One of the monuments, which we know is not mentioned in the scientific literature, is located in the large settlement of Gijduvan, 40 km from Bukhara. The structure is interesting because it is the third madrasa built by Ulugbek, thus adding to the list of structures built by him.
Moreover, it is an important monument from one of the most glorious periods of Central Asian architecture, which was due to the emergence of the powerful Temurid Empire, the concentration of significant wealth in the hands of the emirs and the ruling classes, the influx of cheap labour in the form of captive slaves and the rapid development of trade and crafts in Central Asian cities.
The architecture of this period differed greatly in form and content from the architecture of the preceding epoch. It grew out of the emirate’s great power tendencies and strove to eclipse all that had gone before by its grandiosity, its monumental forms and its wealth of sparkling azure and gold ornamentation.
The influx of artists and architects recruited from the territories conquered by Amir Temur, especially Persia, determined the diverse character of the architecture, which incorporated various elements alongside the ancient tradition of Central Asia. The fusion of these heterogeneous elements resulted in an architecture that has its own style and is an important contribution to world architecture.
During the reign of Amir Temur (known in the West as Tamerlan, 1370-1405), the style developed from small buildings firmly linked to the old local tradition (early mausoleums in Shah-i-Zinda dating back to the Temurid period, Khashma-Ayub in Bukhara and others) to its highest expression in the Bibi-Khanum Mosque.
Intensive building activity continued under Ulugbek, the ruler’s grandson, and the Temurids who succeeded him. On the eve of the downfall of the Temurid empire, which existed only briefly and was constantly being prepared by the crises in the country and a new wave of invaders, palaces, mosques and madrasas were built whose forms and decorations were characterised by austerity and splendour.
The heyday of cultural life reached its peak, followed by a slow and gradual decline over several centuries. In architecture, this decline manifested itself in the fact that the architectural forms created under Amir Temur and his successors, as well as the general ensembles and ground plans of the buildings, remained the unchanging patterns imitated by later master builders who introduced nothing fundamentally new.
The evolution of the style continues, of course, along with the changing economic and political factors, but it is largely reflected only in the interpretation of the individual elements of the building, in the more sophisticated decoration, losing the technical perfection of execution achieved in the XIV-XV centuries, which the impoverished country could not sustain, and in the development of some structural techniques, mainly in the system of domed ceilings.
The madrasas built by Ulugbek are the oldest buildings of this type in Central Asia. We see a fully developed architectural type. It is unknown whether this type was developed earlier or only in the Temurid period. We can only say that the Ulugbek madrasas are the last word in this development, for the later madrasas of the later periods mainly repeated the forms of Ulugbek and allowed only minor differences.
The Ulugbek madrasa in Gijduvan is one of the main parts of the architectural ensemble that appeared among quite popular and enjoyed respect and fame far beyond the Gijduvan district, the mazar of Abdul-Halyk Gijduwani, a famous mystic-Sufi. The building of the madrasa is not large. It faces east through the entrance. A comparison of three madrasas built by Ulugbek gives us a clear picture of the main elements of madrasas as an architectural type and their mutual relationship.
The most typical features of all the madrasas are the significant development of the portal section with a huge decorative “peshtak”, two large domed rooms on either side of the entrance serving as an auditorium or mosque, and an almost square courtyard surrounded by one- or two-storey arches under which the entrances to the hujshras (cells) are arranged.
The plans for all three madrasas are largely symmetrical. But a comparison of these monuments reveals some distinguishing features, mainly as follows.
The madrasa at Samarkand, the richest and most important of all, has two separate, non-contiguous entrances under a large portal arch that branch off in different directions via cranial corridors and lead into the inner courtyard of the building. The domed spaces on either side of the entrance are relatively undeveloped given the massive scale of the structure, and the focus has been shifted to the rear, western side, where a large assembly hall-mosque and two significant ancillary rooms have been built alongside.
On all four sides of the courtyard are large arches, both storeys high, dividing the arcades of each side into two. The hujschras were once arranged in two floors (the upper floor has not been preserved). On the façade, there are only slightly lowered decorative arches on the sides of the portal (peshtak). All four corners of the building end with high towers – minarets.
There are small side portals on the south and north façades. In contrast to the madrasa in Samarkand, the madrasa in Bukhara, which probably served as a model for all the larger madrasas in Bukhara and later in Tashkent, Kokand, Khiva and other cities, has only one entrance under the portal arch, which splits into two cranked exits onto the inner courtyard immediately in front of the gate. The mosque and the darskhana (study rooms), symmetrically located at the front of the building, assume much greater relative importance.
Large arches in the courtyard are built only on the north side opposite the entrance and on the south side between the courtyard exits. On the front façade of the building, on each side of the portal, there are two rows of hujshras arches, four in number.
The flanking towers of the façade have been partially or completely rebuilt during one of the renovations. They have no cladding and therefore offer no indication of their original height. Thus the madrasa at Bukhara, built somewhat earlier than Samarkand, is more modest in size and decoration and gives a picture of a clear simplification of the basic forms.
The third madrasa of Ulugbek at Gijduvan is even simpler in plan and more modest in size. Under a slender peshtak front façade, which appears particularly tall due to the low height of the adjoining walls, which are only one storey high, a double door decorated with carvings leads into a small, vaulted passage hall and through this – directly into the courtyard of the madrasa.
The entrance is flanked by two traditional buildings – the mosque on the right and the Darskhona on the left. The almost square courtyard of the madrasa is surrounded by a one-storey arcade, under which are the entrances to ten hujjras. There are four hujjras each on the south and north sides and two on the west side.
A large arch is built only on the western side, opposite the entrance. The outer façade has no hujjras, as in the Samarkand madrasa, and likewise there are pseudo-arches of decorative value. This is the second part in which the mosque and the darskhan are described in detail.
As already mentioned, they are arranged symmetrically on both sides of the entrance and have the same floor plan. They are oblong rooms, each divided into three parts by strongly projecting mouldings. The pillars are connected in pairs by lancet arches. Each of the three parts thus formed is covered by the arch.
The centre of these vaults also has a lantern dome on a low hexagonal drum, pierced with windows that illuminate the space. The walls of both rooms are plastered with alabaster and without any ornamentation.
The hujras of the madrasa are small rooms covered by domes in four cases and simple lancet vaults in the others. The madrasa in Gijduvan is very similar to the madrasa in Bukhara in its external decoration, both in the technical methods of execution and in the ornamentation.
This similarity is reinforced by the fact that both madrasas were thoroughly renovated at the end of the XVI century. The variety of techniques used in the cladding of both madrasas (Bukhara and Gijduvan) is not great and is limited to the figurative laying out of simple unglazed and glazed blue and blue tiles forming simple geometric patterns or rhythmically changing short Kufic inscriptions, and majolica tiles filling the tampons of the arches or forming bands of inscriptions in different parts of the building.
In both madrasas, a considerable part of the now dilapidated façade by Ulugbek was replaced by a new one, by Abdullakhan. The masters of Abdullakhan’s time (end of the 16th century), working with their own very typical methods, did not try to imitate the ornaments and techniques of the Temurid era, which had been repeated only half a century earlier in the majolica of Mir-Arab and the Great Mosque in Bukhara.
Thanks to this, the elements introduced by the 16th-century builders are easily recognisable in the façade. The main distinguishing features of both types of majolica are that the majolica tiles from Ulugbek’s time are made in a large, clear pattern with accentuated contours.
The colour tones of the majolica are blue, white and blue with gold. In the majolica at the end of the 16th century, the pattern becomes finer and transitions into the highly characteristic “finely etched” cut-out of spiralling shoots, intricately carved leaves and flowers. The contours of the design are somewhat confused and adjacent shades merge into one another. Shades: white, blue, blue and green. There is no gilding; neither carved tile mosaics nor carved marble inlays, of which the madrasa in Samarkand is so rich, are found in these two madrasas.
The only part of the Ulugbek madrasa in Gijduvan that has continuous panelling is its façade. Pylons of the portal, divided by horizontal beams into three rectangles – panels, are decorated with layouts of coloured glazed bricks of blue and blue colours with simple unglazed what simple geometric patterns. The same technique is used to decorate the walls next to the portal and the towers in the corners.
In the latter case, rectangular Kufic inscriptions are laid out with bricks. Above the entrance arch to the courtyard of the madrasa, which encloses the columns of the shield wall, there is a horizontal wide band of white letters on a blue background. The inscription is fragmentary, but its beginning and end can be read without difficulty.
Further on follows a large gap in which individual tiles have survived, of which only fragments of sentences survive. “This great place, an abode like the gardens of Paradise “the greatest Sultan, the most merciful Hakan… the saviour of the world and of the faith Ulugbek Kuragan, may Allah prolong his kingdom.”
The far end of the inscription has fallen off. On the edge of the last surviving plates, the numbers (36) at the end can be clearly read at the break near the top edge. Since, in our opinion, the numbers at the end of such an inscription cannot be traced to anything other than the date of the building’s construction, the date of its completion should be 836, i.e. AD 1433. Consequently, this monument is the youngest of the three madrasas built by Ulugbek.
Above the small arch that serves as the entrance to the courtyard are several tiles of majolica by Ulugbek. Part of the majolica fills the tympanum of this arch, and on either side of the arch are two rectangles with two lines of inscriptions executed in the typical Abdullakhan style. This inscription, like the one above, has larger gaps.
“Repaired by the command of His Majesty, exalted as Saturn…. …worthy Solomon, valiant as Alexander…. …Nushirvan… Consolidator of peace, state and faith Abdul-Ghazi Abdullah Bahadurhan, may Allah prolong his reign”.
On the left side of the inscription is written in small letters, “Completed in the months of 991, the diligence …”. Thus, the task was repaired in 991 – 1583, only 150 years after its construction.
The courtyard of the Ulugbek madrasa in Gijduvan has no cladding, or at least it has not survived to this day, although there are some gaps for cladding in the masonry of the walls. The exception is a large arch on the west side of the courtyard, which is clad internally with the same pattern of multi-coloured bricks as the front façade. The bevelled outer edge of this arch is decorated with several majolica tiles that were stuck on randomly and without pattern during one of the later repairs.
Directly opposite the entrance to the madrasa is the Hodja Abdul-Halik-Mazar, located in a small courtyard enclosed by a brick fence on the north, east and south sides. The courtyard is enclosed on the north and east sides by a brick fence supported on five wooden posts. Adjacent to the courtyard to the west is a mosque consisting of a shed on two wooden pillars. The pillars stand on stone plinths and are crowned with stalactite capitals shaped like ciphers. One of the plinths bears an inscription, half eaten away by time, which reads, “This blessed building was completed through the efforts of Hazret Shah Sultan in the year 947” (1541 A.D.). (1541 A.D.). Taking into account obvious repairs and alterations, the mosque itself apparently belongs to the period indicated in the inscription. An interesting feature of the mosque is a wooden mihrab with a stalactite niche, which has three rows of stalactites and a small half-dome.
The star-shaped ornament covering the mihrab is mostly crumbled and bears traces of staining. In front of the mosque, almost in the middle of the courtyard, there is a dakhma with the Sheikh’s tomb, which is covered with grey stone slabs. There is no gravestone, only a marble slab (with the date 1331 (1913) on the west side of the dakhma) with an inscription with several chronograms “tarihs” on the death of the Sheikh.
The madrasa and the mazar are surrounded by a large cemetery to the west, north and partly to the south. The madrasa is surrounded by a large cemetery to the west, north and partly to the south. All in all, it is a very interesting complex of buildings built over the centuries around the famous Mazar, a nest of the Khoja who spend their last days here waiting for the increasingly rare pilgrims.
This complex is also interesting because, as we have shown above, its individual parts are dated by the inscriptions of modern buildings, which is of great importance in the complete absence of literary sources.