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Chasma Ayub

In and around Samani Park, west of the Ark, is an exceptionally important structure often overlooked by tourists in their bid to take in the big-name sites emblazened on postcards and souvenir tea towels. This is Chashma Ayub Mausoleum, which purportedly marks the spot where the Prophet Job struck the arid ground and a spring of pure drinking water miraculously burst forth, saving his followers when those around them were dying of thirst. The city grew up around this holy site, and this may be a reason why the city's early Jewish community chose to settle here.

In the days before Bukhara even existed, a millennium before Islam was even a glimmer in the Prophet's eye, the prophet Job came to the Zerafshan Valley and witnessed a great and terrible drought. As people perished of thirst around him, Job struck the dusty earth with his staff and a cool source of sweet spring water brought liquid salvation. Sudden appearance of a well had astonished the people by its vivifying spring and its crystal clear water. The Chashma Ayub, the Spring of Job, commemorates this site.  It is commonly believed that the water still keeps its clearness and herbal power.

Chashmai Ayub relates to the honored "track places" ("kadamjoy"), left as a heritage by sacramental people. According to the historical beliefs, cultic construction had already existed at this location before the 14th century. First erected in the 12th century, the plain and slightly austere mausoleum you see today was raised by Timur in 1380 to protect the sacred tomb below. Two domes, one suspended beneath the other, are designed to give the cupola the same appearance inside and out. The shape, atypical in the region, is thought to have been derived from the roof of a Khorezmian nomads' tent.

The present day mausoleum stands in fortress-like austerity, almost devoid of decoration, a few hundred metres from the Ismael Samani Mausoleum. It consists of four domed chambers, each built during a different epoch and topped in a different style of cupola to form a remarkable visual spread of architectural history. The construction suffered some losses, but the preserved parts represent a combination of a harmonious entrance portal, and adjoining it are the remains of the western curtain wall.

The construction layout of the portal is in a traditional pattern, made up in the form of two pylons, forming the niche overlapped by the semi vault. The II-shaped frame, the inside of which forms the obverse surface, tympanum, and ktoba, is finished with an inscription above the lancet arch. The northern part of the niche portal is a limited gable wall with a doorway. From the western end the portal is adjoined by a deep brick wall that measures 5.9 m, of which the western portion has been lost. The wall is in the form of a trapezoid with a large base. The central room is overlapped by the tent-peaked dome. Except for the proportions of the construction, this monument has well-considered and perfectly executed decoration, the basic part of which is concentrated on the portal. The most effective place in the general composition of the decoration is ktoba, filled with Arabic inscriptions on a background of botanical ornamentation. The portal frame on the external contour is marked by the II-shaped zone, strengthened by girikh from intertwining octahedrons, made of terracotta bricks. Glazed inserts in turquoise fill the central octahedral sockets. A tape borders the frame and ktoba. The historical value of the monument consists of the exact dating written on ktoba (1208-1209 .A.D.) or the 605th year of the Muslim Calendar.

Although the original construction dates from the 12th century rule of Karakhanid Arslan Khan, the earliest surviving dome was raised by Tamerlane in 1380 over the existing tomb chamber. This unusual conical cupola, rare for Transoxiana, has its roots in the nomadic tent designs of Khorezm and was most probably designed by architects forcibly repatriated by Tamerlane in the wake of his 1379 campaign to Gurganj (Kunya Urgench). Suspended underneath the conical cupola is a concealed second dome, so that from the inside the cupola looks much the same as its three later 16th century additions.

The entire view of the mausoleum emits the feeling of total calm and quiet contemplation: "Muslims do not die, they just pass from one gate into the other".

The commemorative complex is underscored by the almost cultish respect given to water in these harsh and arid climes, a theme adopted by the modern order into the present day Museum of Water Supply. Displays range from the time of the emirate, when professional water carriers sold inflatable skins of worm riddled water in the bazaars, to the ecologically overambitious schemes of the Soviet era, such as the Amu-Bukhara and Samarkand-Bukhara Canals. For most Uzbek and Tajik visitors, however, these soviet schemes stand dismissed as mere drops in the ocean and their object of admiration and veneration lies in the deep, sweet spring water of Job.

Just opposite the Chashma Ayub is the striking, new Memorial Complex of Al-Bukhari, the city's most revered son. The giant book cradled by a crescent represents the collection of hadith - the sayings of Mohammed - that Al-Bukhari spent his life compiling. The basic museum within entertains little English. Nearby is Bukhara's main bazaar, most active on Sundays and Thursdays, and once a regular home to a circus highwire.