Perhaps the most picturesque mosque in Bukhara, the 18th to early 20th century Bolo-Hauz Mosque was built during the tumultuous reign of Abulfaz Khan under the Bukhara Khanate. The mosque was constructed in the year 1712 in a time of political chaos which included separation of the Khanate of Kokand, and invasion by Iranian conqueror Nadir Shah. Thanks to some savvy diplomatic maneuvering, Abdulfaz Khan sent an emissary ahead to the Iranian invaders and secured safety for Bukhara, in exchange for capitulation to the supreme patronage and sovereignty of the Shah. Part of this was due to the dire economic situation in the Khanate at that time, but it was also a smart move which ensured the survival of the city. The new relationship was secured with the marriage of one of the Khan’s daughters to the Shah, and another to the Shah’s nephew.
By the 1740s, tribal warfare had broken out among the Uzbek Emirs, and Abdulfaz Khan began to lose control in a series of rebellions following the death of his closest advisor who had actually been the one keeping things together behind the scenes. Sensing trouble, Nadar Shah financed an army for one of the rebel leaders, Muhammad Rahim. Rahim then moved on the territory of the Khanate and successfully suppressed the rebellion. Calm was restored in Uzbekistan, but in 1747, Nadar Shah was murdered in a coup resulting from a steady decline in the territorial integrity of the empire. Rahim then ordered Abdulfaz Khan killed, installing various short-lived puppet Khans for the next six years, until ultimately taking the throne of the Khanate of Bukhara for himself in 1753 with the title of Emir. This marked the beginning of the Manghit dynasty which would last until the final overthrow of the Emirs of Bukhara in 1920 during the Bolshevik Revolution.
In the days of the Emirate of Bukhara from 1753 to 1920, the Bolo-Hauz Mosque served as the official place of worship of the Emir. The mosque is situated directly opposite the Ark citadel, and next to one of the many typical tranquil pools (Huaz) of Bukhara. The portico and wooden columns that make this mosque stand apart architecturally from others in the city were not built until the year 1917.
In February of the same year the Provisional Government of Russia confirmed the independence of the Emirate of Bukhara. Demonstrations by Young Bukharians against the Emir immediately followed the announcement, but harsh reprisals forced many to flee. Bukhara’s independence was again confirmed by the Soviet government following the October Revolution, but by March 1918, the revolutionary Young Bukharians had convinced the Red Army that a popular uprising against the Emir was imminent. The initial attack by the Red Army on Bukhara in March 1918 failed, and independence of the Emirate was confirmed once again by a peace treaty with authorities of Soviet Turkistan in Tashkent. Largely a facade, the treaty allowed both sides to prepare for a final battle which took place in late August and early September of 1920.
The Emir mobilized an army of 35,000 defenders to protect the heavily fortified city, but it wouldn’t be enough to overcome the advanced weaponry of a much smaller Red Army force. Backed by air power and heavy artillery, the communists took the city in less than a week. By September 2nd, the Ark was destroyed, and the Emir, Mohammed Alim Khan, final ruler of the Manghit Dynasity, was forced to flee to Afghanistan where he lived in exile for the rest of his life.
The Bolo-Hauz Mosque emerged from the hostilities largely unscathed, and also survived the Soviet era to continue as a place of worship to this day. Visitors often overlook this 18th century architectural masterpiece in favor of the mostly bombed-out and underwhelming Ark citadel across Bukhara’s “Registan” square. Those that do make the effort to cross the busy street are rewarded with an immaculate wooden veranda supported by columns crowned with intricately carved muqarna. The ceiling is worthy of neck-craning with its lavish geometric and floral patterns, and the hauz in front of the mosque doubles as a reflecting pool (when it isn’t drained for maintenance).
The story of Bolo-Hauz is unique in that it straddles the timeline marked on both ends by significant periods of transition for Bukhara. Not remotely ancient compared to most landmarks, the mosque is still one of the most beautiful and interesting monuments in the city, but doesn’t make it onto the typical itinerary of tour groups. The best way to appreciate Bolo-Hauz is to include it as a stopover either on the way to, or on the way back from the Samanid Mausoleum. With the Ark citadel directly across the street, there’s really no excuse not pop over and visit one of our favorite mosques in Bukhara, unless pressed for time by the tour company. To fully appreciate Bukhara it’s worth spending at least two full days, or else your likely to miss this, and other jewels of this endlessly fascinating silk road city.