Madrasahs

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Uzbekistan is a country where Islam is widely accepted and practiced. Madrasahs are schools where students learn Islam and other sciences. Currently, most of the madrasahs are functioning again. They are one of the biggest and most beautiful ones on the Silk Road. You will visit the most famous and biggest ones. As these places are sacred, you should follow proper manners. For example,


  • shoes must be removed when entering
  • women should cover their head with a cloth
  • minimum of skin should be visible


For more manner hints, refer to MUST-KNOW.


Kukeldash Madrassah - Tashkent

Kukeldash Madrassah - Tashkent

The Kukeldash madrasah (16th c.) was constructed by the counselor of Tashkent khans Barakkhan and his son Darwish Muhammad. Named Kukeldash, meaning "milk brother", it was built during 1551-75 in traditional architectural style. Upon entrance one can find a mosque on the left behind the portal, and a lecturer's room (darshona) on the right covered by domes. The court yard is spacious and is surrounded by 38 classrooms and open terraces. Earlier, the madrasah was a three-story building, but now it has two floors. In the 17th century, the Kukeldash madrasah served as a barn or as a caravan-shed. It considerably suffered as a result of the earthquakes of 1886 and 1946. Numerous restoration works have changed the appearance of the madrasah.


The Kukeldash madrasah develops the architectural traditions of Mawaraunnahr in the Temurid's period. It is included into the number of the most significant architectural Madrasahs of Uzbekistan.


Barakkhan Madrassah - Tashkent

Barakkhan Madrassah - Tashkent

In the middle of the 16th century, the madrasah of Barakkhan was one of the basis of a memorial ensemble that consisted of two mausoleums (one anonymous and one Suyunidjkhan). Barakkhan wanted his construction of the madrasah to be similar to a great palace. Therefore the gate of the main entrance and the doors leading to the hudjra have carving decoration with jewels, ivory and nonferrous metals. The domes of the madrasah, similarly to the architectural Madrassah of Samarkand, are riveted by blue tiles. Therefore the madrasah is known by people and in literature as Kok Gumbaz (Blue Dome). The strong earthquake, that took place in Tashkent in 1868 and caused major damage to the madrasah. The second floor suffered especially. The blue domes fell.


Muy Muborak Madrassah - Tashkent

Muy Muborak Madrassah - Tashkent

In the middle of the 19th century, opposite the entrance of Barakkhan madrasah another one was built under the name Muy Mubarak. The origin of this name is connected with a legend according to which Prophet Muhammad's (SAW) hair was stored here. References mention that the teacher (mudaris) of this educational institution was a known preacher of sufi doctrines Naqshband Hadja Ahrar Wali.


The building decayed. Then it was partially restored, and was replenished with outhouse and soon transformed into a library. The basis of its reserves was the manuscripts left by Ishan Babakhan ibn Abdulmadjidkhan. Now the fund numbers more than 20,000 books and above 2,000 manuscripts. Among the collection is the manuscript of Qo'ran of Usman written on deer's leather in kufi handwriting during the caliph Usman's governing (634-644).


Ulugbek Madrasah - Samarkand

Ulugbek Madrasah - Samarkand

During the reign of Timur’s grandson – Muhammed Taragay Ulugbek – the first building of the complex, Ugulbek Madrasa, was constructed at Registan in 1417-1420. It was the ruler and scholar who ordered the construction. Due to this madrasa and the observatory Samarkand became famous as one of the main scholar centers of the medieval East in the first half of the XV century. The history did not preserve architect’s name, yet a message of a Herati poet Zaynutdin Vasifi, who lived 40 years in Tashkent, says it was Kamaleddin Muhandis, a student of Kaza-zade Rumi. Ugulbek Madrasa is an enclosed rectangular yard with an auditorium-mosque occupying its back part and four minarets rising in the corners of the ensemble. Around the yard, two groups of arches opened outside leading to 50 cells which accommodated over 100 students of the madrasa. Deep niches were situated at the yard’s axes. At first the Ugulbek Madrasa was a two-storey building with four domes around the corner auditoriums.


The Madrasa looks towards the square with its giant portal, occupying two thirds of the main facade, and high and deep lancet arch. Three similar though smaller portals were situated at three other sides of the building. The rear portal served as the mosque entrance. The portals are the building’s most noteworthy elements. Their function is strictly decorative, they are meant to impress with monumentality and greatness. This impression is gained with a very simple technique – by making over-large door niches. For all its grandeur, the building makes an impression of lightness and grace. There are no or minimal embossed details on the walls implying weight and thickness. The intricate geometric decor, mosaic panel of the arch, and the blue-and-cyan tile finish of the walls don’t even hint at hefty brickwork.


Besides the traditional citations from Koran, the madrasa portal exhibits the following inscription: “This is what can be said about this house: it is multilateral illumination for people, a direct way, grace for those with faithful vision. Respectable sultan, a son of sultan, founder of this edifice of science and blessing, supporter of peace and faith is Ulugbek Gurgan. Allah, save master’s palace, strengthen its basement until the end of its state. It is truly good to live in this majestic madrasa: We wish you peace! You have been gracious, so come in, and stay here forever. The year 820. Let it be known: this edifice, the most excellent and highest of the world places, the most perfect building as for the skill and works, shows the basis of sciences and leads along the way of salvation; here live the people of sharia and fatwa, hence the name of this great school – “home of the scholars”.


Sher Dor Madrassah - Samarkand

Sher Dor Madrassah - Samarkand

"The skilled acrobat of thought climbing the rope of imagination will never reach the limits of its forbidden minarets." Such is the inscription extolling the Registan's madrassah, built by Governor Yalangtush between 1619 and 1636. His artistic strove to match the first in scale and nobility, though Qoran’s prohibition against symmetry forbade an exact mirror-image. Facade length is identical, 51 meters from minaret to minaret. Structural differences include the lack of mosque, rear classrooms and auxiliary entrances in the lateral facades. Even inch seems covered with richly colored geometric and floral patterns. While experts detect proportional and decorative decline since the Timurid period, the stylized representation of animal life is a striking development. Above the pishtak arch run the lions that give the madrasah its name, Sher Dor – Lion bearing.


Tillya Kari Madrassah - Samarkand

Tillya Kari Madrassah - Samarkand

To enclose the square in pleasing harmony, Yalangtush had his architects stretch the facades of the third madrassah to 75 meters, built between 1646 and 1660. Smaller corner turrets are preferred to minarets. Mosaic feast is just as lively with solar symbols and interlacing floral motifs in similar colors to the Sher Dor. Tillya Kari has two stories of hujra, ventilated by panjara and carved with plaster windows. The single floor of cells on the other axes emphasizes the great turquoise dome and portal on the west side. They announce the city's congregational mosque, for Tamerlane's Bibi Khanum was already in ruins and the Kukeldash had disappeared. Its magnificent interior is swathed in kun-dal style gold leaf - hence the title Tillya Kari - 'gilded' from Qo'ranic inscriptions and stalactites above the marble mihrab, to carpet-like wall panels and ceiling of delicate leaves and flowers circling to infinity.


Khodja Akrar Complex - Samarkand

Khodja Akrar Complex - Samarkand

Khodja Akrar complex is 4 kilometers south of the Registan in Samarkand. It is built around the grave of Sheikh Khodja Akrar (1404-1490), a leader of the Nakhshbandi dervish and dominant political figure in Transoxiana following Ulugbek’s death. Acclaimed by the people as a religious ascetic and miracle-worker, he yielded great wealth and influence over Amir Timur's great-grandson Abu Said and his sons. Between 1630 and 1635, Bukhara’s minister Nadir Divanbegi incorporated the funerary-mosque built by Akrar's sons into a large madrassah. The mosaic tiling has been fully restored so the portal shines again with heretical art. Persian heraldic emblem of lion-tigers chasing decorates the walls, similar to those on the Sher Dor madrassah. Around the courtyard, faced with solar and floral motifs similar to Tillya Kari, runs a gallery of student cells, lecture halls and a domed mosque, all functioning again in the wake of independence.


Kosh Madrassah - Bukhara

Kosh Madrassah - Bukhara

The smaller and less ambitious of the madrassah is the Modar-i-Khan (1566-7). The madrassah has an orthodox layout with restrained facade tile-work and reflects Abdullah's early few years as ruler. The girikh designs of the facade are complicated, the violets, greens and whites are vibrant and the portal is impressive.


Nodir - Devon Begi Madrassah - Bukhara

Nodir - Devon Begi Madrassah - Bukhara

Initially this building was built as caravan-saray. But on the ceremony of opening the ruler of Bukhara Imam Kuli-khan unexpectedly called it as the madrassah. Architect had to change the construction of the building, adding to the main facade the portal and corner towers and also to build the second floor of khudjras (students rooms). However classrooms were not finished. And now it is the main pecuilarity of this madrassah.


The portal of madrassah is decorated with with herbal pattern and images of living beings: two birds of phoenix, facing a symbolic sun, hold in claws fantastic animals. This was the first attempt of architects to go away from traditional decor. The color of decor is dominated with cold blue, green, dark blue and yellow tones. Also there is the inscription on Arabic which says:"Allah is great, Muhammad is His prophet". Today this madrassah is the craft center with many various shops.

Restaurant in old madrasah Nodir Devon-Beghi


Gaukushan Madrassah - Bukhara

Gaukushan Madrassah - Bukhara

A few meters from the gallery, this 16th century maverick is unusual for its lopsided arrangement, created by the awkward layout of the road junction, and subsequent merger of its classroom and mosque together into the right-hand chamber. Its two-story facade also gives way, rather unusually, to a one-story courtyard. The Gaukushan (One who kills bulls) was originally built on the site of an old slaughterhouse, but today houses a workshop of metal-chasers whose plates and ewers sell for dollars or sum.


The affiliated Gaukushan Minaret opposite actually serves the Khoja Mosque, a large cloistered mosque built in 1598 by the Juibar Sheikh Khodja Kalon for Friday prayers.


Miri Arab Madrassahs - Bukhara

Miri Arab Madrassahs - Bukhara

Among the large number of the madrassahs built in Bukhara in the 16th century Miri-Arab Madrassah stands out as a real masterpiece. It was built on an elevated platform right across from the Kalyan Mosque. This architectural technique, called kosh (‘coupled’), was quite common in the Middle Ages. After Miri-Arab Madrassah had been constructed, Poi Kalyan Square (‘The Foot of Great’) reached its logical completion. Miri-Arab Madrasah is still one of the world’s famous and largest Islamic colleges.


The construction of the building had dragged on for about 15 years and was completed in 1536. The main constructor of the madrassah was Sheikh Abdella Yemeniy, more known as Miri-Arab. He was a rather influential figure at the court of the Sheibanid ruler Ubaidullakhan who ruled over Buhkara for only six years, but inscribed his name upon the pages of Central Asian history. This stern warrior, raised in the spirit of Sufi philosophy, made numerous victorious raids on Iran and returned with rich booty. After one of the raids he sold 3000 captive Persians as slaves and invested all the money he gained on completion of the construction of Miri-Arab Madrassah.


The madrassah has the plan that became standard in the Temurids times. The facade has a great portal with two-tier loggias adjoining it. The corners are massive guldasta towers. Two lines of little vertical relief arches accentuate the height of the portal. The main entrance leads through a corridor to a square yard with four ayvan platforms and two floors of hujra cells around. The ceilings, arches and walls of the madrassah are harmoniously covered with mosaics, fine multicoloured stylized paintings of plants, a large number of inscriptions in elaborate sulus script (a cursive flowing script written with rounded letters). In the right and left wings along the facade there are two halls under the domes on high bases. One of these halls served as a mosque, whereas the hall to the right of the entrance was a darskhona classroom.


The building of the mosque became the burial vault of Sheikh Miri-Arab. Its cruciform hall has a system of pendentives topped with beautiful stalactites. Above them, as if soaring in the air, there a dome with star-shaped decoration. Ubaidullakhan himself was buried at the foot of Sheikh Miri-Arab. A beautiful sarcophagus decorated with carvings lies over his grave. Next to it there is a tomb of a noted theologian Muhammad Kasim-mudarris.


Two-storeyed hujra cells surround the yard of the madrassah. In comparison with other madrassahs, they are quite comfortable for students to live in. A vaulted vestibule leads to a domed living room with niches and storage compartments in the walls. Fireplaces heated the cells. Here the students also cooked their meals.


In the 1920s the madrassah was closed. But in 1947 it began functioning again. Today there are over 100 students in the madrassah. Many well-known religious figures of Uzbekistan and CIS countries got their education in Miri-Arab Madrassah.


Ulugbek and Abdul Aziz Madrassahs - Bukhara

Ulugbek and Abdul Aziz Madrassahs - Bukhara

A few hundred yards east from the Poi Kalon, beyond the Tok-i-Zargaron bazaar, lies the second of Bukhara's kosh madrassahs, separated by Khodja Nurabad street and two hundred years of Bukharan history. The Ulugbek Madrassah (1417) was the earliest of three commissioned by the enlightened Timurid ruler (the other two stand in Samarkand and Gijduvan) and his secular influence dominates the exterior design of the religious college. Star motifs reflect Ulugbek's fascination with astronomy, design reflects the already established synthesis of science and art. Inscription on the entrance panel proclaims "It is the sacred duty of every Muslim man and woman to seek after knowledge". An earlier inscription on the door knocker further blessed the pursuit of wisdom: "Above the circle of people well schooled in the wisdom of books, let the doors of Allah's blessing be open every instant."


Ulugbek Madrassah - Bukhara

Ulugbek Madrassah - Bukhara

The former prominence of Gijduvan is shown by Ulugbek's choice of the city for his third madrassah built in 1433. Eighty years later Babur, the last Timurid who is the founder of Baburid's dynasty in India, met humbling defeat here. He escaped, never to return to Transoxiana. A majolica frieze running along its portal wall announces the madrassah as "a sacred place, a cloister equal to the gardens of Paradise". The building is thought to have served as more of a palace than madrassah offering shelter to hopeful pilgrims who still come to pay homage and receive blessings from the forecourt.


Through the pishtak entrance is a square courtyard, from which four large iwans (vaulted arches) give onto 50 hujra (student cells) on two stories. Under the corner domes lie spacious darskhana (lecture halls), while the western axis conceals a five bayed mosque.


Amir Tura Madrassah - Khiva

Amir Tura Madrassah - Khiva

The madrassah is located in the northern part of Ichan-Qala among private houses. It was constructed in 1870 by the brother of Muhammad Rahim-khan II (1863-1910) and was named after him. The main facade has a high portal with an octahedral niche and two-storied arcade of wings. The high walls of other facades also create the illusion of a two-story plan. The external decor is very simple. Majolica is applied only on the corner angular turrets, guldasta, and their domes. The windows of the hudjras still retain their ganch lattices (pandjara).


Arab-Khan and Muhammad-Amin-Inak Madrassah - Khiva

Arab-Khan and Muhammad-Amin-Inak Madrassah - Khiva

The two historical madrassah are located in the center of Ichan-Qala, to the left of the road leading from the Ata-darvaza gates to Palvan-darvaza. The first is connected with Arab-Muhammad-khan (1602-1623) from the Chinggisids (Genghis Khan's lineage) and the second relates to Muhammad-Amin-Inak (1763/70-1790), the founder of the Manghit dynasty.


The madrassah of Muhammad-Amin-Inak dates from the second half of the 18th century. It contains a burial inside the pylon of the southern aivan. The legends say that it might be the tomb of either Muhammad-Amin-inak or his little son.




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