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Magnificent Mosques: The Kalon Mosque of Bukhara

Buxoro (Uzbekistan) - Kalon Mosque/


Source: By Muhammad Habib/ "Haj and Umra" magazine/May/2009 

When the Kalon Mosque of Bukhara was built in 1127, its minaret was probably the tallest building in Central Asia. It can house 10,000 worshippers and its roof consists of 288 domes.

BUKHARA (also spelled Bux-oro) is a historic city of 255,000 people located 250 km downstream from Samarkand on the Zervshan River in Uzbekistan .

Bukhara was once home to more than 300 mosques and 100 madrasas (religious schools]. In the 9th and 10th centuries, it was the region's reli­gious and cultural heart, hosting the famed philosopher-scientist Avicenna as well as the Persian poets Firdausi and Rudki.

Bukhara has been well preserved over the centuries and is still home to an astonishing array of mosques and madrasas. According to UNES­CO, which has designated it a world heritage site, "Bukhara is the most complete and unspoiled example of a mediaeval Central Asian town which has preserved its urban fabric to the present day." The city centre includes some 140 historic buildings and monuments, most of which are reli­gious in nature. Non-religious sites of Bukhara include several bazaars and caravanserais.

The Kalon Mosque in Bukhara was built by the Karakhanid ruler Arslan Khan in 1127. The mosque was known also as Jamia (Friday) mosque be­cause all male inhabitants of the city were expected to attend the Friday prayer in this mosque. The courtyard was very large. When Genghis Khan conquered Bukhara and went inside the mosque he thought he was entering the (local) royal palace. He was impressed by the tall minaret which flanked the mosque.

In the small octagonal building in front of the mosque a second imam (prayer leader] repeated to the crowd in the courtyard the prayers and ser­mons which were said by the princi­pal imam inside the mosque.

Kalon in Tajik means "great" and when the mosque was built the min­aret (tower) was probably the tallest building in Central Asia, according to Sacred Destinations website. It is 47 metres tall and is supported by one km-deep foundations padded with reeds to make it earthquake-proof. All these years, it has hardly needed any structural repairs.

In addition to its main purpose as a minaret, the Kalon Minaret served as a watchtower and a guide to approaching caravans on the Silk Route.

The Kalon Mosque was used as a warehouse in Soviet times and only reopened as a working mosque in 1991.

The Kalon Minaret has 14 orna­mental bands, each of them differ­ent. They include the first use of the glazed blue tiles that became ubiqui­tous across Central Asia.

One can climb the minaret for excel­lent views over the centre of Bukhara. The 105 stairs are accessible from the Kalon Mosque.

The congregational Kalon Mosque can house 10,000 worshippers. Its roof looks flat but actually consists of 288 domes.

The mosque has been known by various names - Kalon Mosque and Minaret; Kalyan Minaret; Kalyan Mosque; Majdid El Khalyan; Minaret Kalian; and Poi-Kalyan Minaret.

The Mir-i-Arab Madrasa stands op­posite Kalon Mosque in the historic centre of Bukhara. Founded in the 16th century, the Islamic school features two distinctive blue domes and other tile work.

Mir-i-Arab Madrasa was a working Islamic school from the 16th century until it was closed down in 1920. It was reopened by Stalin in 1944 in an effort to gain Muslim favour for his war ef­fort.

The two luminous blue domes of the madrasa are beautifully tiled and stand out against the mostly brown ar­chitecture around it.

Built in 1417, the Ulughbek Madrasa is the oldest madrasa in Central Asia. Ulughbek was the grandson of Timur. The design of the madrasa is similar to that which he built in the Registan of Samarkand, although the size of its portal is smaller. At the time he was not the ruler of the country, but the governor of the region as his father Shah Roukh preferred to live in Herat (in today's Afghanistan). Ulughbek was fond of astronomy and also in this ma­drasa he wanted stars to be part of the decoration.

It is one of three built by Ulughbek; the others are in Samarkand's Registan and in Gijduvan (45 km from Bukharatowards Samarkand).

This elegant version in Bukhara con­tains many niches around a central courtyard and is decorated with blue tiles. The Ulughbek Madrasa is located just east of the Taqi-Zargaron (Jewel­lery) Bazaar.

Mohammed Alim Khan, the last emir of Bukhara, built a small madrasa next to the minaret.

In the second half of the 16th century Abdullah Khan II built two madrasas facing each other. The exterior of both was extensively restored in the 1950s and again more recently. Nowadays they look quite new.

In a maze of alleys between Pushkin and Hoja Nurabad in Bukhara stands Tchor Minor (in Tajik it is called Char Minar or Four Minarets). From a dis­tance Char Minar has the appearance of an upside down stool. It was part of a lost 1589 madrasa.

This interesting little building was actually a gatehouse of the madrasa. The Char Minar architecture is more Indian in style than Uzbek. In 1998, UNESCO restored one of the towers that had collapsed.


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