A Bird’s Eye View of Bukhara

Stork “A Scene in Bukhara”

            This photograph, Айст «Этюд в Бухаре» or Stork “A Scene in Bukhara”, was taken by Sergei Prokudin-Gorskii in the year 1911, a time when the Russian Empire was continuing to exert influence and expand east, especially into Central Asia. Traveling throughout Russia and equipped with a railroad car that functioned as a dark room and color film slides, Prokudin-Gorskii was able to capture the cultural diversity that made up the Russian Empire in the 20th century. More information about his travels as well as a complete photograph collection can be found here.

The Silk Road

Bukhara is over 2,000 years old and is one of the oldest cities of modern day Uzbekistan. Source. In the 14th century, Bukhara was ruled by Tamerlane and was a major stop on the Silk Road. The nearby city Samarkand was later taken possession of by the Russian Empire in 1868 as a vassal state, but Bukhara remained independent. Even with its location on the Silk Road and the Trans-Caspian Railway, Bukhara had surprisingly managed to preserve tradition and culture from western influence when this photograph was captured. It remained independent until the 1920 Bukhara Operation, where the Russians defeated the Bukhara Emirate and the city became part of the Soviet Union.


Poster from the film Nasreddin in Bukhara

     During Soviet times, Bukhara was used as a tool of influence to other Islamic countries. In 1943, the soviet film Nasreddin in Bukhara was used to represent Soviet civilization to an Islamic world. The character Nasreddin was a hero in Turkish folklore who, similar to the character of Ivan the Fool in Russian folklore, was a simpleton whose bumbling mistakes bring him luck and wisdom. There is even a monument dedicated to him in Bukhara.

            The building shown in Prokudin-Gorkskii’s photograph is a madrasah, the Arabic word for institution or school, where extensive religious study took place. There are many of these madrasahs located in Bukhara that are wonderful examples of Islamic architecture that have luckily been preserved throughout centuries. The madrasah is an example of Bukhara’s lasting cultural heritage despite the industrialization that was then taking place in Russia and neighboring areas.

           Interestingly, the two cultures that were brought together in the 1800s by conquest share similarities in folklore. The stork in the photograph above has great significance in both Russian and Turkish culture. They are seen as a symbol of good luck, protectors, a symbol of vigilance against enemies, and in the case of white storks, pure and heavenly. Source.

            In many cultures, storks are revered, but the East Slavic people in particular saw them as sacred, even believing that a white stork was similar in intelligence to man. It was also believed that a stork carried the human soul to the afterlife and the soul would return to earth in a mother’s womb in the springtime. If you’re curious, you can find more here.

            The photograph that Prokudin-Gorskii captured is a lasting testament to the fact that even though the city was controlled for centuries by various leaders, empires, and governments, Bukhara still retained its unique and cultural heritage, and shares this heritage with surrounding countries, including Russia, the country who once occupied one of the oldest cities in Uzbekistan.

Photograph taken by Gina Sane; Stork on top of the Rundale Palace in Latvia

As you can see, storks are still inhabit the rooftops of even the most luxurious of palaces as welcomed guests.

9 thoughts on “A Bird’s Eye View of Bukhara

  1. Hi Gina, what a fascinating and well-researched post about Bukhara! I’m really glad that you found some outside sources to supplement your analysis, they add a lot of depth to your post. I hadn’t known anything about the significance of storks in either Russian or Turkish culture, so this was a very interesting read – great post!

    Liked by 1 person

  2. What Emma said! You’ve helped me think about storks in a whole new way! You’ve given us all so much to think about here — from cultural syncretism to the role of ancient trade routes in creating durable networks for social exchange and commerce. The images you’ve chosen really help support the narrative and make me want to learn more. I did not know about that 1943 film, for example. Have you seen it? Also, the photo from your own travels really brings home the contemporary resonance of the Prokudin-Gorskii photograph.


    1. Thank you!
      The full movie is available on youtube.

      It was very interesting to watch. Since it was filmed in Bukhara, it shows the ornate architecture as well as other elements of culture. What I found the most interesting about the movie was the fact that the Emir of Bukhara was portrayed as ignorant and foolish who alienates himself from the people, not unlike Tsar Nicholas II. It portrayed the distance between the classes and therefore contributing to the mentality that Soviet film producers sought to encourage during this time.

      Liked by 1 person

      1. Oh wow! Thanks for the tip about the film. I just watched the intro and will try to get back to see the whole thing. That is interesting that the Emir of Bukhara comes across as foolish and undeserving of respect. That is similar to how Nicholas II would have been portrayed as well.


  3. I did my blog post on Russian Samarkand, yet I did not know Bukhara remained independent for so long. Thank your for informing me otherwise.


  4. I am glad you wrote about Bokhara, as many individuals tend to view the Russians as a western looking country, yet many regions within the Empire had very distinct Asiatic cultures that are often overlooked even today.


  5. I like the information you provided about the movie. I’m curious if it’s worth seeing – if it’s any good. I also like the map you provided – pretty useful for me to visualize it. I guess I’m curious to what role the city played in the development of uzbekistan if much.


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