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Ruling families in the late 19th century, it seemed, had a habit of building modern palaces at great cost. These were to replace their traditional castles, but they completed them just before they lost their crowns altogether. The “Summer Palace” of the last Emir of Bukhara is one such building.

Part Russian, part Central Asian

Part Russian, part Central Asian

While far more modest, it reminded me of the Dolmabahçe Palace in Istanbul. A few architectural details echo Bukharan buildings, but most are Russian. The last Emir was a close friend of the Czar, trained with him in the military academy in Moscow and fell in love with the Czar’s sister.

The decorations rotated with the seasons, even involving changing the wall panels in one major room. The fall panels remain today from when the Red Army arrived in September 1920. The Emir fled to Afghanistan.

Contrasting politically, though also evocative of the tragedies of the early 20th century in this region, we also visited the family home of the head of the first communist revolution in Bukhara, Faizullah Khojaev. He was the son of a wealthy merchant who felt his city was backward and needed become more egalitarian and modern. He became the head of the Bukharan People’s Republic, then joined the leadership of the Uzbek SSR. Eventually, though, Stalin had him killed in the purges in 1938.

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