The Chor Minor ‘Four Minarets’ in Bukhara is one of the most charming and quirky buildings in the city, all the more surprising because, built-in 1807, it dates from a period of suffocating cultural stagnation. The building of Chor Minor in Bukhara, resembling an upside-down chair thrust deep into the ground, is merely the darvazakhana gatehouse of a madrassah (90 by 40 metres/292 by 130 feet) built by the rich Turkmen merchant Khalif Niyazkul.

If you view the building from the south you are standing in the Chor Minor Madrassah courtyard with its former summer mosque to your left and hauz to your right. The only remains of the madrassah lie crumbling to the sides of the Chor Minor.

Strictly speaking, the four towers that sprout from the gatehouse are not four minarets and never have been. None of the structures has a gallery, precluding any call to prayer, and three of the four are purely auxiliary, only the fourth providing access to a first-floor library. For a fee, the shopkeeper will unlock the door. The 17-meter (55-foot) four minarets in Bukhara are capped with sky-blue domes, and up until this century, small spikes provided regular nest support for generations of migratory storks.