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Kok-Gumbaz Mosque

Kok Gumbaz Mosque (1435-6) is obvious from the blue dome after which it is named. Tamerlane's grandson Ulug Beg built it as Shakhrisabz's Jummi Mosque and centrepiece of the Dorut Tilovat Madrassah (Seat of Respect and Consideration) not long after his father had moved the centre of Timurid power from Samarkand to Herat. This large mosque was completed by Ulugbek in honour of his father Shah Rukh (who was Timur’s son). It has been in an almost constant state of renovation for years. The palm trees painted on the interior walls are calling cards of its original Indian and Iranian designers.

On the site of an older, Karakhanid-era mosque, it once had a dome larger than that of the Bibi Khanym Mosque in Samarkand, as well as 40 domed galleries to house additional worshippers. The original dome collapsed sometime in the late 18th century but was rebuilt 200 years later.

Stepping across the threshold, you'll find the interior mosque of the complex i ool and calm, particularly when compared with the heat of the courtyard outside. Ерe interior decoration, gently peeling in places due to damp, may come across as a little garish, but it should not be forgotten that even in its original state it would still have been brightly painted and tiled; the only change is in the quality of the workmanship and its maintenance.

Surrounding the Kok-Gumbaz is a pleasant courtyard lined with craft stalls (mostly selling embroidery and gaudy knitted socks) and an area of whitewashed pillars with a vaulted ceiling. Protected from the elements, a few traditional stonemasons work here, mostly producing elaborately carved headstones, some ol which include realistic depictions of the deceased. Watching them work is mesmerising and the chink-chink of their chisels against the marble echoes back from the curved roof.

The impetus of his 600th anniversary in 1994 brought teams of restorers to refresh the mosaic tiling on the portal and 10-metre arch, though critics consider he matched the monumentality but not the elegance of his grandfather's works. The madrassah's porticos have also reappeared, once more to flank the two surviving mausoleums from the Barlas cemetery. The earlier one (on the left) was constructed by Tamerlane in 1373-4 for Sheikh Shamseddin Kulyal, a Sufic leader and spiritual advisor of Tamerlane's father, Taraghay. Tradition says both men lie beneath the tombstones, shorn of tiling but retaining some onyx carving.

Under the tall blue dome of the next door Gumbazi Sayyidon (1437-38) are four tombstones of his kinsmen. Gumbazi Seyidan (Dome of the Seyyids), which Ulugbek finished in 1438 as a mausoleum for his own descendants (although it’s not clear whether any are buried in it). The Kok Tash (blue stone) at the back bears a hollow worn by parents pouring water for sick children to drink-scientists confirm the stone contains medicinal salts. Other tombstones belong to Termezi sayyids (those claiming descent from Mohammed's grandson, Husain); their presence explains its name, Dome of the Sayyids. Renovation brightened the richly painted designs on the plaster interior, now falling prey to a rising water table. Some of the country's best value locally embroidered bags and suzanis can be found in the stalls that line the courtyard.