Ismail Samani Mausoleum
Ismail Samani Mausoleum.
The mausoleum was completed in 905, is the town's oldest Muslim monument and probably its sturdiest architecturally. Built for Ismail Samani (the Samanid dynasty's founder), his father and grandson, 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.
From the cultural point of view, Persian influence was so great that their architecture also belongs to the Persian sphere.
The first dynasty that established independent power in this area from Abbasid rule was the Iranian-origin Samanids (875-999). They made Bukhara the capital and extended their rule to the Khorasan region (current northeastern Iran). Although, under this dynasty, the Persian language was formed, using Arabic letters, and the regeneration of their national culture was undertaken, almost all their architectural pieces were regrettably lost; only the mausoleum of the Samanids, in Bukhara,has survived.
Thanks to having been buried in sand, this mausoleum was saved from Genghis Khan’s wholesale demolition, and since its excavation in 1934, shows a small but complete figure of an early Islamic mausoleum.
It was originally prohibited in Islam to venerate the dead and to erect tombstones. However, influenced by the force of habit from ancient times of revering saints and building tombs for rulers, the construction of mausoleums was gradually generalized. It was particularly highly developed in the eastern Islamic sphere.
The first Islamic mausoleum is that of Sulaibiya (862) on a small scale, which was an octagonal tower surmounted with a dome with a diameter of 6.3m and accompanied by a circumambulatory around it, built in the city of Samarra, to which the Abbasid’s capital had been temporarily moved from Baghdad.
The mausoleum in Bukhara is an early example following that. Tradition says that the second Amir (governor), Ismail, constructed it for the Samani family and himself, but it seems actually to have been built after his death.
Either way, it is a remarkable monument as a precursor to the Islamic tomb architecture, which would greatly develop from Central Asia to India.
Persian dome architecture, such as mausoleums and mosques, succeeded from the form of the Zoroastrian ‘Chahar-taq’ created before the birth of Islam. It is a fundamental form of Zoroastrian temples for the Sassanids, based on a square plan covered with a dome, supported with four walls each with an arched opening. The Mausoleum of the Samanids is exactly this example, made of brick with a dome of 5.7m in diameter on the tomb hall, based on a plan of 9.3m square. In an age when the techniques of faience brick or tile burned with glaze or enamel were not yet popular, brick architecture in the Persian cultural area was ornamented with only projections and depressions of bricks on the walls through piling methods. This mausoleum is an encyclopedia of the ‘Art of Brick,’ with the architect trying every way of piling bricks. One cannot but be filled with a feeling of awe at its insatiable pursuit of the artistic effects in brick architecture.