The Urban Development of Bukhara

Issue #3 • 1061

Bukhara once was a famous trade center on the “Great Silk Road”. Its city center is a treasure of historic and architectural monuments of the Medieval period, which are under the state protection. The government of Uzbekistan has placed a high priority on the protection and preservation of its historic sites and monuments. In 1994, Bukhara was inscribed into the World Heritage List of UNESCO as a World Cultural Heritage Site. In 1997 Bukhara celebrated the 2500 years anniversary. This historic city can be the image builders to define the identity of new national architecture of Uzbekistan. A number of cultural events and international congresses contributed to intensify the process of awaking a new consciousness for the historic centers of Uzbekistan.

The 20th century has brought a conflict between the typical traditional urban fabric of the Old City and the different modem urban structures started, and now we have to answer the questions how can the modern Uzbek society, and here in particular planner and architects, handle the confrontation with the immediate Soviet past and which role play the political and cultural influences of the Russian and Soviet periods? Can the diversity of ideological, regional or ethnical influences be positively evaluated and be transformed into something new?

Bukhara under Russian and Soviet Power
The urban fabric and the basic design of all of these houses with their differentiation of rooms and their decor have their roots in a far-reaching tradition of Central Asia and show a consistency through a long period of time. Bukhara of the early XIX c. was a compact, enclosed city with three prominent elements, the citadel, the Shahristan, the city properly, the Rabad and the “suburbs”. The latter was the main residential quarter. It was divided by a canal and enclosed by the city wall. With the disintegration of the sovereign Emirate of Bukhara in 1868, an internal process of political change had begun to take place. We can observe this change also in the changes of the traditional urban structure of Bukhara.

The military interests of Russia, which at first manifested themselves in the building of barracks and garrisons, changed to become economical interests. Then, interferences into the local economy took place and the infrastructure concerning trades and business was changed to suit Russia. On a map (Parvenov/Fenin) showing over 500 public buildings, which all seem to have been still in function around 1900, the Russian military facilities such as garrisons and ammunition depots are depicted. According to written sources, there were 365 residential quarters and 60 inner-city bazaars as well as 20 bazaars situated at the gates, the biggest one being located at the Samarqand Gate. The most important bazaar for foodstuff was in the area surrounding the Registan. Dense bazaars with adjoining caravanserais were to be found between the street-crossings covered by domes. Some of these are still existent today. An exact reconstruction of the center of the city is impossible.

Anyhow, we were able to reconstruct a number of caravanserais and shop units which do not exist any longer on the base of an aerial photo from 1930 showing the former structure of the linear bazaar with its small shops and caravanserais behind them. In the year 1920, Bukhara became the “People’s Republic of Bukhara’, and socialist rebuilding began soon. Until that time, the society of Bukhara had more or less maintained its traditions. In 1929, the first five-year plan for the industrialization and the collectivation of agriculture was set up. With the beginning of an accelerated industrialization and the abolition of private property the search for new socialist forms of housing and of settlement-structures started.

The population, which had been counted at 70.000 in 1911 and which had gone down to 50.000 in 1920, increased, and the city was reconstructed with a new design for its central region. Within the city, new functions were established and started to displace traditional functions; though, there were attempts to combine the existing elements of architecture with modern forms. A lot of effort was expended to improve the public and social infrastructure of the city as well as the technical infrastructure. The water system was improved, an electrical system was set up and new streets were built. Old streets were widened and the dead-end alleys, the typical structure of an Oriental city, were broken through. Enhanced by the influence of ideology and politics, the historical center of the city continually lost its function as a spiritual and economic center. The open spaces, which still can be seen today, demonstrate this fact. Buildings with commercial use and many buildings with a religious connotation were destroyed…

New buildings and whole areas with functions for a socialist culture arose around the boundaries of the old city center. In 1930, Bukhara had 82 elementary and secondary schools, 10 professional and technical institutions, including a teachers institute and some university branches. New types of buildings for social, administrative and cultural functions were built. These were facilities such as the Club of the Workers, the House of the Soviet, libraries, museums, administrative buildings, hospitals and polyclinics.

This development was supported by the definition of Bukhara as a museum city, as it is shown in a planning concept of 1976. Not the whole of the historical structure was supposed to be shown and preserved. Only singular historically important buildings were to be isolated as monuments to give an impressive view for the tourists, because the development of tourism had become a main objective for Bukhara. Around 15% of the old city of Bukhara were to be protected, and the Uzbekistan Ministry of Culture established a general management for the conservation of historrcal buildings. Around 35 mosques, madrasas and mausoleums were classified as monuments of “material culture*. New constructions were restricted to the areas at the edge of the historic city center. Here new kolkhoz-bazaars were built and the bazaars with shops and caravanserais inside the old city were destroyed.

Between 1960 and 1975 the population doubled from 70.000 persons to 140.000, and today’s Bukhara has a population of approximately 300.000. In housing, the forms of living and the type of buildings, rationalization and standardization prevailed at this time. 1962, the concept of a new, “ideal” city was laid down and a plan for the city enlargement was developed considering uplo 250.000 inhabitants. The city included, as the central elements, the sporls facilities, a hospital and a center for trade, administration and culture. Industrial areas were developed. The system of public transport was conceived as well as the wide ring roads.

The new extensions are defined by a city axis leading south as its spine. The element connecting this newly planned part of the city with the historic part is a large city square. A prospect of almost 150 m in width was divided into different lanes and parking strips with five rows of trees. It had the new function of the city’s center in the vicinity of the crossings of the main streets. The connection from the old city to the axis of the new extensions of Bukhara was emphasized as a representative zone, which is dominated by the party building of the Regional Committee as well as other modern buildings for administrative use.

The location of the important administrative complexes in the southeast along the representative prospect to the south is adapted from earlier plans. An important center was planned, and the long-term effect of this planning concept continues until today, A modified plan, which combined the ideas of 1976 and 1977, was realized. Some of these solitaire public buildings are important witnesses of Uzbek architecture of that period. The facades of some of these buildings with their geometric forms seem to refer to traditional Oriental ornamental pattern. The effect of the high complex of the “Regional Executive Committee” dominates the whole area until today. Some other planned buildings are replaced by the other ones. In city planning a continuous relationship between past and present ideals exists which cannot be easily separated.

The basic building block of the residential areas of the Socialist city became the so called “Micro ray on”, which compromised a neighborhood unit of living spaces in form of identical blocks. Each Microrayon was supposed to form part of a hierarchy of service provision. Several Microrayons formed a larger, exactly standardized residential complex for the provision of a wider range of services. In Bukhara we encounter four housing areas respectively areas of housing and industry, the Rayons, with a population of 40.000. These housing-complexes are four – to five-stories buildings which stand together on one block. They are accessible through a driving-lane and a parking-lane parallel to the large boulevard. The system of Microrayons could be considered an equal access to all elements of urban infrastructure. The widely spread built structure of the new parts of the city contrast the dense structure of the residential areas in the historic city and competes with it. As a consequence, the historic center had lost its function as the center of the city.

Bukhara in the period of the Independence
The processes of growth in the peripheral areas of the city and the dilapidation in the center had already gone very far. But since the independence of Uzbekistan in 1991 and its beginning capitalization and privatization, the old forms of living seem to have become highly regarded again. The old city with individual housing are becoming more and more attractive.

The urban fabric of these new areas consists of private lots of about 150 to 400 sqm. On which can be built individually. Application of traditional materials is the prevailing idea since it takes into account the climatic conditions and cultural traditions of the area. These tendencies can be also noticed in the apartment block of the Microrayons. Since these blocks are now under private property a lot of changes have started. The balconies which faced the courtyard have been built shut due to the need for more living-space or for more privacy. The street levels became more and more interesting for commercial use in the main axes.

Concerning the social infrastructure, the various representative public buildings, like sport centers, stadium, clinics and administrative buildings, are now under restoration or realization. The urban planning ideals of the socialist city of the seventies are transferred and assimilated into the present tasks of town planning. The little buildings of social, administrative and cultural functions, which were standard elements for each microrayon and his subdivisions, are being transferred more and more into commercial use.

With the independence of Uzbekistan, Bukhara became a city in transition. Many factors, among them the planning concept of the socialist period, played a catalytic role in deteriorating the physical and socio-economic structure of the city center and contribute to the tremendous pressure on the city. What kind of objectives are to develop? What kind of major urbanistic strategy are necessary to maintain, to revitalize and to qualify the essential qualities and the urban fabric under new conditions? It is necessary to develop strategies, programs and measures to avoid the dilapidation of existing structures. In this regard, it must be the aim, to give back the original, multifunctional character to the centers. Therefore it is necessary, to establish urban management strategies and to enforce an institutional setting and capacity building to deal with the structural and functional changes and to upgrade the economic situation.

Other aspects are becoming topics in the international discussion too, such as the protection of natural resources and a sustainable development. A basic provision for existence has to be guaranteed to all inhabitants. It has to cover environmental, social, cultural and economic aspects. The needs of the present generation must be fulfilled without endangering the chances of future generations to fulfill their own needs. Due to natural and human resources, settlements were adapted to extreme environments and created traditional structures which should be protected in our days and from which we can leam sustainable development for the future. The Soviet period was characterized by a planning euphoria, and certain models for urban planning and development are characteristic phenomena of the socialist city. Many of these planning models did not lack a certain far-sightedness. All over the ex-socialist countries, the formerly privileged zones are losing their social status, and there are strong trends towards private housing for a new bourgeoisie in the new quarters of the cities. But due to the demographic growth and the economic situation in countries like Uzbekistan, we find a new acceptation of socialist housing and, at the present, informal processes seem to be gaining ground on all levels and in all areas of the city.

Our common future research shall help to define what we can learn from the past. Which urban pattern can be transformed into a future principle of urban development and visionary ideas? How did the cities of Uzbekistan develop in comparison to eastern European cities? Consciousness of development processes and of functional connections, precise knowledge and, finally, ideas concerning new functions in old structures as well as in the extended socialist quarters and in the new residential areas can transform the urban fabric into an attractive future environment.

Author: Anette Gangler (Germany)

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