Popularly known as the Emir’s Summer Palace in Bukhara, this charming and nauseating collection of dwellings and state rooms was built by the Russians in 1911 for the last Emir Alim Khan, as an inducement to get him out of the Ark fortress and safely ensconced in a strategic and cultural no-man’s-land on the edge of town.
By the end of the 19th century, the emirs of Bukhara actually spent little time in their official residence, the Ark Fortress, but rather flitted between winter layover in Shakhrisabsz, summer suburban residence in the now destroyed Shirgaron Palace and the safe haven of Karmana. It was a physical dislocation that merely reflected a wider cultural confusion as the modern sparked with the medieval. By now the ruler of Central Asia’s most fanatical bastion of Islam paid annual visits in his private train to the banquets and balls of St Petersburg’s Winter Palace or to his fashionable dacha on the Crimean coast, as his son read Dostoevsky and tried to reconcile a four-year military education in St Petersburg with the medieval theology taught in Bukharan madrassah. With its uneasy mix of Russian and Central Asian architecture and traditions, Alim’s summer palace offers an intriguing symbol of, and insight into, the lifestyle of an emir trying to bridge two worlds and of an emirate caught between two ages.