Sunday, October 29, 2017

Uzbekistan | Bukhara | Ismael Samani Mausoleum

From Komil’s Guesthouse I wandered over to Ismael Samani’s Mausoleum on the western edge of town ( N39°46'37.10' / E64°24'2.59', three quarters of a mile from the center of town, the center being for our purposes the square between the Kalon Mosque and the Mir-i-Arab Madrassa). The mausoleum is the oldest building in Bukhara and one of the oldest buildings in Inner Asia. The foundations of the Magok-i-Attari Mosque in Bukhara, originally part of a pre-Islamic Zoroastrian or perhaps even Buddhist temple, may be older, but the original building was destroyed by fire in 937. It was rebuilt in the 12th century, only to be heavily damaged during on the Mongol Assault On The City in the spring of 1220. Apparently only the eleventh-century southern-facing facade has survived intact down to the present day. The Ismael Samani Mausoleum dates from probably the first decade of the the tenth century—it was already completed when Ismael, who consolidated the power of the Samanid Dynasty and made Bukhara its capital, died in 907—and survived the later Mongol onslaught with little if any damage. Thus it is one of two pre-Mongol invasion structures in Bukhara—the other being the Kalon Minaret—which have survived basically undamaged down to the present day. Don’t worry, I will have more to say on the Magok-i-Attari Mosque and the Kalon Minaret in good time; for the moment I will focus on the Ismael Samani Mausoleum.

The mausoleum is a near-perfect cube topped by a dome, measuring 35 feet on each side, with four identical facades which incline inward just slightly. The structure incorporates pre-Islamic Sogdian elements, such as the heavy three-quarter inset columns built into each corner, and Sassanian features like the four small ovoid domes at the corners of the roof, while at the same time introducing new designs, such as the so-called chortak system of supporting the dome. “The problem of setting the dome over a square chamber,” reckons architectural history Edgar Knobloch, “is here carried beyond the simple solution of Parthian and Sassanian times. Consisting of three supporting arches which curve down from the crown of the arch to the walls, the squinch carries the thrust of the dome downward—rather like a Gothic flying buttress.” These new architectural features might well be the product of advances in geometry and mathematics by al-Khorezmi (the Father of Algebra, (780-850) and other leading lights of the intellectual florescence in Mawarannahr and Khorezm in the ninth and tenth centuries.  

What is most readily apparent to the casual observer, however, is the complex brickwork designs on the outer faces of the six and a half foot-thick walls and the corner columns. These have no real precedent in any other surviving Inner Asian buildings, and it would be hard to find their match in any subsequent brick monuments. The extruding bricks in the walls also creates shadows which change the appearance of the designs as the sun moves moves across the sky. On overcast days, when the sun casts no shadows, the building assumes yet another aspect. 

Accounts of the mausoleum over the years mention various tombs inside the mausoleum, including those of Ismael himself, his father Ahmed, his nephew Nasr, and others, but at the moment there only one coffin present. It is not clear if this is Ismael’s tomb, or if it is, whether his body is still inside. 

The Ismael Samani Mausoleum was in its earliest days in the middle of a vast cemetery. Historians believe that it was half-buried in sand and gravel by the time the Mongols arrived in the 1220 and thus escaped their notice. Since it was in the middle of a cemetery it may have also been protected from the fires which ravaged most of the wooden structures and destroyed even the brick buildings in the main part of the city. The building was still nearly buried in sand and debris when it was discovered by a Russian archeologist in 1934. The graves in the surrounded graveyard were later relocated or covered over and the area was turned into Kirov Park, which in addition to the mausoleum and another historic building, the Chasma Ayub, or Spring of Job, he of Afflictions notoriety, now features a ferris wheel and other fairground attractions. 
Ismael Samani Mausoleum 
 Ismael Samani Mausoleum 
 Ismael Samani Mausoleum 
Ismael Samani Mausoleum 
 Brickwork designs on the corner columns
 Small ovoid domes on the corners may harken back to Sassanian designs
 Dome of the mausoleum
 Window with brickwork grill
 Window with brickwork grill
 Tomb inside the mausoleum, perhaps that of Amir Ismael (r. 892 - 907)
Another view of the Mausoleum

2 comments:

  1. So they're telling us Job was a bit of a drama queen, what with all his Afflictions? Now it's a kiddie park? That's quite a turn of direction. The tomb is amazing. Your narrative, pithy as always.

    ReplyDelete
  2. It is true Job had his problems, but don’t we all. Anyhow, he got a book in the BIble named after him, so he should not complain

    ReplyDelete