I could easily have spent another hour at the complex to examine in particular the large cemetery, but Davron had another treat for us, a visit to the last emir’s Summer Palace about 6 kms north of Bukhara.
The three-building compound was a joint effort for Alim Khan, the last emir, by Russian architects, who conceived the external appearance of the complex, and local craftsmen, who assumed responsibility for the internal decoration. No expense was spared to display the best and the most extravagant of both styles, the Russian/European on the one hand and the Uzbek/Muslim on the other. In front of the harem is a pool where the emir’s concubines used to swim, play and relax. Overlooking the pool is a wooden pavilion from where the emir would watch his concubines. It is said that he threw an apple to the woman with whom he wanted to have sex later that day.
It was not until the Bolsheviks took control in Bukhara that the women in the harem were finally set free. This was in September 1920. But, given the treatment of women in some (many?) parts of the Muslim world today, have things changed that much from the conditions that prevailed for many women in pre-revolutionary Uzbekistan? I ask because in recent times much confirmed information has come to light about the sexual enslavement of women in the parts of Syria and Iraq controlled by the Islamic State, and men in countries such as Pakistan and Afghanistan still marry girls much younger than them (some girls are aged only thirteen or fourteen). Of course, Muslim males are not the only people who engage in such dreadful sexual exploitation of girls and women, but they appear to be more likely to do so than any other group of males, whether with a faith commitment or not, the Roman Catholic clergy included (the Roman Catholic clergy appear to prefer abusing boys). Evidence from Pakistan and the UK confirms that men of Pakistani origin are especially active in the sexual exploitation of girls and vulnerable young women. These realities reinforce the perception that many Muslim males have little or no regard for the rights or well-being of half the human population.
We returned to the city centre where Davron took us through narrow residential streets to see the delightful Char Minar, one of Bukhara’s most photogenic survivals from the past. Char Minar is almost Indian in appearance. It was once the gatehouse belonging to a long-gone medressa built in 1807. The name means “four minarets” in Tajik, although the gatehouse has four decorative towers on its corners, not minarets in the strictest sense.