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Bukhara Bazaars

- You're right, the head of the wise, - humbly replied Khoja Nasreddin, again loosening the belt. - My donkey really has many relatives in Bukhara, otherwise our emir with such orders would be departed from the throne a long time ago, and you, for your greed would get on stake!  Before the collecter came to ones sense - Nasreddin Hodja jumped on a donkey and disappeared in the near lane. "Quick, quick - he said. - Let it rip, my faithful donkey, let it rip, or your boss will pay another fee - with his own head!"

          (L.Solovev "Tale of Hodja Nasreddin")

None of the Oriental cities can be counted as a city without its bazaars and Bukhara is no exception. It has to be noted though that long before bazaars were ten times larger and played a much more vital role in people's life than now, and this is understandable: indeed, Bazaars were not only a bazaar place to buy & sell, but a kind of networking and entertainment source, prototype of modern radio and television, i.e. the main source of information. Among other things, there were various attractions: puppeteers, tightrope walkers, clowns, readers and others. In short, the bazaar was also the venue for various performances, and thus served as entertainment.

This is how O.A.Suharev described bazaars in his book "Bukhara, XIX - beginning XX c.": Paramount importance in the daily life of Bukhara was its bazaars. Bukhara bazaars were notable for their size, which was emphasized by travelers in the beginning of XIX century...

A characteristic feature of the city plan was to deploy the Central Asian city shopping center at the crossroads of major streets (no difference from today's High Streets in major cities) and erection of domed passages at this spot through which those streets pass. The building is to house multiple retail shops selling all type of goods...

Bukhara bazaar consisted of shopping malls, special buildings, malls (Tim and Tok), squares, each of which made trade in certain goods, and caravanserais ...

Except the large bazaars occupying the central part of the city, Bukhara has a lot of smaller bazaars. They were placed in madrassas Gaukushon (bozori Hodja). Small bazaars were present in all the city gates inside the city and outside...

Registan  next to a number of traders of soap and candles - they both together had 120 stores. Several traders of brooms. Here was located fodder bazaar (bozori Alaf), where was traded with fresh and dried alfalfa...

It should also be noted, a number of other specialized bazaars, which were deployed in the city: the mutton bazaar (bozori gosfand), the cotton bazaar (bozori goza), the bazaar cocoons (bozori Pilla), timber bazaar (bozori chob), little bazaar where there was a sale of boiled cream (bozori kaymok). in the early morning inhabitants of the surrounding villages brought these products to the city in large and small cups (Kosa, piyolas). 

We must pay tribute: This tradition has survived up to this day, every day, at six o'clock in the morning I wake up with shouts of vendors of this product ("kai-mok! Kai-mok" - they shout under windows of "five-story" building), and, quickly descending down the stairs, I bought fresh clotted cream for breakfast. There is no better breakfast than kaymok, fresh hot bread (lepyoshka) and tea (green or black). Every resident of Bukhara knows it, and every one of you can try it yourself. Breaking by hands into several parts a hot lepyoshka deliciously smelling with tandoor,  putting them in front of everyone sitting at the table. Leave yourself one of these pieces. Break off a small piece of it, dip it in the bowl of kaimak which is usually placed in the middle of the table (dasturhon), then lightly dip it in the sugar bowl and then send it into the mouth, drinking with a hot tea. It would be even more great, if there is a bowl of grape bunches "Husayni" or "shibirgoni."



From the Tok-i-Zargaron, the bustling commercial heart of the city snaked southwards through a street of shaded stalls, fortress caravanserais and domed bazaars to form one of the most colourful and cosmopolitan trading grounds in the Islamic world. From dawn to dusk an endless procession of supercilious camels, heavily-laden donkeys and creaking arbas crashed through bursting streets in a chaotic exchange of insult and barter. Turbaned Tajiks crouched in the dust, sparks flew from open workshops, deals were struck by secret handshake under outsized sleeves and agreements were sealed in wax by the rings of robed merchants. Saddles, ropes, gourds, skins, metal ewers, tobacco, tea and spices spilled out indiscriminately from dimly lit and cavernous stalls, melons hung individually from roofs and a small army of barbers, bakers, blacksmiths, tea hoys and shashlik sellers hustled to serve myriad local needs.

Yet behind the commercial chaos lay a tightly organized system of control, for taxation was a serious business in Bukhara, especially after the 16th-century boom in Bukharan-Russian trade. A sliding scale ranged from the traditional one-fortieth tax rate proscribed by the clergy for Muslim traders to an almost 20 per cent rate for Christian Russians. Emergency war taxes were regularly imposed, lastly by Mozaffar to light off the Russian invasion, and under Subkhan Kuli Khan (1681-1702) taxes were even demanded seven years in advance.

From Shaybanid times, the area west and north from Lyabi-Hauz was a vast warren of market lanes, arcades and crossroad minibazaars, whose multidomed roofs were designed to draw in cool air. Three remaining domed bazaars, heavily renovated in Soviet times, were among dozens of specialised bazaars in the town – Taki-Sarrafon (moneychangers), Taki-Telpak Furushon (cap makers) and Taki-Zargaron (jewellers). Now given over to tourist shops, they remain only loosely faithful to those designations today.

Five vaulted and domed bazaars (toks) take advantage of their busy road intersections, each monopolizing a separate trade to facilitate tax collection and each referred to simply by number. The structures were utilitarian but complex as they straddled convergent trade arteries and all were accessed by entrance arches high enough lot a laden pack camel. The northernmost and largest of the three remaining toks is the Tok-i-Zargaron (1570), or Jeweller's Bazaar, where gold, coral (especially valuable so far from the sea) and precious metals changed hands. At the northern end of the bazaar stands the affiliated Zargaron Mosque, positioned so that busy merchants were forced to waste as little valuable haggling time as possible en route to prayer.

South of the bazaar lay the huge Indian Caravanserai (now an empty square to the left) which sheltered a ghetto of resident Hindu money-lenders, forbidden to live with their families or other Muslims, and led onto a closed street of stalls or dukkans and caravanserais, constructed and rented out by rich merchants with a vested interest in the prime sites. Goods changed hands in over 40 bazaars, 24 caravanserais and also six tims (shopping arcade with only one entrance), of which only one, the Abdullah Khan Tim, remains. The Abdullah Khan was built in 1577 and was one of the most elegant trade halls in Bukhara where silk and wool was sold by Afghan traders, instantly recognizable by the tail of silk trailing from the left side of their turbans, in 50 stalls ranged around the cool central dome. Other tims dealt in killims, velvets and cotton. Continuing south down the main Shah Restan thoroughfare, the road was hemmed in on both sides by a wall of stalls shaded by mat coverings to produce a dark cool tunnel of trade.

The second main bazaar to have survived is the Tok-i-Tilpak Furushon, or Cap Maker's Bazaar, where gold embroidered skull-caps and karakul fur hats were displayed out of the heat of the sun and where Bukhara's most valuable books and manuscripts were sold in a series of 26 stalls. The bazaar, an especially complicated structure due to the irregular layout of its five mam spokes, shelters the tomb of the holy man Khoja Ahmed I Paran.

Bukharan trade was serviced by a wide array of auxiliary buildings eager to profit from the densely assembled crowd of potential punters and included craft shops, hotels and baths, examples of which are all located next to the Tok-i-Tilpak. The 16th century Bozori Kord bathhouse (hammam or hambom in Bukharan dialect) just to the north of the bazaar, one of an original 18 in the city, still provides its essential social service, though these days mostly for tourists, who should make an appointment. A bath costs a negotiable US$7 in sum, US$22 for the deluxe version with massage. Avicenna in his Qanun expounds the medicinal values of regular bathing and aromatherapy massage, a theme later expanded into an eleventh century code of public etiquette, the Kabus Name. The baths are sunk deep into the ground to preserve heat and form a series of halls clustered around a central skylit chamber.

Just opposite the baths lies the 16th century Bozor-i-kord Mosque, transformed from place of prayer to free-market boutique/art gallery, and the Museum of the Blacksmith's Art, a family of blacksmiths who have plied their ancient trade on this site for generations. At the side of the small museum do not miss the small door that leads off to the courtyard of the tiny Kulita Caravanserai. This unassuming bazaar ensemble is completed by the Magok-i-Kurpa Mosque (1637), the two-storied prayer halls of which now house several workshops.

From the Capmaker's Bazaar continue south along the old bazaar road to the soviet square formerly named after Mikhail Frunze (he addressed a mass rally here), past the row of four battered caravanserais and Magok-i-Attari Mosque to the right to reach the Tok-i-Sarrafon or Moneychanger's Bazaar. Here resided the Punjabi moneychangers, dwarfed in their stalls by huge piles of coins and notes, who would exchange Persian, Russian, Afghan and local currencies into the bronze pul, silver tenge and gold tilla that circulated as legal tender in Bukhara's bazaars. It seems they had a busy life - under the rule of Imam Kuli Khan alone (1611-1641) Bukharan currency was devalued 57 times. The bazaar was also home to Afghan and Armenian moneylenders armed with traditional tallysticks who, when left unpaid for too long, were wont to carve the embarrassing figure on a debtor's doorpost.

Also located around the bazaar is the Sarrafon Mosque (now a fashion shop), Sarrafon Baths (now the Hammom Restaurant), Nugai Caravanserai and Shah Rud canal. The southern end of bazaar street continues south to peter out around the ruinedjurabek Caravanserai, and east to the Saifuddin Caravanserai, another handicrafts centre.

Today modern businessmen echo the call of ancestral traditions: metal chasers haunt the Jeweller's Bazaar; dressmakers and their looms revive the sale of silk in the Abdullah Khan Tim; booksellers, embroiderers and Karakul milliners have set up shop in the Capmaker's Bazaar although free marketeers in the Moneychanger's Bazaar have been curbed by government policy.

Today modern businessmen echo the call of ancestral traditions: metal chasers haunt the Jeweller's Bazaar; dressmakers and their looms revive the sale of silk in the Abdullah Khan Tim; booksellers, embroiderers and Karakul milliners have set up shop in the Capmaker's Bazaar although free marketeers in the Moneychanger's Bazaar have been curbed by government policy.

Between Taki-Sarrafon & Taki-Telpak Furushon covered bazaars, in what was the old herb-and-spice bazaar, is Central Asia’s oldest surviving mosque, the Maghoki-Attar (Pit of the herbalists), a lovely mishmash of 9th-century facade and 16th century reconstruction. This is probably also the town’s holiest spot: under it in the 1930s archaeologists found bits of a 5th-century Zoroastrian temple ruined by the Arabs and an earlier Buddhist temple.

Until the 16th century, Bukhara’s Jews are said to have used the mosque in the even ings as a synagogue. Only the top of the mosque was visible when the digging began; the present plaza surrounding it is the 12th-century level of the town. A section of the excavations has been left deliberately exposed inside. Also here is a museum (working hours 9am-5pm) exhibiting beautiful Bukhara carpets and prayer mats.