When the mid 19th century Emir of Bukhara Nasrullah Khan decided to have a new palace built for himself, architects hung mutton carcass at points all around the city. The last mutton carcass to spoil indicated the location with the coolest temperatures. This is where the Emir chose to build his new summer residence.
Two emirs came and went, and their palaces with them. Both were unceremoniously demolished. It seems each Emir wanted to design his own summer retreat. The current structure is from the reign of the final Emir of Bukhara, Said Mir Mohammed Alim Khan, who was in power from 1911, until 1920 when the monarchy was abolished by the Bolsheviks.
Despite being the third generation building on the same location as the least spoiled mutton carcass, the palace retained its original name, Sitorai Mokhi-Khosa, which literally translated from Tajik means “Star, like the Moon”. The present palace was constructed in the European style, borrowing architectural cues the palace of the Czar in St. Petersburg. The design, however, is distinctly oriental throughout, split into male and female sections, for the Emir and his harem.
When the Emir fled the Red Army to Kabul, where he died in 1944, the palace became property of the state and was transformed into a museum. It later served as a sanitarium, but following independence in 1991, the sanitarium property was split, with the historical palace grounds being converted back into a museum of Uzbek handicrafts.
Today the palace has been restored to its original condition under the tile “Museum of Decorative and Applied Arts” and is open for tours. In the Emir’s reception hall visitors can see many items of art and furniture collected by the Emir from all over the world. The elaborate gazebo/guest-house contains a collection of decorative clothing worn by the Emir for various official purposes.
While the harem was closed on our visit to the palace in October 2017, the guide did tell us about some of their activities. According to legend, the large hauz (or pool) adjacent to the harem main building was kept filled with milk so virgins could be chosen by the Emir without being seen. How likely is this story? Well considering the average summer temperature in Bukhara I’d imagine the pool of milk didn’t stay fresh for long.
Now instead of the Emir choosing virgins swimming in milk, visitors can choose overpriced handicrafts to take back to their home countries. The prices here are, to be fair, much lower than in the bazaars of Bukhara, but still much more expensive than you can find in Tashkent or Khiva.
The taxi ride to the Emir’s Summer Palace will cost about $10 (80,000 сўм) from the center of town, but the driver will wait as you tour the complex. Guides are standing by to give you a one hour guided tour for about $5 (40,000 сўм), plus the cost of admission (10,000 сўм). The side trip is definitely worth it, especially if you’re spending more than a few days in Bukhara and run out of things to do in the center.