The religious building has existed for more than 500 years and has always been called the main mosque of Bukhara. It is a jome mosque (cathedral) or Friday mosque (juma mosque), which means that it is the place of common prayer of the devout Muslims at noon on Friday, when the general namaz is performed. The Kalon Mosque in Bukhara is very spacious and can receive up to 12 thousand people at a time who come for solemn prayer.
Situated at the foot of the Kalon minaret is the monumental architectural ensemble – the Kalon Mosque and the Mir-Arab Madrassah. Together with the small square that lies between them, they form a single complex called Poi Minar, i.e. “at the foot of the minaret”.
Behind the Mir-Arab Madrassah, at the Zargaron bazaar dome, at an ancient crossroads of Shahristan is an ensemble of the Ulugbek and Abdulaziz Khan madrasas, and to the south are two more bazaar domes – Toki Telpak-Furushon and Toki Sarrofon.
To the north is the mighty Citadel Ark and next to it to the east is the Emir’s prison (zindan). The Kalon Mosque is one of the structures that make up the magnificent Kalon architectural ensemble.
The mosque itself is one of the unique structures of Bukhara and the story of its construction is one of the most interesting pages of the city’s solid chronicle.
For almost half a millennium, the mosque was a witness and participant in the life of the city. Thousands of worshippers gathered under its dome at prayer times.
The Kalon Mosque in Bukhara was built in 1514, at the time when Ubaydulla-Khan of the Shaibanid dynasty ruled. The mosque is considered one of the oldest and the second largest after Bibi-Hanum (Samarkand) in Central Asia. In the 16th century, Bukhara became the capital of the state and many important and grandiose buildings were constructed there. The Kalon Mosque was built on the site of the former main mosque of Bukhara, which was built by the Karakhanid dynasty in the 12th century and destroyed when Genghis Khan conquered the city. From this first mosque, the fragments of the lower part of the walls with figurative masonry have been preserved. There are opinions that the main mosque was located in another street before the XII century. Century and was moved here during the reconstruction of the centre of Bukhara.
The architecture of the religious building is traditional for the Temurid period. It is a rectangular structure with four aivans. The mosque has 7 entrances and the main entrance is on the east side; this entrance group is decorated with a portal made of mosaic and Arabic lettering. A staircase leads to the inner courtyard. A large blue double dome is erected over the central hall, which is shaped like a cross. The outer dome is placed on top of the mosaic drum. On the two sides of the main building are the blue domes. On the western side is a mihrab (Mihrāb is the Islamic prayer niche in mosques indicating the direction of prayer), which indicates the direction to Mecca and is also decorated with mosaics. The rectangular courtyard is framed by galleries consisting of 288 domes. They are based on 208 columns. The building occupies an area of one hectare.
The Kalon Mosque is an open-air mosque – worshippers were accommodated both in the open courtyard and in the covered galleries. In the courtyard is the tomb of one of the first imams of the Kalon Mosque. At the beginning of the XX century, a pavilion with 8 facets was built above the tomb, which served as the pulpit of the mosque. Thanks to the good acoustic design of the room, thousands of worshippers could hear the prayers read from the pulpit.
There are magnificent vaulted galleries in the courtyard area. In the heat, it is especially pleasant to pass by there, as the galleries become very cool. In total, they are all crowned with 288 domes built on 208 columns.
The materials used for the construction are fired brick, stone and wood. The brick facades are decorated with light mosaic, white and blue glaze and Arabic lettering. The name of the master builder of the mosque – Bayazid al Purani – was found in the ornamentation of the façade. The walls inside the mosque are decorated with ornaments and Quranic verses in gold.
At the end of the twentieth century, the Kalon Mosque in Bukhara was restored and is in use today. Tourists are not allowed inside during Friday prayers, and on other days the entrance is closed after 20:00, when prayers begin.