In all other parts of the globe light descends upon the earth, from holy Bukhara it ascendsTraditional saying
In the ancient streets of Bukhara history weaves itself effortlessly around the present-day lives of its people. Here you get a real sense of continuity. The world of the Silk Road caravans isn’t preserved in the aspic of Khiva; nor tucked into islands among the modern-day bustle of Samarkand; it is an ever-present backdrop to daily life. To walk these streets, duck through the low arches of the caravanserai and trading domes, sit for a while over green tea by the pool of Lyab-i-Huaz; this is what people of this city have done for centuries.
Just outside Bukhara’s Tok-i-Tilpak Furushon (the Cap-Makers’ Trading Dome) we came across a blacksmith sitting at his anvil. Metal work is one of several crafts for which the city is famous; there’s even a museum devoted to it. Most of the blacksmiths still work in this very traditional way.
Inside the dome we found several blacksmiths’ stalls, selling the traditional Bukharan scissors in the shape of storks and other birds. These are popular as souvenirs and of course we bought one.
At the height of its powers as a centre of trade, Bukhara had five great bazaars or toks. These vaulted stone buildings straddled the intersections of the various trading routes that converged on the city. Their great arched entrances were high enough to allow a laden pack camel to enter, and each was devoted to a particular trade.
The Tok-i-Tilpak Furushon
Three remain to this day, looking much as they would have done centuries ago. The Tok-i-Tilpak Furushon is the middle of the three and has the most complex construction, as it straddles not a simple crossroads but a meeting of five routes. Its irregular corners and arches once sheltered the stalls displaying the various styles of headgear favoured here: gold-embroidered hats, colourful skull caps, fur hats for the cold desert winters. Now like its neighbours to the north and south it houses craft and souvenir stalls, including the blacksmiths’ one.
To the north lies the Tok-i-Zargaron, or Jewellers’ Trading Dome, the largest of the three that remain. The building dates from 1570. It was the centre for the trade in gold and other precious metals, gems and coral. Nowadays it too houses stalls selling tourist souvenirs and spices; nevertheless it isn’t difficult to imagine it in the days when merchants haggled here and deals were struck, while camels and donkeys waited patiently as their heavy bundles were unloaded.
The Tok-i-Sarrafon or Money Changers’ Bazaar, is the smallest and most southerly of the remaining great trading domes. As the name suggests, this bazaar was home to the Punjabi money-changers whose activities were critical to the trade of Bukhara. Here traders from many lands would exchange their money for the bronze pul, silver tenge and gold tilla that made up the currency in use here. Also here would have been the stalls of the money-lenders, no doubt no less essential to Bukhara’s success as a centre of trade.
Bukhara was my favourite of the cities we visited along the ancient Silk Route in Uzbekistan; and no doubt I’ll get around to sharing more of the city in the future. For now I’m focusing on the trading domes and specifically on this blacksmith, linking to Cee’s theme of Metal.
I visited Uzbekistan in 2007