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Chor Minor

East of the Old Town, one block north of M Ambar, is the Chor Minor, a stubby, brick-built structure with four turquoise domes. The Chor Minor (Four Minarets in Tajik) is one of the most charming and quirky buildings in Bukhara, all the more surprising because, built in 1807, it dates from a period of suffocating cultural stagnation. Photogenic little Chor Minar, in a maze of alleys between Pushkin and Hoja Nurabad, bears more relation to Indian styles than to anything Bukharan. The building, resembling an upside-down chair thrust deep into the ground, is merely the darvazakhana gatehouse of a madrassah (90 by 40 metres) built by the rich Turkmen merchant Khalif Niyazkul. If you view the building from the south you are standing in the madrassah courtyard with its former summer mosque to your left and hauz to your right. The only remains of the madrassah lie crumbling to the sides of the Chor Minor.

Strictly speaking, the four towers that sprout from the gatehouse are not minarets and they were never designed (or used) as a location from which the muezzin could call the faithful to prayer; these are simply decorative towers. The building was simply the gatehouse to a larger madrassa, the remains of which are scattered to one side. None of the structures has a gallery, precluding any call to prayer, and three of the four are purely auxiliary, only the fourth providing access to a first floor library, though there is now little to see inside. For a fee, the shopkeeper will unlock the door. The 17-metre towers are capped with sky-blue domes, and up until this century small spikes provided regular nest support for generations of migratory storks.

Each of the four minarets (towers) of madrasah has different form. In some elements of the decoration of the minarets such images as cross, Christian fish and Buddhist praying wheels can be observed. There is a view that using this particular artistic design the creators of the madrasah aimed to reflect the realization of four religious streams.

It is the only known building in Uzbekistan in this style, though it was possibly inspired by the Char Minar Mosque in Hyderabad, India, where its patron, the Turkmen merchant Khalif Niyazkul, is thought to have travelled.