Abdullah-khan II (1533-1598), was the most successful khan of the Shaybanid dynasty. During his reign, trade and commerce were booming in Bukhara, as the Khan struggled to unify the Uzbeks under a single Khanate. As the streets became increasingly choked with stalls and merchants, authorities came up with a novel idea. To clear traffic congestion, the bazaars would be moved off the streets and inside permanent trading domes! In a way, these “tims” or “shopping passages” became the first shopping malls. Merchants were allocated their own space to set up shop, and with thick masonry walls, temperatures were kept moderate year round.
The Tim Abdulla Khan covered bazaar was built in 1577 as Bukhara’s primary covered market. Also known as “Tim-i Kalan”, or the “Great Market,” it was, and remains, an important site for Uzbekistan’s silk fabric trade. Even nearly 450 years later, carpets and silk fabric are sill being sold here, outdating the supposed oldest shopping mall in the world located in Milan by 300 years. Under its central dome and many side galleries is room for 59 shops, with a total 1,600 square meters (17,200 square feet) of retail space.
Situated between the trade domes of Toki-Zargaron, and Telpak Furushon, to take advantage of the traffic between them, the Great Market is still benefiting from its strategic location. The streets outside are no longer as busy, and local Bukharans shop elsewhere, but for tourist traffic location is everything. Visitors are not only attracted to the building for what’s being sold inside, but also for the architecture. The large central dome is lined with windows letting in natural light, and side galleries with vaulted ceilings also remain well lit thanks to strategically placed latticework open to the outside. There is an added benefit of good ventilation which makes sure the air remains fresh, even on scorching hot summer days.
The market remains one of the most impressive buildings in Bukhara. In its heyday, the street out front was a main road through town, bustling with activity and full of caravanserais for weary travelers along the silk road. The street today is still important for shopping, with cafés and coffee shops catering to tourists, but modern hotels have replaced the cavaranserais, and tourist trinkets have for the most part replaced the day to day essentials for the residents of the Bukhara.
On our last visit to the Great Market we browsed the carpets hung from ropes stretching from wall to wall, and spread all over the floor. Roaming the vast open space beneath the domes, beams of light cut through the air illuminated by dust wafting in through the open solid wood doors to the main road. Echos are absorbed by the extensive inventory which makes for an eerily quiet experience for such a cavernous building. For serious shoppers, merchants ceremoniously lay out carpet after carpet for inspection as clients sip complementary tea while relaxing on topchans, an exchange that has changed very little over hundreds of years. Generations of trade and commerce have taken place under the Tim Abdulla Khan trade dome, and the tradition will likely continue for generations to come.