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Chor Bakr Necropolis

Chor-Bakr (16-th - 17-th cc.) is a necropolis in Sumitan settlement near to Bukhara, centered around the tombs of four brothers (chor meaning four), who were all said to be descendants of the Prophet. The brothers, Imam Sayid Abu Bakr, Ahmed, Fazl and Hamed, were all buried here in the late 10th century, and their graves were later adopted by a sect of Sufi dervishes who believed in the sanctity of the site. Their descendants - khojas of Juibar - were the keepers of esteemed burial places - mazars. (Khoja or Khwaja, a Persian word literally meaning "master", was used in Central Asia as a title of the descendants of the earliest four successors (righteous caliphs) of Mohammad (Abu-Bakr, Omar, Osmon and Ali). The khoja(s) often played, or aspired to play, ruling roles in Muslim community in Turkistan).

In the mid-16th century Abdullah Khan commissioned a khanagha, mosque and madrassa here, enabling the necropolis to operate as a fully fledged pilgrimage centre, and many local sheikhs, as well as Bukharan khans, were laid to rest in the vicinity. The crumbling streets lined with their mausoleums sprawl out from the central square, largely decaying and forgotten. The gatehouse through which you enter the site, and also the twin facades of the mosque and khanagha, which mirror one another, are in somewhat better repair.

Minibuses from Bukhara to Alat, Jondor and Karakul all stop in Sumitan, though if you expect to be travelling back later in the day you may prefer to go by taxi and to get the driver to wait for you: it's not always an easy place to get back from!


In 970 Imam Sayid Abu Bakr and his three brothers Fazl, Ahmed and Hamed, all direct descendents of the Prophet, were laid to rest in the village of Sumitan, seven kilometres west of Bukhara. They instilled the site with an immediate sanctity that soon attracted legions of the rich and famous clamouring to claim holiness by association.

The initial harbingers of the four (Chor) Bakr's holy entourage were the Khojorum sect of Sufic dervishes who based their brotherhood around the holy graves. From 1559-1563 Abdullah Khan commissioned the khanagha, mosque and madrassah that still make up the hearts and bones of the complex, as well as a series of outlying parks and pavilions that have since been lost. The complex was catapulted through the ranks of Bukhara's holiest sites and during the course of the following few centuries hundreds of family members of both the khan and the local dynasty of Juybar sheikhs were buried in a street of tombs reminiscent in layout, if not decoration, of the Shah-i-Zindah in Samarkand.

The complex is approached from a gatehouse and walkway that leads to the central square, dominated by the twin facade of the mosque (left), dervish khanagha (right) and connecting hujra cells of a madrassah and summer mosque. Decoration is sparse, concentrated mainly in the mosque tympanum and dome and khanagha dome, but the symmetry of the ensemble, linked by a belt of twin level loggias, lends it an imposing air. Buildings to the left of the mosque include defunct korikhanas and chillakhanas (places of retreat, especially for the sick) and also a functioning takharatkhana, or wash house, where pilgrims still perform their ablutions in individual cubicles. Two main streets of crumbling mausoleums lead off to the north and northwest and scattered tombs cover the surrounding area like fallen leaves. The tomb of Abu Bakr is said to be the one to the right of the walled passage leading to the west. The site crumbles in a shroud of silence that befits its role as the domain of the dead, but it is still infused with an air of unrestored grandeur that makes it well worth the visit.

Buses to Chor Bakr leave from the Talija bus station near the main bazaar, including the Bukara to Jondor, Karakul and Alat services. Those taking taxis should bargain for a return trip and ensure that the driver waits, as transport back to Bukhara can be elusive.