magok-i-attari mosqueDescend the six-metre (19-foot) deep cultural layers of the Magok-i-Attari Mosque (today, Museum of Carpets) in Bukhara and you will find heathen shrines, the remains of a Buddhist monastery, a Zoroastrian Temple in Bukhara and the mosque of the Arab invaders, all sharing the same space, jostling as uneasy bedfellows.

At least this is what the Soviet archaeologist V. A. Shishkin found during his 1935 excavations, unveiling as he worked a unique vertical spread of 2,000 years of Bukharan history.

By the Samanid tenth century the Magok-i-attari Mosque (Museum of Carpets) in Bukhara began to be known by its present name, partly from the medicinal herb sellers (Attars) who displayed their spices in the busy bazaar here, partly from the name of the name of the square (“Mokh” meaning either “moon” or the name of a mythological prince) and the twice yearly religious fair convened here, and also in part from the depth of its cultural layers (“magok” meaning “pit”). In 937 the four-pillared mosque in Bukharawas burnt to the ground in a city-wide fire and in the 12th century the present Magok-i-Attari Mosque (Museum of Carpets) was erected, from which the focus of the mosque, the original southern portal, remains.

The absorbing portal draws the entire range of decorative techniques—ganch carving, polished brick, terracotta plaques and glazed tile work—into its richly receding facade. Two Sogdian-influenced quarter columns lead the eye to complex girifeh panels, reminiscent of those in Uzgen, and fine filigree carved columns support a graceful arch still traced in turquoise majolica tilework.

In 1547 an eastern entrance facade was added with its skullcap dome, but today the Magok-i-Attari Mosque in Bukhara is still approached from the south. The mosque is today used as a Museum of Carpets (closed Sunday) whose highlights include a falcon holder and carpet bag for storing dead game, a heretic Christian Armenian carpet depicting figures and faces and a selection of Turkomen Ersari and Tekke carpets. Zoroastrian remains can be seen in the eastern pit, below a huge mass prayer carpet.