Travel writers, chroniclers and historians are in agreement about Bukhara city: Bukhara the Holy, Bukhara the Noble, the Dome of Islam, the Pillar of Religion, the beauty of the spirit, the most intact city in the hoary East, the most interesting city in the world. The region around Bukhara has been inhabited for at least five millennia, and the city has existed for half that time. Located on the Silk Road, the city has long been a center of trade, scholarship, culture, and religion. The historic center of Bukhara, which contains numerous mosques and madrassas, has been listed by UNESCO as a World Heritage Site.
Bukhara, one of Uzbekistan’s treasures, is a place rich in history and dramatic architecture. The city’s most famous landmark, the Kalyan Minaret (dating back to 1127), is the greatest remnant of truly old Bukhara; Genghis Khan destroyed most of the city, but left the minaret standing, supposedly because he was struck by its beauty.
The minaret, which draws visitors up its 105 steps to see a panoramic view of the city, was once the tallest structure in Central Asia. It has been called the “Tower of Death,” because, legend has it, executions were often performed by throwing the condemned from its heights. In truth, however, locals will tell you that only one such killing occurred from the tower.
Yet the city has witnessed some brutal executions; perhaps the most infamous were the killings of British officers Col. Charles Stoddart and Capt. Arthur Conolly in 1842. Victims of a misunderstanding between the Emir of Bukhara and the British government (which failed to supply its emissaries with the appropriate gifts and royal letters of introduction), the two were imprisoned in the Bug Pit at the Zindan (city jail), then forced to dig their own graves before their ceremonial beheading in front of the Ark (the Emir’s palace).
The Ark now houses a museum on the city’s history, and the Zindan is now a tourist attraction, showcasing such skin-crawling rooms as the Bug Pit, a torture chamber and the dungeons.
Muhammad ibn Jafar Narshakhi in his History of Bukhara (completed 943-44 CE) mentions:
Bukhara has many names. One of its name was Numijkat. It has also been called "Bumiskat". It has 2 names in Arabic. One is "Madinat al Sufriya" meaning - "the copper city" and another is "Madinat Al Tujjar" meaning - "The city of Merchants". But, the name Bukhara is more known than all the other names. In Khorasan, there is no other city with so many names
Persian prince Siyavush, who built a citadel here shortly after marrying the daughter of Afrosiab in Samarkand, is the traditional founder of Bukhara city, but its growth has for centuries depended largely upon its strategic location on the crossroads to Merv, Gurganj, Herat, Kabul and Samarkand.
The early town was taken by the Persian Achaemenids in the sixth century BC, by Alexander the Great in 329 BC and by the empires of the Hephalite and the Kushan. In Sogdian times the town was known as Numijent and later renamed after the Sanskrit word for monastery, vikhara. A major city in the Sogdian confederation, it remained a younger brother to the thriving merchant towns of Paikend, Romitan and Varakhsha (home to the ruling dynasty of Bukhar Khudats), until the storm of Islam arose.