history from the Shaybanids to the tsars. Displays include a huge whip attributed to the mythical hero Rustam, the padlock that used to secure the Ark gates and a case used to make petitions to the emir. Another room contains the emir’s throne as well as portraits of the ill-fated British officers Stoddart and Conolly, who were eventually executed in front of the fortress on Registan Sq.