The stunning Poi Kalyon mosque is the sapphire in Bukhara’s crown © Sophie Ibbotson and Max Lovell-Hoare
Leaning out through one of the 16 arches at the top of impressive Poi Kalyon grants you an unforgettable view of a peerless city.
The Poi Kalyon square is the star in the Bukharan sapphire, the beating heart of the Old Town, and the visual high point (both literal and metaphorical) of the city’s skyline. The name, which means ‘at the foot of the Great’, is derived from its place at the foot of the Kalyon Minar (the Great Minaret), the tapering, mud-brick tower which rises gracefully some 46m above the city. The minaret was built in 1127 and it was, so an inscription tells us, the work of an architect named Bako. He ordered that the foundations be dug some 13m deep, and demanded the labourers use a special mortar that was mixed with bulls’ blood, camel milk and eggs, which took two years to set. The exact original height of the minaret is unknown but it is thought to have been the tallest free-standing tower in the world. The uppermost section appears to have been lost (possibly due to an earthquake) and the part below reworked.
Bako died not long after the minaret was completed, purportedly broken hearted that it had failed to live up to his dreams. Genghis Khan looked upon it a little more favourably in the following century, however, and, having seen it for miles as he rode across the steppe and been suitably impressed, he spared the tower when all around it was razed. It used to be possible to climb the 104 steps of the spiral stairs to the top, where the Mangits were fond of tying their prisoners up in sacks and chucking them off the top, a grisly but no doubt effective punishment that endured well into the 1800s (and again in 1917–20), much to the disgust of Lord Curzon. Now, however, there’s only access for researchers.