Gifts from Emirs of Bukhara

For centuries “the noble Bukhara”, one of the most ancient and beautiful cities of Central Asia, was considered to be the second Mecca of the Islamic world. Together with Asia Minor and Mesopotamia, Central Asia was the cradle of the first urban civilizations. The millennial traditions of state organization and urban life were preserved in the Emirate of Bukhara until its incorporation in the Russian Empire in 1860s-1870s. Nevertheless, Bukhara continued to enjoy a certain degree of political independence, and the practice of gift exchange served as an important way of maintaining good relations with Russian emperors.

The exhibition “Gifts of the Emirs of Bukhara” provides an exclusive opportunity to know the unique collection of arms, ceremonial harnesses, gorgeous robes, carpets, satin and velvet clothes, presented to Emperors Alexander III and Nicholas II as well as to the members of their families by the three last Emirs of Bukhara Muzaffar-khan, Abdulakhad-khan and Alim-khan in 1879-1910. According to the tradition of Central Asian people the gift had special importance, and every object presented as a gift contained a secret message for its receiver. Men’s robes with golden and silk embroidery, horse covers, festive trappings, covered by elegant ornaments, arms set with precious stones, and bright colored textiles made in specific ikat technique expressed the homage paid by the lords of Bukhara to their sovereign, the Emperor of Russia.

The exhibition is divided in three thematic sections: “Festive Trappings”, “Palace carpets and Wall-hangings”, “Costumes of the Emir and His Courtiers”.

In the first section “Festival Trappings” one can see real masterpieces of ceremonial harness, made in the court workshops of the lords of Bukhara. Graceful horses of the Akhaltekin race were the most welcomed gifts for the Royal family, and exquisite harness was made to match them. One can admire saddles, painted in miniature lacquer technique, decorated with silver and golden plates, engravings, insertions of precious stones, and glasses, made in Bukhara, famous for its trapping-making. Every item was a scrupulous work of three to five craftsmen: saddle-makers, goldsmiths, and experts in making festive horse-clothes, girths and saddle bands. The decorative details of the harnesses (golden ornaments, put on horse tails, figured plates for horse harness, and plumages) look especially dazzling.

The next section ”Palace carpets and Wall-hangings” gives an idea of daily life of the Bukhara elite. In comparison with the palaces of western monarchs and noblemen, the dwellings of Emir and his dignitaries had few pieces of furniture, therefore the carpets, wall hangings, and decorative silk draperies created the effect of luxury. In this section one can see the best examples of these objects in the context of its traditional use in Central Asian court culture. Moreover, precious clothes, given as presents, served as symbolic wishes of   prosperity and augmentation in the family.

The last section ”Costumes of Emir and his courtiers” shows another important aspect of the court lifestyle. As for Emir himself, as a possessor of priestly title, he seldom wore rich garments. Only during the most important festivals of Kurban-Bairam and Ramazan, he put on the robe, trousers, boots, and turban with golden embroidery, so that usually the costumes of his courtiers marked a striking contrast with the modest dress of their sovereign. All were costly clothes, decorated with multicolored silk and golden embroidery.  According to reports of eyewitnesses, amount of robes in the palace stores alone were equal to 15.000-20,000 items: brocade, velvet, and silk were kept piled in strict order. Such abundance and variety was explained by the fact, that in the traditional etiquette of the peoples of Central Asia the robe was one of the most appreciated presents which symbolized the high status of both the persons who made and who received the gift. Another symbol of male dignity was a belt made of leather, silk, velvet and decorated with silver and golden plates, set with precious and semiprecious stones. One can see at the exhibition excellent examples of such enamel belts with inlays insertions. Although all these objects are only material testimonies of the past glory of Bukhara court culture, it seems they still keep a part of the soul of their former masters.

The collection of the gifts of the Emirs of Bukhara has no comparison in the world. The exclusive photos from the photo-archive of the Russian Museum of Ethnography supplement material testimonies.


Space required – approximately180 square meters.

Number of objects – about 250 items.