In Sanskrit the word Bukhara means “abbey”. Bukhara, “The city of museums”, contains more than 140 architectural monuments of the Middle Ages. Such buildings as Poi – Kalan, Kosh Madras, mausoleum of Ismail Samoni, minaret of Kalyan and others were built 2,300 years ago, and today are popular with tourists. The famous poets Narshahi, Rudaki Dakiki and others have played an important role in the development of Bukhara.
According to the legend Bukhara was founded by King Siavash, a legendary Persian prince from the beginnings of the Persian Empire. After the treason of his stepmother Sudabeh, who accused him that he wanted to seduce her and betray his father, Siavash went into exile to Turan. Afrasiab, the King of Samarkand, married his daughter Ferganiza(Farangis) to him and granted him a vassal kingdom in the oasis of Bukhara. Later, Siavash was accused that he wanted to overthrow King Afrasiab and was executed in front of his wife. Siavash’s father sent Rostam, the legendary Persian hero to Turan and Rostam brought Ferganiza (Farangis) and their son Kai Khosrow back to Persia.
The history of Bukhara can be traced back to the 4th or 5th cent. AD, the date of the first coins with Sogdian writing in an alphabet derived from Aramaic. There are no reports of a city in the area of Bukhara at the time of Alexander the Great.
At the time of the Arab conquests, Bukhara was ruled by the Sogdian dynasty of the Bokar-kodats. Arab armies first appeared before Bukhara in the caliphate of Moawia, after Obayd-Allāh b. Zīād b. Abīhe crossed the Oxus (53-54/673-74). Bukhara was ruled by a woman, Katun, as regent for her infant son. She had to submit and to pay a tribute of a million dirhams and 4,000 slaves. Permanent Arab control in the city was established by Qotayba b. Moslem Baheli, who after arduous campaigns in Sogdia (87-90/706-09) overcame the resistance of the Bukharans and their Turkish allies and placed an Arab garrison in the city, forcing every home owner to share his residence with Arabs. In 94/712-13 he erected the first mosque in Bukhara within the citadel, on the site of a former Buddhist or Zoroastrian temple. In 166/782, the governor of Khorasan Fażl b. Solayman Ṭusi built walls to protect Bukhara against Turkish attacks.
In the 3rd/9th cent. the notables of Bukhara asked the Samanid ruler of Samarqand and Farḡāna Nasr b.Ahmad for help, who in 260/874 sent his younger brother Ismail to the city. Bukhara enjoyed a period of prosperity lasting for 150 years and under the patronage of the Samanid amirs served as a cultural center for Arabic learning and Persian literature. A passage by Taalebi, the famous scholar of Nisapur, praises Bukhara in the era of the Samanids as “the focus of splendour, the Kaba of the empire, the meeting-place of the unique figures of the age, the rising-place of the stars of the literary men of the world, and the forum for the outstanding personages of the time”. Geographers from the Samanid period mention the division of the city in a citadel (kohandez), the town proper (sahrestan) and a suburb (rabat). The citadel contained the palace and the original mosque of Qotayba b. Moslem. To its east, dividing it from the sahrestan, was the Rigestan, an open, sandy space, where Amir Naṣr b. Aḥmad (301-33/914-43) built a palace and where the dīvāns of the administration were situated. In this century, an outer wall with eleven gates was built. The city had clearly expanded, though geographers still criticize it as an unsanitary and crowded place.
In 389/999 Bukhara was occupied by the Ilak (Ilig) Nasr b. Ali. For the next 150 years it was part of the western Qarakhanid khanate, ruled by descendants of the Ilak Nasr. Under the loose, decentralized rule of the Turkish tribesmen, Bukhara lost its political importance. The reign of Arslan Khan Moḥammad b. Solayman (495-524/1102-30) brought peace to the city. He also rebuilt the citadel and city walls, and erected a new Friday mosque and two new palaces.
Bukhara was conquered by Gengiz Khan in 616/1220. All inhabitants were driven out and the city was burned., but in the time of Ögedey Qaan (626-39/1229-41) the city was prosperous again. Ögedey placed the administration of all the settled regions of Central Asia in the hands of a Muslim merchant trusted by the Mongols, who resided in Ḵojand and reported directly to the supreme khan. The revival of prosperity of Bukhara may have been due to his efforts. He was succeeded at Bukhara by his son Masud Beg, who remained in authority until his death in 688/1289, despite feuds among the Mongol successor states and repeated shifts in their borders within Central Asia. Masud Beg was buried in the madrasa that he had built at Bukhara. The skilled craftsmen inhabiting Bukhara were apportioned among the four divisions of the Mongol empire), each belonging to one of Genghis Khan’s sons and his descendants; each division was entitled to revenues from the portion of the population assigned to it.
The Khanate of Bukhara came into existence after the conquest of Samarkand and Bukhara by Muhammad Shaybani. The Shaybanid Dynasty ruled the khanate from 1506 until 1598. Under their rule Bukhara became a center of arts and literature. Bukhara attracted skilled craftsmen of calligraphy and miniature painting, poets and theologians. Abd al-Aziz Jhan (1533-1550) established a library “having no equal”. The khanate of Bukhara reached its greatest influence under Abdullah Khan II, who reigned from 1577 to 1598.
The Khanate of Bukhara was governed by the Janid Dynasty (Astrakhanids) in the 17th and 18th cent. It was conquered by Nadir Shah of Iran in 1740. After his death the khanate was controlled by descendants of the Uzbek emir Khudayar Bi through the position of “ataliq” (prime minister). The khanate became the Emirate of Bukhara in 1785.