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Balyand Mosque

Hidden on the fringes of the old town, some 400 metres south of the Kosh Madrassahs on Mira Street, the Balyand Mosque is a frequently overlooked 16th century gem.

Balyand mosque was built in the beginning of the 16th century in a wealthy Bukhara neighbourhood. Balyand mosque (in translation - "the high") owes its name to elevated stone base and high iwans.

This building is a typical example of a block mosque. The mosque consists of two parts - the summer and the winter ones. The winter part represents cube-shaped building. It is surrounded and shadowed with the terrace and astonishes with its decorated interior. The terrace is a summer mosque. The pillars of the terrace are shaped in a form of stalactites made in the 19th century from wood and is supported by the fundamental base.

Upon initial inspection, its facade is unimposing, notable only for the slender columns of the iwan which gives the mosque its name, devoid of the monumentality inherent in so much of Bukharan architecture. But beneath its anonymous exterior revels undisturbed some of the most opulent decoration to be found in Bukhara.

This architectural schizophrenia is buried deep in the mosque's raison d'etre. For, as a local guzar mosque, its style is personal rather than public, introspective rather than ostentatious - a place of contemplation and refuge rather than ceremony or formality. Yet at the same time its district was a rich one and a district traditionally reflected its social standing and religious piety through its mosque.

The interior of the mosque is small and intimate and prayer mats quilt the floor in comfortable familiarity. The artistic and spiritual focus of the mosque, the glittering mihrab wall and niche, is an intense burst of polychrome mosaic and tilework, decorated with vegetable motifs and thulth Koranic inscriptions, and the beautifully carved wooden ceiling is remarkable for its unrestored kundal paintwork, suspended on chains from the cross beams above.

The Balyand now functions again as a working mosque and should be left in peace during namaz prayer.