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The Ark Fortress


The Ark citadel is a massive fortress located in the city of Bukhara that was initially built and occupied around the 5th century AD. In addition to being a military structure, the Ark encompassed what was essentially a town that, during much of the fortress’ history, was inhabited by the various royal courts that held sway over the region surrounding Bukhara.

The Ark Fortress is large earthen fortification in the northwestern part of contemporary Bukhara. In plan it resembles a modified rectangle, a little elongated from the west to the east.

The ceremonial entrance into the citadel is architecturally framed by two 18th Century towers. The upper parts of the towers are connected by a gallery, rooms, and terraces. A gradually rising ramp leads through a winch-raised portal and a covered long corridor to the mosque of Juma. The covered corridor offers access to storerooms and prison cells. In the center of the Ark is located a large complex of buildings, one of the best preserved being the mosque of Uldukhtaron, which is connected to legends of forty girls tortured and cast into a well.

The Ark is built on the remains of earlier structures, which constitute a layer of twenty meters depth under the base arch, the layers indicating that previous fortresses had been built and destroyed on the site.

The first known reference to the Ark is contained in the “History of Bukhara” by Abubakr of Narshakhi (899 – 960). Narshakhi wrote “Biden, the ruler of Bukhara, built this fortress, but it soon was destroyed. Many times it was constructed, many times destroyed.”

The Ark was greatly damaged by the Bolsheviks during the brief siege of Bukhara in 1920 under the command of Mikhail Frunze. Frunze ordered the Ark bombed by aircraft, which left a large part of the structure in ruins. There is also reason to believe that the last Emir, Alimkhan (1880-1944), who escaped to Afghanistan with the royal treasury, ordered the Ark to be blown up so that its secret places (especially the harem) could not be desecrated by the Bolsheviks. And in fact the harem building did suffer great damage, being reduced to rubble to the extent that archaeologists have pronounced it incapable of restoration.
Regional Studies Museum in the Ark Fortress

At the beginning of the 20th century, the Ark Fortress was the city in itself. It housed the palace for rulers, offices for high-ranking authorities and military officials, craftsmen workshops, treasury, arsenal, homes for courtiers and their relatives, and storerooms for clothes, carpets, arms, and palace treasures. About 3,000 people lived in the citadel.

The eastern part of the fortress was destroyed in 1920 during the anti-monarchy revolution. Now it is an archaeological reserve.

In the eastern part of the citadel are the Battol-Ghozi khonaqo (18th c.) and the Childukhtaron (40 girls) mosque. The latter was built in the memory of 40 girls, who were slaughtered by emir Nasrullakhan’s order. In the southern part, one could find the Khonaqo mosque (19th c.) and the ruins of the emir’s bath.

Currently, the citadel houses the following departments:
-The history department (prehistoric period-the 20th century)
-The department of numismatics and epigraphy
-The department of nature of the Bukhara oasis
-“Literary Texts” exhibition

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