Bukhara, one of the oldest cities in Central Asia, was already a town in the first millennium BC, it became important historically in the eigth century, when it was conquered by the Arab Abbasid Caliphate (709 AD/90 AH). Bukhara flourished both intellectually and commercially, and by the tenth century, under the powerful Samanid Dynasty, it became a renowned center of the arts and learning, especially the sciences and mathematics. The city's rich cultural heritage, commissioned by the patronage of its rulers, includes many architectural landmarks of the Islamic world. Recent excavations by the Uzbek Academy of Sciences have revealed that present day Bukhara is built up on layers of past settlements. By dating some of the discovered remnants that have been excavated, it is quite likely that Bukhara can be considered at least 2,500 years old.
Bukhara lies on a flat plain and is surrounded by semi-desert lands. It is situated on the edge of the Kizilkum desert and has a dry and arid climate. In the past, the Bukhara oasis formed part of a vast region of Central Asia which had been conquered by Alexander of Macedon. These events led to the forming of feudalism in the Bukharan oasis.
The new social system introduced a social hierarchy: the individual principalities were ruled by kings supported by armed nobility. The process of town formation became very active and the ancient settlements surrounding Bukhara developed into the towns of Varakhsha, Vardanzi, Ramish, and Kermine. All these towns followed a similar structural pattern, they all were made up of: the Ark (citadel), the Shakhristan -well planned residential; core, and a necropolis on the outskirts of the city.
Bukhara in this period followed the same layout and pattern of development. It sprawled over an area of forty hectares. The Shakhristan which was rectangular was cut into four sections by two crossing main streets which led to gates opening out on all four sides of the city. At the turn of the tenth century, Bukhara had developed into a major cultural and religious center. Bukhara was almost leveled by Gengis Khan in 1226/623 AH; few monuments survived the destructiveness of the Mongol hordes. Bukhara revived under the Shaybanid Dynasty in the sixteenth century, but it's importance decreased with the decline in traffic along the Silk Road. In 1753/1166 AH, Bukhara became an independent emirate and remained so until 1868/1285 AH, when it was incorporated as a vassal state under Tsarist Russia. Bukhara was forcefully taken by the Bolshevik forces after WWI; a number of monuments suffered great destruction during the bombardment.
The Namazgah or Namazgoh mosque of Bukhara, is an open air place with a monumental mihrab used for congregational prayers during important religious festivals. Known as musalla or festival mosques, namazgahs are open-air mosques capable of accommodating large crowds or camping armies and were often built outside cities, or along major roads. Bukhara's namazgah stands amidst orchards, to the south of the shahristan or the city proper. It is one of Bukhara's oldest surviving structures, and is contemporary to the celebrated Poi Kalan Minaret.
Originally constructed in 1119 under Qarakhanid ruler Alp Arslan Khan Mukhammad, the namazgah was significantly modified in three subsequent stages. The first stage, dating to the 12th century is a baked brick qibla wall, approximately 38 meters long. It consists of a central mihrab niche flanked by a blind arch on either side. The broad forecourt is thought to have been partially fenced in, to demarcate sacred territory. The space immediately in front of the mihrab may have been roofed, as seen in similar structures in Merv and Nissa.
The second stage consisted of the addition of geometric brick and terracotta decoration during the 13th century under Mongol Il-Khanid rulers. Timurid reign in the 15th century added decorative bands made of glazed tile. Astrakhanid rulers in the 17th century commissioned the final and the most extensive modifications. A new façade with a three-bay portico, centered about a pishtaq or a projecting portal was attached to the original qibla wall, raised on a stone plinth. A brick minbar perhaps replacing a wooden predecessor was added to the northern corner of the portico facing the congregation.
The namazgah's front elevation presents a horizontal skyline, with the central pishtaq screening the high central hemispherical dome. The adjacent secondary cells are vaulted and do not interrupt the dominant horizontal emphasis. The rear elevation presents a stepped buttress wall, reinforced by two cylindrical abutments. There is an octagonal hauz, or stepped lake made of hewn stone, to the north east of the qibla that was possibly used for ablutions. The namazgah is made of baked brick, terracotta and ganch, or alabaster panels, resulting in a predominantly monochromatic ochre composition. The incised terracotta panels, especially in the interior, bear traces of polychromatic decoration. The pishtaq is lined with blue ceramic bands with kufic calligraphy. Its tympanum is filled with interlocking stars stars and hexagons in blue ceramic. The structure exhibits extensive damage to its plinth and roof, caused by water seepage. Its relative remoteness to major tourist sites has resulted in its disuse and neglect.
Azizkhodjayev, Alisher. Bukhara: An Oriental Gem, 43, 50, 84. Tashkent: Chief Editorial Office of Publishing & Printing, 1997.
Borodina, Iraida. Central Asia: Gems of 9th-19th Century Architecture, 25, 119. Moscow: Planeta Publishers, 1987.
Michell, George. Architecture of the Islamic World, 260. London: Thames & Hudson, 1978.
Prochazka, Amjad Bohumil. Bukhara: Architecture of the Islamic Cultural Sphere, 95. Zurich: MARP, 1993.
Namazgah Mosque (Variant)
Namazgoh Masjid (Variant)
Masjid-i Namazgah (Variant)
Masjid-e Namazgah (Variant)
Festival Mosque of Bokhara (Variant)
Musalla at Bukhara (Variant)
Idgah at Bukhara (Variant)
Eidgah at Bukhara (Variant)
Namazgokh Mosque (Variant)
1119/513 AH; modified in 12th, 13th, 15th, and 17th c.