Kalyan Minaret, Bukhara, Uzbekistan – Tower of Death, spared by Genghis 2


Genghis Khan came face-to-face with the Kalyan Minaret when he arrived in Bukhara in 1220 CE.

His Mongol army had just decimated the capital of the Khwarazmian Empire, Samarkand.

Bukhara was about to share a similar fate.

Kalyan Minaret, Bukhara, Uzbekistan

Kalyan Minaret. Photo credit Benjamin White

The city and citadel fell quickly. Every soldier and citizen who fought against the Mongols was summarily executed. Skilled tradesmen and artisans were rounded up and sent to Mongolia to work for the Empire. Anyone left was either executed or put into slavery.

Kalyan Minaret, Bukhara, Uzbekistan

Photo credit: Amrita Ronnachit

Pyramids of decapitated heads decorated the city. Bukhara, a city with 1,800 years of history (Bukhara was founded in approximately 6th Century BCE), was sacked, torched, and destroyed. Mosques and madrasahs were razed to the ground. Even farms were set alight.

Kalyan Minaret, Bukhara, Uzbekistan

Photo credit: Amrita Ronnachit

But when Genghis turned his gaze upon the Kalyan Minaret he found he could not sanction the magnificent tower’s destruction. He ordered it, and only it, spared from the carnage.

Thanks to Genghis’s uncharacteristic moment of charity the Kalyan Minaret still stands today.

Kalyan Minaret, Bukhara, Uzbekistan

Kalyan Minaret, during a mild sandstorm. Photo credit Benjamin White

Kalyan Minaret

Kalyan Minaret was built in 1127 CE by Mohammad Arslan Khan, ruler of the Qarakhanid Empire (the dynasty that ruled Transoxiana between 999 CE and 127 CE). The architect was a cryptic figure who went by the name of Bako.

Kalyan Minaret, Bukhara, Uzbekistan

Photo credit Benjamin White

Kalyan Minaret, or Minâra-i Kalân (which means Grand Minaret in Persian), is 45.6 metres tall.

The minaret is often referred to as the Tower of Death, as prisoners were thrown from its top floor as a quick and easy method of execution – a practice that continued all the way up to the early 20th Century CE.


Practical information and how to reach the Kalyan Minaret:

Bukahara is 560 km from Tashkent, and 270 km from Samarkand. There are trains running between the three cities; otherwise you will need to find a share-taxi. More transport info here.

Read more on Bukhara in the UNESCO World Heritage listing.


More on Uzbekistan:

Sarmish-say – 4,000 petroglyphs inc. auruchs, lions, tigers, saiga

Tashkent – world’s oldest Quran? capital of Turkestan?

Khiva – everyone’s favourite Central Asian Silk Road city


Posts on Samarkand, Uzbekistan:

Ulugh Beg Observatory – greatest astronomer in 1500 years?

Gur-e-Amir – the curse of Timur? link to the Taj Mahal?

The Registan – crowning glory of the Timurid Empire. Or is it?

Bibi Khanym Mosque – memorial to Timur’s wife

Afrosiab – Sogdian capital, sacked by Cyrus, Alex & Genghis

Shah-i-Zinda – a sombre stroll along the avenue of mausoleums


Posts on Qaraqalpaqstan:

Kurgashin-Kala – Desert Fortress of Khorezm

Nukus – desert capital, home to Savitsky Art Museum

Chilpik – Zoroastrian Tower of the Dead

Toprak Kala & Qyzyl Kala

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