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History of Ark of Bukhara

Prehistoric Buchara situated on the Silk Road was considered for a long time one of the most important cities in the Middle East. The well-developed economic and cultural centre obviously required a fortress that would keep the city and its rules safe from various external enemies. Ark Citadel Fortress is of a similar age of Buchara itself and most likely the first attempts to form any fortifications inside the city were taken as early as in 500 BC, under the rule of Persian king Cyrus II the Great. Later, the fortress underwent a number of devastations and renovations, and by the turn of the 6th century it was already a quite massive citadel serving as a residence for local rulers. Over time, centuries-old layers formed as a result of previous earth and clay fortifications being destroyed transformed into a man-made hill, allowing Ark Citadel Fortress to overlook the plains.

The first written mentions about Ark Citadel Fortress appear in a manuscript titled The History of Buchara created in the 10th century by historian of the Middle East Abu Bakr Muhammad ibn Yafar an-Narshachi. According to this source, the fortress was erected at the end of the 7th century by a ruler named Bidun or Bandun, who held the title of a bucharchudat (literally, ‘the ruler of Buchara’). Te fortress had two gates and covered an area about 3 hectares large. It housed the bucharchudat’s palace, a Zoroastrian temple (a fire temple), guard rooms and the most important administrative buildings (the treasury, chancellery, prison etc.). With time, a shakhristan (a citadel, medina) was erected beyond the fortress walls, yet quite near. In the 8th century, the city was subordinated to the Arab rule, as a result of which the place of former Zoroastrian temple was taken by a first minaret in Buchara.

In the early 10th century, Ismail I Samanid, emir of the Samanid dynasty, made Buchara the capital city of his country. Under the Samanid rule, numerous new buildings were erected in the city (minarets, madrasas, caravanserai, etc.); also, the citadel was renovated and expanded. West of the gates of Ark Citadel Fortress a Registan was built – a palace where under the rule of emir Nasr II Samanid in the years 920-30 as many as 10 divans were constructed (administrative buildings housing various offices). Under the Samanids, Ark Citadel often served as a residence or workplace for the most prominent cultural activists and scientists of that era, such as poet Rudaki, philosopher and physician Avicenna (Ibn Sina), historian Al-Baladhuri and others. After the demise of the Samanid dynasty, Buchara was deprived of the status of a capital and was taken over by a Muslim dynasty of the Kara-khanids, under the rule of whom Ark Citadell Fortress was renovated twice at least. In the 1120s, on the order of Arslan Chan Mohammed, new fragments of the walls were erected and in the 1140s, Ali-Tegin rebuilt the keep after the destruction it suffered during a wartime conflict with Khwarazmshah Al ad Din Atsiz.

In the early 13th century, the keep in Buchara was one of the points of resistance during an uprising held by merchants and craftsmen led by Sanjar Malekshah. Following a successful suppression of the revolt in 1207 by Khwarazmshah Al ad-Din Muhammad II, he took over the keep. After all, slightly over 10 year later, the Khwarazmshah lost his power not only over the keep and Buchara, but also over all of his properties. In 1218, the haughty Khwarazmshah made a hasty decision that affected the course of world history: he ordered messengers sent by Genghis Khan with the intent to settle trade relations to be killed. This has led to a conquest of the Middle East by the Mongols when the greatest cities of this region fell to Mongol ordos. In 1220, the Mongols besieged Buchara, while its inhabitants took shelter behind the walls of Ark Citadel Fortress, but ultimately, the entire citadel was captured and destroyed as well. Soon, Mahmud Jalawach, a Mongol deputy in Buchara undertook to renovate it. In the 1370s, the keep experienced grave damage again when the city was captured by troops of Timur (Tamerlane).

In 1405, Tamerlane’s grandchildren Ulugh Beg and Ibrahim spent several months behind the walls of Ark Castle, concerned about struggle for the throne that arose after their grandfather’s death. In that period, the walls and gates of Ark Keep were renovated and strengthened. A subsequent renovation of the keep took place under the rule of Abd Allah-khan II of the Sheibanids, under whom at the end of the 16th century also numerous public buildings were built in Buchara. Various changes and additions made to the complex of Ark Citadel Fortress took place from the 17th to the 19th century, under the rule the Astrachanids and the Manghuds. In different periods within the premises of the keep new rooms and halls (a throne room, a ceremonial hall, a guest hall) as well as buildings (armoury, powder store, etc.) appeared to serve specific purposes. At times, old castle buildings were destroyed or taken into part for construction materials, as under emir Shachmurad at the end of the 18th century.

Nonetheless, the greatest loss to be suffered by the keep was that incurred in the 20th century during a civil war. After the last emir Said Alim Chan fled the city in 1920 following three days when it was stormed and air-raided, the city was captured by Soviet troops. For four days fire was raging inside Ark Citadel Fortress, as a result of which numerous historical buildings were lost forever. Additionally, the complex of buildings in Registan Square was completely destroyed. In the 1920s, the west wall of the castle was renovated, and various Soviet offices were formed in preserved buildings. Later, the centuries-old citadel was listed as part of the architectural-artistic museum-reserve in Buchara. Since 1970, excavations and archaeological studies of centuries-old cultural layers have been conducted in the premises of the keep. In 2000, massive-scale renovation works were conducted in the citadel.