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Ismail Samani Mausoleum

The Samanid mausoleum is located in the historical urban nucleus of the city of Bukhara, in a park laid out on the site of an ancient cemetery. The mesmerizing tomb of Ismael Samani is an architectural bolt from the blue. The oldest, best preserved and most breathtakingly original building in Bukhara, it is without doubt oneSamanid Mausoleum, of the architectural highlights of any visit to Uzbekistan. This mausoleum in Samani Park, completed in 905, is the town’s oldest Muslim monument and probably its sturdiest architecturally.

According to the legend, the founder of Samanids dynasty, Ismail Samanid, built this mausoleum for the father. Later this building became the family burial-vault of all Samanids. Presumably, Ismail himself, who died in 907, and his grandson Nasr II ibn Ahmad, who died in 943 and whose name was found on the wood plate above the entrance, were buried here.

This mausoleum is recognized to be a masterpiece of the world architecture for the perfection of its geometric forms. It is one of the most ancient buildings made from burnt bricks in Central Asia.

The almost perfect brick cube was built at the beginning of the tenth century and belongs to the great cultural resurgence of the Samanid dynasty (875-999). The cubic shape harks back to the Kaaba in the Masjid al-Haram in Mecca, and the dome above it represents the heavens. The complex patterns in the brickwork add texture to the four equal facades, enticing visitors to run their hands across the grainy surface.

The tomb derives its name from the founder of the dynasty, Ismael, and contains not only his tomb but also that of his father Ahmed, his nephew Nasr and others of the Samanid line.

The mausoleum draws elements from early Sogdian architecture (such as the heavy corner but tresses) and Sassanid fire worship (witness the circular brick suns and canopy shape of sacred Zoroastrian temples). Combining these with the recent arithmetic and geometrical advances made by al-Khorezmi, al-Fergani and ibn-Sina and the latest squinch technology, to forge an artistic style, the monumental mazaar, would serve as an architectural formula for centuries to come.

Its intricate baked-terracotta brickwork – which gradually changes ‘personality’ through the day as the shadows shift – disguises walls almost 2m thick, helping it survive without restoration (except of the spiked dome) for 11 centuries.

The construction is of a 10.8-metre cube with four identical facades, all of which slope slightly inward and upon which sits a hemispherical cupola ringed with four domelets. Four internal arches supported by corner pillars form the squinch upon which rests the eight and 16-sided transition to the drum. This chortak ('four arch') system was revolutionary for the time and came to dominate countless subsequent memorial tombs in Transoxiana. From the outside the zone of transition is masked by a gallery of ten windows which provide light and ventilation for the cool inner tombs. The mausoleum is also rich in symbolism. Its cube not only refers back to the sacred kaaba stone at Mecca, but furthermore symbolizes the earth and complements its dome, symbol of the heavens, to create a metaphor of the universe.

The true majesty of the building lies in the vivacity and textured richness of its basket-woven brickwork, set in a series of absorbingly complex patterns after the completion of the main skeleton structure. Such is the skill of the brickwork that its mood is at once sombre and spectacular, subdued yet dynamic, shifting emphasis with the angle of the sun. Its corner buttresses stand as Herculean support, its two-meter thick walls woven in weightless delicacy. If time allows, try to visit the building at different hours, even at night.

The 1,000 year-old tomb is a sacred site for locals for several reasons. Originally, the tombstone had two openings, one where anxious pilgrims would place their questions, dilemmas and donations and another where a hidden mullah would leave the orthodox/ considered solution. The site was also originally one of the holiest cemeteries in Bukhara, where even emirs were laid to rest. However, in 1934 when the mausoleum was discovered by Soviet archaeologist Shishkin, buried under several metres of accumulated sand and earth, the graves were relocated wholesale and the area desanctified into the Kirov public park. The accumulation of earth had ensured its survival during the Mongol destruction. The rising water table may prove a more assiduous threat, but that old Great Game player, the British foreign office, has funded traditional restoration here and at Buyan kuli khan.

For many years the lower part of the mausoleum remained under a two-meter high layer of sediment. Now the foundation has been cleared of these obstacles and the mausoleum, fully restored, is open for observation from all sides as was initially planned by the builders.

The monument marks a new era in the development of Central Asian architecture, which was revived after the Arab conquest of the region. The architects continued to use an ancient tradition of baked brick construction, but to a much higher standard than had been seen before. The construction and artistic details of the brickwork (see picture), are still enormously impressive, and display traditional features dating back to pre-Islamic culture.

The mausoleum of Pakistan's founding father, Muhammad Ali Jinnah--Mazar-e-Quaid is modeled after this structure.

The Samani Mausoleum is situated in Samani Park, five minutes' walk due west of the Registan.