Sitori-i-Mokhi Khosa palace
Sitori-i-Mokhi Khosa (or Sitorai) is the Summer Palace of the last emirs of Bukhara located just 4 km north from the city center. It is a charming place that shows the luxurious lifestyle that the emirs were enjoying in their time. If you have seen any European historical palaces you will feel there is something similar in this place but at the same time also something very Eastern oriental mixed with it. It is one of the examples of the economic and cultural upsurge that took place in Uzbekistan in the late 19th and early 20th centuries which coincided with an increased interest in European art. Under this European influence, a new artistic style blending Western and Eastern themes developed here, growing particularly prominent in the field of design.
According to a legend, the Emir requested the aksakals (elderly wise men) to recommend a location for his summer residence. They told him to kill a lamb and separate it into four parts and to hang the pieces at the four corners outside the city. The piece that had been hung in the north was still fresh after some days and therefore the site was chosen as being the coolest area not too far from the city.
The construction of the palace was initiated by the third-to-last Emir of Bukhara, Nasrullah Khan in the 19th century. Nasrullah Khan was a mad and cruel khan, but he loved his wife sincerely. The palace was designed for the wife of the emir named Sitora-bony. Nasrullah Khan sent delegation of Bukharan architects to St. Petersburg (which explains the similarities) and Yalta to get familiarized with new forms of architecture to implement it here. Well-known Bukharan craftsmen and Russian engineers established the palace whose architecture, decor and layout harmoniously combine European tradition with the local inclination towards monumental and decorative art. However, his wife died in childbirth nut he still named the palace after her. He compared the beauty of her wife to the moon, therefore it became Sitora-i-Mokhi Khosa Saroy, the palace of a star like a moon.
However, nothing has remained of that original palace, but the name and the location. The palace we see today was built by Nasrullah’s son, the last Emir of Bukhara, named Alim Khan. The palace was finished in 1917 but he did not enjoy it for long as 3 years later, Bolshevik commander Mikhail Frunze led his army into the streets of Bukhara.
The Emir was tracked away to Afganistan, while the soldiers had their reward, carrying off each of the 400 women in the Emir’s harem. That’s how communism had arrived in Bukhara. Today, Sitorai Mokhi-Khosa Palace in Bukhara is a museum of decorative and applied arts where guests can become acquainted with the history of Bukhara and the life of the palace’s royal inhabitants.
The palace area occupies about 7 hectares in total and all the buildings are surrounded by green gardens and courtyards. This garden-palace style was very common in the region and dates from the Timurids’ period. The palace has three courtyards: outside yard where men usually gather, middle yard for women and one for the harem. Every courtyard had its own gate and men never entered the women’s section and vice versa with women. From outside the palace adopted a particularly Russian style but the inside of each room is decorated in striking, traditional Bukharan ornamentation and design. The main hall is lit by a huge chandelier brought from Poland, the door locks and door handles were brought from England and most of the furniture was shipped from Russia in the 19th century. Venetian mirrors can be seen in the rooms and the tiles for fireplaces were brought from Germany. (The last emirs of Bukhara also graduated from the military academy in Saint Petersburg and were quite taken with European architecture and décor). Each room, including the Emir’s bedrooms, the white hall (reception room), the chess room, the waiting room and the emir’s tearoom have their unique design.
The summer tearoom (chaikhana) is another unique display of craftsmanship. Unlike other rooms of the palace, which are decorated with plant and floral patterns, the tearoom is adorned with multi-colored geometric designs and colored glass. Today the Emir’s glass-walled tearoom houses an exhibition of 19th – 20th-century porcelains, which Alimkhan keenly collected. His father, Emir Akhadkhan, was a passionate carpet collector and until the arrival of the Bolsheviks in Bukhara, it is believed there were about 4000 carpets there, of which only few remain today.
The most famous room of Sitori i Mokhi Khosa is called “White Hall” and was constructed under the direction of renowned architect Shirin Muradov and his students. It a breathtaking room which walls are decorated with ganch (plaster). (In the Soviet period Muradov restored architectural monuments and carved decorations on many buildings in Tashkent. His most significant work was the carved ornamentation on the panels, ceilings, and cornices of the Bukhara Hall of Tashkent’s Opera House). Thirty craftsmen accomplished in two years this ornamentation, which involved delicate ganch carvings, paintings and countless mirrors that created a unique effect reminiscent of a fairy tale world.
Between the middle courtyard and harem there is one more Russian-style building. It was a hotel for the Emir’s guests and today houses a small exhibition of 19th-century Bukharan clothing. Only in two rooms can be seen with some partly original plaster decoration covered with gold leaf. According to historical information, Bukharan masters used about five kilos of gold to decorate the hotel’s interior. Prior to Uzbekistan’s’ independence in 1991, this building and the harem were part of a kidney sanatorium which has been relocated nearby.
Going further into the garden one finds a courtyard with a two-story building with a balcony and Russian style dome, a pond, a wooden pavilion and a minaret where the harem was located. Downstairs in the two-story building, there were bedrooms for the Emir’s wives and upstairs there was a kitchen, a terrace where they had their breakfast and dinner and a room for flowers. Today the harem houses the Bukhara Museum of Applied Arts, where you can see outstanding examples of suzanis which are traditional hand embroided textiles hanged in the walls for decoration.