The Ark (Fortress)

Coordinates: 39°46′40″N 64°24′40″E / 39.77789°N 64.41112°E / 39.77789; 64.41112

The Ark is a massive fortress located in the city of Bukhara, Uzbekistan 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 was used as a fortress until it fell to Russia in 1920. Currently, the ruins of the Ark are a tourist attraction and house museums covering its history.


The Ark 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 perimeter of the external walls is 789.6 metres (2,591 ft), the area enclosed being 3.96 hectares (9.8 acres). The height of the walls varies from 16 to 20 metres (52 to 66 ft).

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 Dzhuma. 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 Ul'dukhtaron, which is connected to legends of forty girls tortured and cast into a well.

Legendary origin

In legend, the creator of the Ark was the epic hero Siyavusha. As a youth, he hid in the rich oasis country of Turana from his stepmother. Siyavusha and the daughter of the local ruler of Afrosiaba fell in love. The girl's father agreed to permit them to marry provided that Siyavusha first built a palace on the area bounded by a bull skin, obviously intended as an impossible task. But Siyavusha cut the bull skin into slender strips, connected the ends, and inside this boundary built the palace.


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 Abubakra of Narshakhi (899 - 960). Nashriki wrote "Biden, the ruler of Bukhara, built this fortress, but it soon was destroyed. Many times it was constructed, many times destroyed." Nashriki says that when the last ruler to rebuild asked counsel of his wise men, they advised him to construct the fortress around seven points, located in the same relation to each other as the stars of the constellation Ursa Major. Thus built, the fortress was never again destroyed.

The age of the Ark has not been established accurately, but by 500 AD it was already the residence of local rulers. Here, in the fastness of the citadel, lived the emirs, their chief viziers, military leaders, and numerous servants.

When the soldiers of Genghis Khan took Bukhara, the inhabitants of the city found refuge in the Ark, but the conquerors smashed the defenders and ransacked the fortress.

In the Middle Ages the fortress was worked on by Rudaki, Ferdowsi, Avicenna, Farabi, and later Omar Khayyám. Here also was kept a great library, of which Avicenna wrote:


Most probably, the library was destroyed following one of the conquests of Bukhara.

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, Alim Khan (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.


  • Bissell, Tom. Chasing the Sea: Lost Among the Ghosts of Empire in Central Asia. Vintage Departures, 2004.
  • Thubron, Colin. The Lost Heart of Asia. New York: HarperPerennial, 2001.

External links

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