Caravanserais of Bukhara

Caravanserais of Bukhara

Since ancient times the centres of economic life of cities in the East were inns as well as caravanserais in the middle ages not only bazaars. In fact, bazaars were closely related to the small crafts and retail trade. And wholesale trade would almost entirely be concentrated in caravanserais. Through both of those sale of goods brought via caravan routes would be conducted. What they represented always intrigued the more inquisitive minds of humankind. Let us turn to the unique monographic research paper “Far and near. Pages of life, lifestyle, construction work, crafts and arts of old Bukhara. Bukhara notes” published in 1982 in Tashkent. This book was prepared by the then famous Uzbekistan arts doctor Lazar Rempel. This is what this scholar wrote about caravanserais and bazaars of Bukhara of the second half of the 19th century, their life and operations based on the examinations of notes taken by travellers who visited this city over a hundred years before as well as a survey of folk craftsmen, old residents and personal experiences and conclusions.

Every spring large caravans would depart from Bukhara on a long journey. They went once a year in three main routes, one to Orenburg, the second to Troitsk and the third to Krasnovodsk, and in each of these caravans up to 50 bays would participate accompanied by yatims.

Each caravan would carry a cannon and armed people to guard the caravan. In the head of each caravan was a caravan-bosh elected by the bays. There were three of them: Bukhara. Shafirkan and Kazakh.

In each caravan several hundreds of loaded camels would go. On an assigned date and time they gathered at Samarkand gates on the road as then headed towards Shafirkan where at the house of one of the bays there was a meeting point and beasts of burden waited.

From Karshi, Khisor, Shahrisabz and other locations of the khanate small caravans consisting of 10-15 camels would also make way to Bukhara. They would head for the city, to the municipal serais where they put the natural tax they brought with them – millet, barley, etc.


Imported goods for sale were stored there and offices and branches of various firms were situated there as well. The serais often served as premises for travellers and tabibs (doctors), shroffs’ (money-exchangers) and money-lenders that would receive clients there. All the best brick serais were situated in the centre of the city alongside the bazaars.

However, in economic life, for example, in cotton trade even wooden serais with less attractive appearance would sometimes become rather significant, e.g. Saroyi Pakhta near Samarkand gates.

Some serais were vakuf property of some mosque or madrasah; others were privately rented or owned.

At the entrance to the serai (in dagoni-saroy or mion-saroy) two saroybons would usually sit – owners of the serai or idjorador who rented municipal serai. They would meet the newly arriving and allocate rooms to them (poyonhudjry or bolohona), received goods to their basements (taghona or borhona) where they stored them in a common facility for which the saroybon was responsible. There was no facility for donkeys or camels there thus right after unloading they were immediately taken back behind Samarkand gates where they had a special serai. Once darkness fell the serai would be locked and the keys would kept by the saroybon. Night visitors were permitted only with the permission of the saroybon. The keeper of the serai saroybon received payment from the hudjra if it was rented for office or dwelling whereas he would only receive presents (“saroyboni”) in the form of some, undetermined, interest from the transaction concluded at the serai. “Saroyboni” was paid by the one who bought the goods stored at the serai but not the one who shipped them there. Saroybon was thus interested in the large scales of turnover at his serai. This was to be facilitated by brokers – dallols. No big transaction would be made without a dallol.

To characterize the lifestyle of caravanserais let us point to the famous Bukhara caravanserai Barra (Saroyi Barrakalon).

This serai, which constituted the personal property of the emir, owned a monopoly for all astrakhan fur brought to the city. With participation of dozens of dallols Barrakalon serai had large turnovers. Dexterous sorters of astrakhan fur (sharofdostachi), packers (barband) and up to ten workers worked there. A separate hudjra was occupied by an official of a lower kushbegi (zakotchi) who collected taxes from the imported goods. In this chancery accounting of transactions was done as well as aminonachi who collected interest from brokers from the earnings they made in favour of the emir.
The largest owner of storage facilities for textiles was, as Bukhara old residents recall, Ubaydullahodja. He received textiles by the railroad from Russia from the firms of Zin-del, Danilskiy, Savva Moro-zov. Tverskoy, Ryabinov, Belyakov, Zakharov, and others. Satin, chintz, coarse calico, wool, trcot, and white tussore silk were supplied on a regular basis. Thick woolen cloth was brought from Constantinople, English satin – from Peshawar, silk and gold-embroidery of the firms of Sapojnikov and Ivanov – from Moscow.

Deals for up to 15 thousand rubles were concluded at Ubaydullahodja’s serai every day. The brokers announced goods supplied, their cost, which were received under credit or bill of exchange and for what time period.

Bays dealing in silk, gold-embroidery, pearls, diamonds, and gold were stationed at the state (emir’s) serai Sayfiddin.

This was a home to swindlers mostly known by their nicknames. “Abram-Yunus” (Iranian) had several passports and multiple citizenships. Kuri Izro was more known as “Aynaki” (One wearing glasses) sold jewellery. Others were known as “Kura Malahim” (One-eyed), Aboi-Kok (Dry). The broker for this serai was Daud (a Jew). The daily turnover of the serai reached SO thousand rubles.

In the emir’s serai Nogai money-lender Kori Ismat-kallya settled (his daily turnover made up 1000 rubles). Another bay, Kori Silkoi, supplied textiles to the entire Eastern part of Bukhara khanate.

In the same serai up to 30 other traders (savdogars) were accommodated. On the second floor of serai Nogai robes were sewn. Every hudjia had its owner. The serai’s daily turnover constituted around 5000 rubles.

A certain Mukimov, an English citizen, owned serai Gu-lomdjon where mostly Peshawar people stayed. Along with textiles, tea brought from Afghanistan and China was also sold at this serai. At serai Nabod offices of the cocoon and cotton warehouse were situated whereas the warehouse itself was located at Ayaz serai rented from emir by Mirzo Nabod.

Serai Pakhta was a wooden, one-slory building with tents. There were two small rooms for ammachi and saroybon there. Under the tents 14 pairs of scales (tarozu) stood which were used for weighing raw cotton. Cocoons (pillya) were also piled here. They were weighed on special wooden scales (shiin-tarozu) in special packages (zagoma). This seemingly plain serai was serviced by 14 brokers (one per every pair of scales on which cotton was weighed). Over 40 zagomadors were busy carrying cocoons and about 150 ordinary stevedores loaded or unloaded up to 6,000 loads of guza-paya and about 5 loads of cocoons.

Serai Pashm was rented from emir by Abulvakhab Samiboy and Abdukayum Samiboy. With the help of five weighers they conducted trade operations in wool and monopolised the buying up of wool.
In a semi-brick serai Meshi Kamalboy Nasyrboev settled. He monopolised the buying up of skins and handed them for processing to Voronov’s factory.

In addition to wholesale trade and transactions, serais would also provide their premises to doctors, money-lenders and other accidental needs.

Doctors (tabibs) had their own hudjras lor receiving patients in a number of serais (for example, in serai Mirzo-Gul, Kozi-Kalon and others).

Tabibs would treat all diseases with semi-quack methods. Here at hudjra (hey would for a long time touch the patient’s pulse and more frequently hold him by his hand and ask various questions mystifying the patient.

Then, imitating the techniques of European doctors they would listen to heartbeats and examine eyeballs but at the same time they would keep asking such questions that made it apparent that they used these manipulations absolutely formally – the point was not in that.
True experts in folk medicine familiar with classical medical literature were few among them. However, bone-setters and surgeons were famous. Although they were mostly unlucky healers. They treated patients with self-made medications (doru) or send them for one or another medication to at-tors – sellers of herbs and other medicinal potions. Every tabib in addition to having hudjra where he received patients also had his own dukon, a spice/herb shop at the bazaar where he would send his patients for medication.

Later tabibs would also use Russian drugs. Superstitious bays would especially trust expensive medication and tabibs would gain large profits from this bay psychology. Thus, tabib would grind pieces of gold, emeralds and diamonds in a small utensil and add 40 types of different potions. The medication would be taken in pills (kurs) in small dozes. We leave it up to the reader to judge the “curing” qualities if this really expensive medicine.

Besides tabibs there were also ordinary quarks, mainly gypsies (djugies) who did “sorcery” and tricked people. There were more tricks in their manipulations than actual healing. They had neither hud-jras in serais nor any other permanent dwelling. There were also “bibi-khokims” or women-tabibs. They would treat only women at their homes and used tabib’s methods mixed with “magical” techniques and spells of ordinary quarks.

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