The Historic Centre of Bukhara, situated on the Silk Roads, is more than two thousand years old. It is one of the best examples of well preserved Islamic cities of Central Asia of the 10th to 17th centuries, with an urban fabric that has remained largely intact.
Bukhara was long an important economic and cultural center in Central Asia. The ancient Persian city served as a major center of Islamic culture for many centuries and became a major cultural center of the Caliphate in the 8th century.
With the exception of a few important vestiges from before the Mongol invasions of Genghis Khan in 1220 and Temur in 1370, the old town bears witness to the urbanism and architecture of the Sheibani period of Uzbek rule, from the early 16th century onwards. The citadel, rebuilt in the 16th century, has marked the civic center of the town since its earliest days to the present,
Important monuments that survive from early times include the famous Ismail Samanai tomb, impressive in its sober elegance and the best surviving example of 10th century architecture in the whole Muslim world. From the 11th century Karakhanid period comes the outstanding Poi-Kalyan minaret, a masterpiece of decoration in brick, along with most of the Magoki Attori mosque and the Chashma Ayub shrine. The Ulugbek medresseh is a surviving contribution from Temurid. With the advent of the Sheibanids came some of the most celebrated buildings of Bukhara: the Poi-Kalyan group, the Lyabi-Khauz ensemble, the Kosh Medresseh and the Gaukushon medresseh in the Hodja-Kalon ensemble. Later buildings from this phase of Bukhara´s history include monumental medressehs at important crossroads: Taki Sarafon (Dome of the Moneychangers), Taki-Tilpak-Furushan (Dome of the Headguard Sellers), Tim-Bazzazan, and Tiro-Abdullah-Khan. In the early 17th century fine buildings were added, including a new great mosque, Magoki Kurns (1637), and the imposing Abdullaziz-Khan medresseh (1652).
However, the real importance of Bukhara lies not in its individual buildings but rather in its overall townscape, demonstrating the high and consistent level of urban planning and architecture that began with the Sheibanid dynasty.
Criterion (ii): The example of Bukhara in terms of its urban layout and buildings had a profound influence on the evolution and planning of towns in a wide region of Central Asia.
Criterion (iv): Bukhara is the most complete and unspoiled example of a medieval Central Asian town which has preserved its urban fabric to the present day.
Criterion (vi): Between the 9th and 16th centuries, Bukhara was the largest centre for Muslim theology, particularly on Sufism, in the Near East, with over two hundred mosques and more than a hundred madrasahs.
The property contains all the attributes that sustain its Outstanding Universal Value. Its boundaries and buffer zone are appropriate and adequate. Despite the insensitivity of much of the new construction from 1920 until the 1950s and earthquake damages, Bukhara retains much of its historic ambience and still has a largely intact urban fabric.
However, the integrity of the property is threatened by aggressive impact of salinity and underground water and by termites causing the erosion of wooden structures. In addition, large numbers of the outstanding earthen buildings are in some quarters extremely vulnerable due to the deterioration of the historic fabric.
Bukhara has preserved a great deal of its urban layout that dates from the Sheibanid period. Modern buildings have been erected in the historic centre over the past half-century that have destroyed the appearance of some quarters, but in others the medieval townscape has survived. The proportion of old structures, particularly the public and religious buildings, nonetheless remains high, and the historic centre is unquestionably of outstanding significance as an exceptional example of a largely medieval Muslim city of Central Asia.
In the context of regarding the Historic Centre of Bukhara as an entire entity – expressed through a variety of attributes including urban setting, form and design, use of materials and techniques, functions and tradition – some factors can be recognized as having the potential to impact adversely on the authenticity of the property, namely: (i) the diminishing use of traditional materials and traditional building techniques and introduction of new building materials, as well as new architectural details; (ii) inadequate documentation of major monuments and urban fabric; (iii) urban development pressures resulting in inappropriate designs of new structures.
Protection and management requirements
Relevant national laws and regulations concerning the World Heritage property include the Law on Protection and Exploitation of Cultural Heritage Properties, 2001. Current laws together with urban planning codes provide protection of monuments of cultural heritage and their buffer zones. These documents are reflected in the Master Plan of Bukhara city in 2005. In addition, the Cabinet of Ministers of the Republic of Uzbekistan approved special Decree No. 49 of 23 March 2010 “On State programme on research, conservation, restoration and adaptation to modern use of the cultural heritage properties of Bukhara until 2020”. At present this state programme is being implemented which provides an additional layer for the protection and conservation of the property.
Management of monuments of cultural heritage in Bukhara is carried out by the Ministry of Culture and Sports of the Republic of Uzbekistan at national level and Bukhara Regional Inspection for Protection and Utilization of Monuments of Cultural Heritage and local authorities at regional level.
In the framework of protection of cultural heritage of the historic centre of Bukhara, Cabinet of Ministries of the Republic of Uzbekistan adopted a State Programme for complex activities on research, conservation, restoration of monuments of cultural heritage of the Historic Centre of Bukhara and their adaptation to the modern needs for the period 2010-2020. Interventions are strictly regulated in order to ensure the integrity and characteristic elements of monuments. During the realization of the State Programme the monitoring of monuments will be carried out on a permanent base. A management plan, which should include a computerized database, a Master Conservation and Development Plan, a scientific monitoring system, an infrastructure plan, design guidelines, and guidelines and regulations for all tourist services, is required in order to sustain the Outstanding Universal Value of the property and balance the needs for sustainable development. To maintain the conditions of integrity and authenticity, a comprehensive conservation strategy needs to be in place, in particular, to remove cultural layers built on later periods and to reduce the surface of streets to their historical level. Another important aspect is to build capacity in traditional building techniques. At present Urban Planning Scientific-Research and Project Institute is developing a project of detailed planning of historic centre of Bukhara, which will further address these issues.
Bukhara, which is situated on the Silk Route, is some 25 centuries old. It is the most complete example of a medieval city in Central Asia, with an urban fabric that has remained largely intact. Monuments of particular interest include the famous tomb of Ismail Samani, a masterpiece of 10th-century Muslim architecture, and a large number of 17th-century madrasas. The historic part of the city, which is in effect an open-air museum, combines the city's long history in a single ensemble.
Archaeological excavations have revealed that the settlement on the site of latter-day Bukhara became part of the Kushan state as early as the 2nd millennium BC. In the 4th century it was incorporated into the Ephtalite state. Before the Arab conquest Bukhara was one of the largest cities of central Asia, owing its prosperity to its site on a rich oasis and at the crossroads of ancient trade routes. It became a major cultural centre of the Caliphate of Baghdad in 709, and in 892 the capital of the independent Samanid Kingdom. A time of great economic growth came to an end with the sack of the city in 1220 by the Mongol horde of Genghis Khan. It slowly recovered, to become part of the Timurid Empire. The internal strife of the late 15th century led to the occupation of Bukhara by nomadic Uzbek tribesmen led by Khan Sheibani, becoming the capital of the Bukhara Khanate. A long period of unrest and short-lived dynasties ended in 1920, when it was absorbed into the Soviet Union; nevertheless, this period saw Bukhara consolidating its role as a major commercial and cultural centre.
The townscape of latter-day Bukhara represents every stage of the city's history. The earliest monuments include the 10th century Ismail Samani Tomb, the decorated brick minaret of Poi-Kalyan from the 11th century, along with the Magoki Mosque and the Chasma Ayub Shrine. The Timurid period is represented only by the Ulugbek Medresseh. The most celebrated buildings date from the Shebibanid period - the Poi-Kalyan group, the Lyabi-Khauz ensemble, the Kosh Medresseh, and the Gaukushon Medresseh. A little later came the medressehs at important crossroads, such as Taki Sarafon (Dome of the Moneyshangers, Taki-Tilpak-Furushan (Dome of the Headguard Sellers), Tim-Bazzazan, and Tim-Abdullah-Khan. Among the fine buildings erected in the anarchic early 17th century must be included the great new mosque Magoki Kurns (1637) and the imposing Abdullah-Khan Medresseh. It should be stressed, however, that the real importance of Bukhara lies not in its individual buildings but rather in its overall level of urban planning and architecture, which began with the Sheibanid dynasty.
Archaeological excavations have revealed that the settlement on the site of latter-day Bukhara became part of the Kushan state as early as the 2nd millennium BC. In the 4th century BC it was incorporated into the Ephtalite state. Before the Arab conquest, Bukhara was one of the largest cities of central Asia, owing its prosperity to its site on a rich oasis and at the crossroads of ancient trade-routes. The ancient Persian city covered an area of nearly 40 hectares, with the ark (citadel), the residence of its rulers, in the north-west quarter (where it survives as a huge rectangular earthen mound).
It became a major cultural centre of the Caliphate of Baghdad in 709. In 892 Emir Ismail ibn Amad (892-907) created an independent state and chose Bukhara as the capital of the powerful Sarnanid kingdom. There followed a period of great economic and cultural growth, when the city grew enormously in size, especially under the rule of the Karakhanids from the 11th century onwards. In 1220 the city was sacked by the Mongol horde of Chinghiz Khan (1220) and was not to recover until the second half of the 13th century. In 1370 it became part of the great Timurid Empire, whose capital was at Samarkand. Bukhara was still the second city of Maverannahr, and building was renewed.
The late 15th century saw much feudal strife in the declining Timurid lands, with the result that Bukhara was occupied by Uzbek nomadic tribesmen led by Khan Sheibani, under whose dynasty it became the centre of the Uzbek state. The Bukhara khanate was assiduous in promoting economic and cultural development in its territory, and the city was the main beneficiary of the new construction that ensued.
In the centuries that followed the death of Abdullah Khan in 1598 there was a succession of short-lived dynasties and from the late 17th century the resulting weakness led to continual raids and pillage by neighbouring rulers. It was not until 1753 that Bukhara became the capital of a new Mangut dynasty that was to survive until 1920. During this period the city was a major trade entrepot for the whole of central Asia (although it was incorporated into the Russian Empire in 1868). In 1848 it had no fewer than 38 caravanserais, six trading arcades, 16 public baths, and 45 bazaars. Bukhara was also the largest centre for Muslim theology in the Near East, with over two hundred mosques and more than a hundred medressehs.