Showing posts with label Samanids. Show all posts
Showing posts with label Samanids. Show all posts

Sunday, July 29, 2018

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

Saturday, December 1, 2012

Uzbekistan | Bukhara | The Poet Rudagi

When I woke up unexpectedly at three a.m. last night it suddenly dawned on me that I have not said nearly enough about the Samanids, who ruled Bukhara from c.875 to 999 a.d.
Bukhara, under Samanid rule, was the Focus of Splendour, the Shrine of Empire, the Meeting-Place of the most unique intellects of the age, the Horizon of the literary stars of the World, and the Fair of the great scholars of the Period.
So intoned historian Abu Mansur Abdu l-Malik ath-Thaalibi (961–1038), who as a young man was privileged to sit at the feet of the savants of Bukhara. One literary star of the time was Rudagi (858–c.941), who was born in a village near Samarkand on the middle Zerafshan River (some say a village near Panjakant, in current-day Tajikistan). 

According to some accounts, he was blind from birth or early childhood, although this has been disputed. He flowered early as a poet and as a lyricist who may have sung his effusions and accompanied himself on the harp. He was soon noticed by the Prime Minister of Samanid Ruler Ismael (892-907), who declared that as a poet Rudagi was “peerless among the Arabs and Persians.”
Mausoleum of Ismael Samani in Bukhara (Click for Enlargement)
Inside of Mausoleum, with what is purported to be Ismael Samani’s tomb, although it is not clear if his body is actually inside it. 
Eventually he caught the attention of Ismael’s successor, Nasr II (r.914–943) and went on to became his court poet. According to one thirteen-century historian, Rudagi was “the first to compose good poetry in Persian . . . that poet so piquant in expression, so fluent in verse, whose Diwan is famous among the Persians, and who was the leader in Persian poetry in his time beyond all his contemporaries.”
The Samanid Amir Nasr b. Ahmad, although a native of Bukhara, set up a court in Herat,  the environs of which he thought more salubrious. Apparently army officers back in Bukhara, after his four year absence, wanted the Amir to return and lead them, and so they appealed to Rudagi to lure him back with his poetry. Rudagi come up with this verse in praise of Bukhara, which may well have been a ballad sung to the accompaniment of a harp.

The sands of the Oxus, toilsome though they be, 
Beneath my feet were soft as silk to me.
Glad at the friends’s return, the Oxus deep
Up to our girth’s in laughing waves shall leap.
Long live Bukhara! Be thou of good cheer!
Joyous toward thee hasteth our Amir!
The moon’s the Prince, Bukhara is the sky;
O Sky, the Moon shall light thee by and by!
Bukhara is the Mead, the Cypress he;
Receive at last, O Mead, thy Cypress-tree!

Upon hearing these verses, claimed the near-contemporary historian Nidhami-i-Arudi:
The Amir was so much affected that he descended from his throne, bestrode the horse of the sentinel on duty, and set off for Bukhara in such haste that they carried his riding boots after him for two parasangs [about eight miles], as far as Burana, where he put them on; neither did he draw rein anywhere until he reached Bukhara.
The historian also claims that Rudagi received for his efforts 10,000 dirhams from the army officers who wanted Nasr b. Ahmad back in Bukhara. 

Rudagi’s successes as a improvisational poet, lyricist, and harper, however, earned him the scorn of traditionalists who favored a more formal style. The famous fifteenth century literary critic Dawlatshah, in his Memoirs of the Poets,  scoffed at one of Rudagi’s efforts: “If anyone were to produce such a poem in the presence of kings or nobles, it would meet with the reprobation of all.” Dawlatshah appeared to be off the mark in regard to Rudagi’s popularity, however. At one point the poet owned two hundred slaves, and a hundred camels were necessary to carry his baggage when he traveled. His verses, it was said, filled a hundred volumes; he reportedly wrote 1,300,000 couplets. Almost all of his work has been lost. Unfortunately, the poet came to a bad end. He may have fell under the sway of the Ismaili Sect, considered heretical in the domains of the Samanids, and eventually fell out of favor with the court. His lament:

Who had greatness? Who had favour, of all people in the land?
I it was had favour, greatness, from the Saman scions' hand;
Khurasan's own Amir, Nasr, forty thousand dirhams gave,
And a fifth to this was added by Prince of Pure and Brave;
From his nobles, widely scattered, came a sixty thousand more;
Those the times when mine was fortune, fortune good in plenteous store.
Now the times have changed--and I, too, changed and altered must succumb,
Bring the beggar's staff here to me; time for staff and script has come!

He reportedly died in abject poverty. Perhaps in his final days he repeated one of his couplets:

Were there no wine all hearts would be a desert waste, forlorn and black, 
But were our last life-breath extinct, the sight of wine would bring it back.

See More Rudagi Poetry.

In 1958 the Iranian government celebrated the 1100th anniversary of Rudagi’s birth by issuing postage stamps in his name. 
 Iranian postage stamp honoring the 1100th birthday of Rudagi 
 Another Iranian postage stamp honoring the birthday of Rudagi 
In 2008 his 1150th birthday was celebrated by a international seminar held in Tajikistan (the Tajikistanis go with the idea he was born near Panjakant in current day Tajikistan) and attended by Iranian panjandrum President Ahmadinejad. One can only wonder that Rudagi would have to say about Ahmadinejad.