The Samanid Mausoleum

Empires have come and gone and sand has piled up - nearly two metres of which covered this building until as recently as the last century. Unearthed and cleaned up, the Samanid Mausoleum is regarded as the most elegant architectural expression of Central Asia with a fundamental significance in the development of Islamic art.

For over 1,100 years, the mausoleum has not required any serious renovation. It’s one of the oldest buildings in Bukhara, an excellently preserved, once thriving medieval city lying on the Silk Road. Ismail Samani turned the city into the capital of his empire stretching from the Southern coasts of the Caspian Sea to the Hindu Kush Mountains, and from the Syr Darya River to Central-Eastern Iran.

Construction began at the end of the 9th century. The mausoleum was built in defiance of Islamic law, which forbids erecting buildings of this type over graves, but Ismail, the conqueror of the Saf-farids, didn't consider himself an iconoclast since there had previously been rulers who had ignored this command.

The walls of this small building are made of a special kind of terracotta brick with an ancient recipe of eggs and camel milk. During renovation work, there were efforts to fill in holes. It turned out, however, that the original substance is very difficult to reproduce, and the composition of the local clay strayed far from the original mixture. The very arrangement of the bricks is a sensation on a global scale. They form a symmetrical layout in each of the four walls of the building and create a rare effect - depending on the angle which the sun's rays fall, the building looks different. Different optical impressions are created depending on the time of day, as the sun exposes different rows of bricks.

Apart from the unusual layout of the bricks, the building delights visitors with its proportions and the grandeur of its form. The ornamentation of its facades and interior were carried out also with the help of geometrical arrangements of smaller bricks and are regarded as an excellent example of early Islamic architecture which later blossomed throughout the entire Muslim world (geometrical patterns, small arches, a dome with a square base and a vaulted room).

The building is crowned by a semi-spherical dome accompanied by four smaller domes arranged in the corners of the mausoleum. In the middle there is a modestly ornamented brick tomb, inside of which there are - according to archaeological studies - the coffins of Ismail, his father and his grandson.

Ismail Samani is nowadays regarded as a national hero not only by Uzbeks, but also Tadzhiks. The highest peak in the Pamir Mountains, in Tadzhikistan, is named after him.

Tags: Uzbekistan