The Ark citadel.

The Ark citadel.

The spectacular-looking Ark, a royal town-within-a-town, is Bukhara’s oldest structure, occupied from the 5th century right up until 1920, when it was bombed by the Red Army. It’s about 80% ruins inside now, except for some remaining royal quarters, now housing several museums.

At the top of the entrance ramp is the 17th-century Juma (Friday) Mosque. Turn right into a corridor with courtyards off both sides. First on the left are the former living quarters of the emir’s kushbegi (prime minister), now housing an archaeological museum and a nature museum where you can see what healthy cotton looks like (in contrast to the forlorn, stunted variety you’ll see growing in central Uzbekistan).

Second on the left is the oldest surviving part of the Ark, the vast Reception & Coronation Court, whose roof fell in during the 1920 bombardment. The last coronation to take place here was Alim Khan’s in 1910. The submerged chamber on the right wall was the treasury, and behind this room was the harem.

To the right of the corridor were the open-air royal stables and the noghorahona (a room for drums and musical instruments used during public spectacles in the square below).

Around the Salamhona (Protocol Court) at the end of the corridor are what remain of the royal apartments. These apparently fell into such disrepair that the last two emirs preferred full-time residence at the summer palace. Now there are several museums here, the most interesting of which covers Bukhara’s history from the Shaybanids to the tsars. Displays include items imported to Bukhara, including an enormous samovar made in Tula, Russia. Another room contains the emir’s throne as well as portraits of the ill-fated British officers Stoddart and Conolly, who were eventually executed in front of the fortress on medieval Bukhara’s main square, the Registan.