BUKHARA was one of the three famous oases on the western end of
the famous caravan route, the Silk Road, to and from China.
Samarkand and Tashkent were the other two. Textiles and their raw
materials were a very valuable part of the trade. One can imagine
cotton being sent east from Egypt and silk west from China, where
it was considered precious enough for the Chinese to guard the
secret of its origin for 1,000 years by threatening anyone
divulging the secret with summary execution.
Bukhara was once called "The Noble," a city of mosques and
mina-rets when it was the center of an important khanate under the
Islamized descendants of Genghis Khan. Today it is undistinguished,
having lost, along with many of its architectural monuments, the
lingering glamour cast by Venetian Marco Polo's 13th-century
accounts of his travels along the Silk Road.
While some historians feel that Bukhara was founded in the 1st
century AD, the actual date is unknown. The city is first mentioned
in Chinese chronicles of the 5th century.
For centuries, the city was a busy trading center peopled by a
mix of Uzbeks, Tajiks, Arabs, Russians, Turkmens, Persians, and
Chinese. The Russian czar added the area to his empire around 1868.
The interesting buildings crumbled, and only one tall minaret
After the Russian Revolution, Bukhara became the center of the
Uzbek Soviet Socialist Republic. Ethnic nomadic traditions were
repressed, and industrialization was implemented. The two rivers
that ran through the dry steppes were diverted to irrigate
large-scale cotton growing, with the result that now the water
level of the marshy Aral Sea has been significantly lowered and the
In 1991, after the breakup of the Soviet Union, Uzbekistan,
where Bukhara is located, joined the Commonwealth of Independent
States, and there has been an increasing desire to acknowledge and
learn about its cultural heritage.
Textiles have always been a very important part of this
heritage. The Textile Museum in Washington, D.C., has mounted a
striking exhibit of traditional weavings from the area. These are
not ancient, as they are deemed to have been worked during the
period between the annexation by the czar and the formation of the
Soviet Union, but tribal patterns have changed little over
centuries and therefore can be accepted as representative of
traditional local design and execution.
THIS exhibition introduced me to many designs of the region. My
previous acquaintance was only with the knotted pile rugs called
"Bokhara" in older references. (Other phonetic spellings of the
name also appear.) These "Oriental" rugs were extremely popular in
Europe and the United States, especially during the latter part of
the last century and the beginning of this one.
Their patterns were neat, tight geometrically stylized motifs
whose backgrounds were usually deep and glowing reds. They were
woven by the more-or-less nomadic tribes who roamed the estimated
85,000 square miles of what was then referred to as Turkestan. …