History of Bukhara, jewel of the Silk Road

This article is also available in: Italiano

The history of Bukhara, a city of ancient and admirable workmanship, star of the ancient “Silk Road” together with Samarkand

The words of Ibn Battuta

“We finally arrived in Bukhara, to whom the Imam of the traditionalists Abu Abd Allah Muhammad ibn Ismail al Bukhari owes his name. Once this city was the capital of Transoxiana, but then it was destroyed by that accursed Genghis Khan, the Tatar ancestor of the king of Iraq, and today it is all in ruins, except for a few rare madrasas and a few markets. ”

The origins of Bukhara

According to the Shahnameh, the city would be founded by Siyavash, son of the Shah of Persia Kay Kavus, who due to the insane love caused to Sudabeh, his father’s new wife, was forced to take refuge in the land of Turan, finding shelter in Afrasiyab, which will make him marry his children Farangis, appointing him vassal of the land on which today’s Bukhara stands. Here Siyavash would have built the Ark of Bukhara, an imposing fortress that still exists today and which, according to the myth, was the place where Afrasiyab had him killed for fear of a conspiracy against him.

The Ark of Bukhara

Leaving aside the legend, according to recent archaeological findings the Ark would actually be the first city construction, but the area around Bukhara would have been populated at least since the 3rd millennium BC, initially by the Sapalli culture and then by the Indo-Aryan one, thanks to which formed the Sogdian civilization, which materially and officially founded the city.

From the Persians to the Arabs

Between 545 and 539 Cyrus the Great arrived here, who placed the whole Sogdiana near a new satrapy, which was later conquered by Alexander the Great in 329 BC. . With the death of the great Macedonian Bukhara, like all of Sogdiana, it will be placed under: Seleucids, Greek-Bactrians and the Kushan Empire, emerging above all as a place of faith and trade. In fact, it seems that once a year all the merchants of the area gathered here to exchange their idols for new ones, thus increasing their economic importance; it is no coincidence that the largest gold coin of all antiquity was minted here.


With the collapse of the Kushan Empire, Bukhara passed first to the Hephalites, then to the Göktürk and finally to the Arabs, who arrived here in the second half of 600 AD. , finding a remarkable variety of faiths. Bukhara had in fact become one of the most important strongholds for Nestorian Christianity and for Manichaeism, so much so that it appears to be the place in Central Asia with the largest number of coins with Christian effigies. Contrary to popular belief, the arrival of Islam did not immediately decree an immediate conversion of the entire population. More than a real military conquest, it was in fact a precious vassalage for the locals, as it allowed them to escape from being prey to the Tang dynasty, which dominated much of today’s China from 618 to 905; only after the Battle of Talas in 751 there was actually an exploit of conversions, gradually leading Bukhara to become one of the centers of Islam.

Samanids and Karakhanids

From 892 the city became part of the Samanid dominion, immediately becoming its capital. It is in this period that it acquires more and more international fame, becoming famous for the great Muhammad Bukhari, author of one of the largest collections of hadith (sayings of the Prophet Muhammad) ever. In 999 the Samanids collapsed and Bukhara was conquered by the Karakhanids, who will be fundamental both from an urban and anthropological point of view. In fact, they will build the religious complex of Po-i-Kalyan, one of the most beautiful and famous in the city, they will also invite Omar Khayyam to court and were a key element in the birth of the Hui, the Chinese Muslims. This is because, since 1070, the Shenzong emperor of the Song dynasty encouraged more and more Muslims to go to China as mercenaries to fight against the Liao dynasty, guaranteeing them the right to remain in those lands to repopulate them and thus giving de facto life to the first core of Hui.

The Po-i-Kalyan

It was then briefly occupied by the Chorasian Empire before falling prey to the Mongols of Genghis Khan in 1220.

From Genghis Khan to Uzbekistan

The Khan of the Khans took care of the conquest himself, being (relatively) lenient with Bukhara, as he killed “only” 30’000 Turks and set fire to a large part of the city, also taking care of its repopulation, bringing here many great Chinese craftsmen. Bukhara passed from hand to hand to all the descendants of Genghis Khan, returning to the ancient glories only with the Uzbek lineage of Shaybanids who, from 1500 placed it, as the capital of their Khanate; however, it must be said that, despite being called “Khanate of Bukhara”, the capital was located there for just 7 years, while the rest of the time was Samarkand, while maintaining this denomination. After the Shaybanids the city was conquered by Nader Shah in 1740, then maintaining a long political uncertainty resolved by the seizure of power by the Menghit dynasty; the latter definitively brought the capital back to Bukhara, giving life to the Emirate of the same name.

Muhammad Alim Khan, the last emir of Bukhara

In 1868 it was conquered by the Russians, who transformed the emirate into a Russian protectorate, allowing it to resist as an entity until the birth of the People’s Soviet Republic of Bukhara, a reality that lasted until 1924, when it was incorporated into the Uzbek Soviet Socialist Republic, then becoming part of today’s Uzbekistan.

Follow me on facebook, Spotify, YouTube and Instagram, or on the Telegram channel; find all the links in one place: here. Any like, sharing or support is welcome and helps me to devote myself more and more to my passion: telling the Middle East

Leave a Reply