Located away from the tourist core of the city in a residential neighbourhood, Chor-Minor rises above modest dwellings among a maze of dusty streets. Local children play among the ruins of side buildings at the complex, and houses surround the monument on all sides. The homes directly in front have been converted into trinket stalls for tourists who visit throughout the day. The origins of Chor-Minor are unclear. What is clear however is that this architectural curiosity in Bukhara is one of our favorite historical monuments in Uzbekistan.
Some records indicate that a madrassah existed on this site as early as the end of the 17th century, but reports that the Chor-Minor is all that remains of that original complex are not certain. The current structure was built in 1807 by a rich Turkman named Niyaz-kul as a new madrassah, so it is not the gatehouse of the original as is commonly reported in guidebooks and in tour groups. The madrassah complex actually consists of the primary building with its four distinctive “minarets” which were probably not minarets at all. In fact, the name “Chor-Minor” means literally “four-minarets” – but three of the towers only contain storage rooms.
The ruined side buildings are believed to have been living quarters for only about 15 to 20 students. In a typical madrassah classrooms and a dining room would also be found, but at Chor-Minor there is no evidence any of these ever existed. Today these side buildings are being refurbished to appear as they once were.
The main event here is obviously the four tower mosque which is all that’s left of the original complex. One common explanation for the four minarets, each with different mosaics and all crowned with distinctive blue domes, is that each represents the four world religions known to Central Asian people at the time. Some design elements can easily be interpreted as a cross, the Christian symbol of a fish, and a Buddhist prayer wheel.
The mosque’s interior is very small and plain, currently occupied by a shop selling souvenirs and carpets. For a small fee (last time we didn’t have to pay because it was late in the day) you can go up the narrow staircase to the terrace for closer inspection of the four towers, but not much of a view over the city.
The best time to visit Chor-Minor is in the hour just before sunset. This small monument is so photogenic you can easily spend the time capturing the light play off the tiles and brickwork during the “golden-hour” as the light changes from yellow, to orange, to red, as the sun sinks toward the horizon. This corner of Bukhara has so far been spared the “improvements” made for tourists. We really get a sense of being in a more authentic Central Asian environment than around the Lyabi-Hauz with its more disneyfied look and feel.
To get the full immersion experience stay at the Amulet, a hotel located inside the converted 1861 Said Kamol Madrassah. This unique accommodation is a favorite among colleagues and makes for a great home base for exploring Bukhara away from the noise of the busy center. Book well in advance to make sure you’re able to snag one only eight rooms in this one-of-a-kind hotel!