It is a common practice that where there’s a palace, there’s a jail. The Ark, a medieval citadel in Bukhara, is not an exception.Right behind its massive gates with a turret on either side is a gloomy roofed corridor, dalon, with 12 entrances to the cells prisoners used to languish in. At the end of the corridor there was Emir’s throne-room and a reception hall for ceremonies. Actually, they were parts of a large brick-paved courtyard on three sides enclosed with ayvan platforms with wooden pillars. The marble throne of Emir stood at the far end of the courtyard.
Of particular note among the sights of Ark Fortress is music pavilion – a hall surrounded by a gallery. Here the court musicians would give round-the-clock makom performances – special musical compositions by which the local residents could reckon time.
The Ark is the oldest remaining citadel. It is an artificial mound of 20 meters in height and 4 hectares in area, with sloping sides. Inside, encircled by fortified walls, the citadel was densely built-up as far back as early Middle Ages. The first information on the Ark appeared in ‘History of Bukhara’ by Abubakir Narshakhi. It says, ‘Buhkhara’s ruler Bidun Bukharhudot built this fortress, but it soon collapsed. However hard he tried to build it, it went on collapsing’. They consulted wise men and the latter advised to build the fortress on seven supports, like those of the Ursa Major constellation. They followed the advice and the Ark stopped collapsing.
But it did not prevent the Ark from being besieged, captured, plundered and burnt by numerous invaders such as the Arabs, the Mongols, and others who conquered Bukhara, and hence the Ark. The citadel was usually the last construction of the city to pass into the possession of the enemies. And it was the first the local people reconstructed – always at the same place, in spite of all the bad luck.
The Ark held a whole town inside. In its best times it consisted of Emir’s living quarters with the throne hall, homes of his ministers and court officials, quarters of the guards, stables, storage rooms, arsenal, jail, workshops, treasury, palace mosque and other structures.
The Ark Fortress was first of all a bulwark of autocracy. But defense against outside enemies was also very important. That is why fortification walls surrounded the town outside the Ark.
For centuries the Ark was the main residence of Bukhara Emir. From here he governed his domain. Today the citadel is a historical monument whose halls accommodate the Local History Museum.