Bukhara and the dance of the peacocks

The summer palace of Mir Sayyd Muhammad Alim Khan – the last Emir of Bukhara, is 4 kms north of the city. The palace combines Russian architecture, with European and Bukharan style decor.

The first thing that caught my eyes was the heart-shaped window panes – in all my travels to Europe, I have never seen such an overt expression of romance. The Emir did love all-things-European (or maybe he was just a die-hard romantic at heart).

Anyone who would love heart shaped windows must be a die-hard romantic

Devoted to his wife Sitora, who died in childbirth, the palace is set amidst 7 hectares of gardens that bloom with fragrant roses in spring. It also has a large family of peacocks that roam freely in the front yard – probably the only place in Uzbekistan where I found a large herd.

“Did you know peacocks were birds of paradise,” asks my guide. “They were banished because of their voice,” she explains with disdain written all over her face.

Peacocks were apparently birds of paradise but were banished because of their voice. Isn’t it the same with people sometimes? They are so beautiful to look at until you hear their thoughts – harsh, crude, uncouth. And so you banish them from your thoughts.

Built by two Russian engineers Margulis and Sakovitch, the best Bukhara masters of the time, the palace is exquisitely beautiful in its architecture and decor. The reception hall is decorated in mirrors that catch the glint of the sun rays throughout the day. The ceiling and the walls are ornately decorated with mosaic and coloured glass patterns and together with the colourful Bukharan carpets, it really feels like you are inside of a kaleidoscope. Venetian mirrors, a tile covered Dutch-style stove, Chinese and Japanese porcelain, silverware from England, crystal chandeliers from Belgium, European furniture, clocks, and even a refrigerator, are a part of the Emir’s collection.

Bukhara had long been a Russian protectorate – initially of the “White Russians” or the Tsars. But then came the October Revolution in 1917 and in marched the “Red Russians” – the Bolsheviks, in 1920. The Emir fled and tried in vain to organise an armed resistance but most Bukharans were already so tired of him that they welcomed the Bolsheviks with open arms.

The Emir went into exile in September 1920, and eventually settled in Kabul, Afghanistan. Just like the peacocks, the exquisite and regal creature who once lived in paradise was banished for ever, never to return to his princely abode.

Check out some of my other blogs on Uzbekistan on World Without Compass
Uzbekistan – The pearl of the orient
Burying the past and resurrecting the future – Lenin/ Tamerlane
Zoroastrianism in Uzbekistan
A bull can’t be blue – About Russia’s avant garde art collection in Nukus
Aral Sea – the world took away sea and left behind salt sand
Dil ba yoru; dast ba kor
– Finding its lost glory
Uzbekistan – travel info, itinerary and other details

Bukharan carpets in rich reds contrast the White Hall with mirrors embedded on its wall
Furniture from Berlin – in pink! another sign the Emir was a romantic
Mirrored ceiling
Love for all things western in an Oriental setting
European tile work
This is what it is being inside a kaleidoscope
Behold! a refrigerator
Mirrored panels on walls and ceilings
Belgian crystal chandeliers
Porcelain from China and Japan
More chandeliers
Love for all things European
The Emir’s harem
Mir Sayyd Muhammad Alim Khan
The image of Mir Sayyd Muhammad Alim Khan is by Russian photographer Sergei Mikhailovich Prokudin-Gorskii (1863–1944), who used a special colour photography process to create a visual record of the Russian Empire in the early 20th century. Prokudin-Gorskii was particularly interested in recently acquired territories of the Russian Empire such as Turkestan (present-day Uzbekistan and neighboring states), which he visited on a number of occasions, including trips in January 1907 and 1911 to the ancient cities of Bukhara and Samarkand. Prokudin-Gorskii made this and a number of other portraits of Mir Sayyd Muhammad Alim Khan in 1911. (Source: World Digital Library)


  1. Hi Anna! I stumbled across this post while researching for a post of my own about the Emir’s Summer Palace! I hope you make it Uzbekistan someday. We’ve been here three years and are working our way through a last 100 days blog countdown. Keep up the good work!


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