Ark means “fortress” in translation. The first fortress dated from the 1st century and was built by thousands of slaves. During excavations, the remains of the 4th century BC building were found, which means the area was used before. Over time the citadel was destroyed and reconstructed several times. According to some sources, the fortress received its present unusual shape in the 7th century.
The citadel occupies the territory of almost four hectares. It is surrounded by massive walls, with a total length of about 800 metres and a height of 16 to 20 metres. The buildings on the palace territory have been replaced repeatedly; those that survive date back to the 17th-20th centuries.
In its historical past, Ark was a city within a city. Around 3,000 people lived within its walls: apart from the ruling family, other noble families and high-ranking officials lived here with their families. The fortress housed government offices such as barracks or mint and outbuildings such as warehouses and stables.
In 1920, an anti-monarchical coup took place in the Bukhara Emirate, overthrowing the Bukhara Emir and establishing the Bukhara People’s Republic. The Emir’s supporters used the citadel as a shelter: the Red Army launched air attacks on Ark under the command of General Mikhail Frunze. The bombardment damaged about 80% of the citadel.
The legend about the construction of Ark
According to legend, the citadel was built by the Persian prince Siyavush. Siyavush had to flee from his homeland because of slander and reached Bukhara. Siyavush fell in love with the daughter of the local ruler. The latter put his future son-in-law to the test: he gave him a bull skin and said he could marry his daughter only if he built a palace on that skin. Siyavush turned out to be clever: he cut the skin into thin strips, joined them together and built the desired palace inside the formed circle.
Museums in Ark
Although you can visit only a part of the citadel, it already gives an impression of its original size. Inside, you can see the former coronation hall. The last coronation took place here in 1911. The same place was also used as a reception hall. The buildings, including the mosque and the former prime minister’s house, are now used by a total of seven museums:
|Museum of manuscripts||The museum is located in an old mosque and displays mainly Korans from different centuries. Among others, poetry and scientific works are displayed.|
|Museum of Nature||The Museum is dedicated to the regional flora and fauna. Among the exhibits are stuffed animals.|
|Museum of Archeology||The museum exhibits were mainly discovered from digs in the historical settlements of Varakhsha (about 45 km west of Bukhara) and Paykend (about 60 km southwest of Bukhara).|
|Museum of artefacts found at the ancient site of Paykend||It features exhibits from the ancient settlement of Paykend. The US Ambassador Fund to Tashkent sponsored the Museum.|
|History Museum I||History Museum covers the period from early times to the 15th century. Worth mentioning is an ancient fresco depicting the Zoroastrian fire cult. The archaeologists found the fresco during excavations in the ancient settlement of Varakhsha.|
|History Museum II||This history museum covers the period 16th-20th century. Among the exhibits are maps of Central Asian states, clothes, goods of export and import, and old photography.|
|Museum of Numismatics||The museum displays coins from various periods: from the era of Alexander the Great till the collapse of the Bukhara Emirate.|