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.
Popularly known as the Tomb of the Samanid, this early mausoleum was erected by the Samanid ruler sometime before 943/332 AH. An existing waqf document indicates that it was possibly built for his father. Although three bodies lie within, a wooden plaque identifies only Ismail's grandson, Nasr ibn Ahmad ibn Ismail or as-Said Nasr II (d. 943). Ostensibly the family crypt of the first local Muslim dynasty, it is possible that, consistent with popular nomenclature, the structure does indeed contain the grave of Ismail himself.
The baked brick structure describes a simple form: a slightly tapered cube capped by a hemispherical dome that is inset from the exterior face of the cube. The exterior surface decoration of highly articulated brickwork provides visual interest. Departing from customary stucco decoration, the use of allover decorative brickwork represents an important innovation. Each façade is identical, joining the next with semi-attached circular columns. Centered within each façade is an arched opening framed by bricks laid in basket weave, the spandrels composed of diagonally set end brick. A frieze of small arches on columns encircles the top of the cube forming a miniature arcade, the corners are punctuated with small domical forms that sit above the cube.
The exterior arcade frieze repeats on the interior as an internal gallery. Utilizing corner arches to facilitate the interior transition from the square plan to the dome constitutes another important innovation.
Grabar, O. "The Earliest Islamic Commemorative Structures." Ars Orientalis IV (1966): 7-46.
Hill, D. Islamic Architecture and Its Decoration, 49. Chicago: The University of Chicago Press, 1964.
Michell, G. Architecture of the Islamic World, 259. London: Thames and Hudson, 1995.