Mausoleum of Khoja Ahmed Yasawi: History & Facts
The growing popularity of the Mausoleum of Khoja Ahmed Yasawi as a “holy place” is explained by the fact that the Syr Darya towns and cultural centers that had been ravaged by the Mongol invasion were coming to life again by the 1330s. An important reason for Turkestan blooming was its close location to Otyrar, the famous town of the region. The towns were in 50 km from each other.
Also in Turkestan were the tomb of Khoja Ahmed Yasawi ‘s daughter Gauhar, the grave of his son-in-law Ali Khoja, the mosque of Bab-Arab and many other monuments. Priests, merchants, and craftsmen accounted for the vast majority of the town’s inhabitants. No doubt, the burial-vault of Khoja Ahmed Yasawi became, thanks to the offerings of the many pilgrims and local inhabitants, one of the richest burial-vault in the world. It was no accident that one of the khans of the Golden Horde, Khan Tokhtamysh frequently attacked Turkestan and looted the mausoleum of Ahmed Yasawi.
In 1389, 1391, 1394, and 1395 in numerous bloody battles Timur destroyed the power of the Golden Horde and set fire to its capital Sarai-Berke. In honor of that victory Timur decided to build a new grandiose memorial complex on the site of the old mausoleum of Khoja Ahmed Yasawi, which was by then somewhat decrepit. Timur was guided not only by religious considerations. By this he was rising his authority, asserting the idea of the inviolability of his power and, a matter of no less importance to him, ensuring the security of his steppe hinterland.
After looking the round the mausoleum built in 12th century Timur ordered to pull it down and built a new one on the same spot. Timur’s instructions, which were very precise, laid down on the principal dimensions of the mausoleum.
According to the measurement data the ground plan of the mausoleum is scaled down in the middle to a unit of 60,6 cm, which corresponds to one mediaeval giaz. The diameter of the dome of the copper (or the assembly) room was to equal 41 giaz, its circumference 130 giaz. The main facade was to have a high portal with two minarets on either side. The width of the portal up to the minarets was to be 60 giaz and the span of the portal arch 30 giaz. Behind it there was to be the domed square chamber of the assembly-room with a side equal to 30 giaz, and a cooper cast from an alloy of seven metals. According to the legend, the composition of the alloy of seven metals which was to be used to cast the huge cauldron, six candlesticks and two door rings (Khalkas) was as follows: iron, zink, lead, tin, red copper, silver and gold. In literary sources this alloy is referred to as bronze.
Timur entrusted the supervision of the building to Mavliana Ubaidulla Sadr, who was in charge of charitable affairs in his council. Construction of the mausoleum was begun immediately and advanced quickly for those days. In erecting the main and subsidiary chambers, the builders followed architectural drawings and a model of the building. It is this which explains the astounding precision of the architectural units and their details.
Various written sources state that Timur took part personally in drawing up the design for the future mausoleum and gave instructions to the builders. Timur died in February 1405. With his death work also ceased on the building of the mausoleum.
The main portal was not completed under Timur. The building was continued by Abdulla-khan, ruler of Bukhara (1583-1598). During this period the arch was completed, as well as the inner wall, and the large upper niche in the inner wall with its unusual gallery.
In the 16th century some auxiliary buildings were erected next to the mosque: to the west a takharatkhana (for ritual ablutions), to the north-east of the large Ak-sarai a subterranean crypt was built with a vault on pendentives. From the 16th century onwards various chambers in mausoleum began to be used as burial-vaults for people of high rank.
In the 16th to 19th centuries Turkestan was the residence of the Kazakh khans.
In the 19th century, at the order of the Kokand khan who at that time ruled Turkestan, crude merlons were made on the minarets and the portal for defensive purposes, and the whole mausoleum with the adjoining land was surrounded by a fortified wall of air-dried brick and turned into fortress.
In 1864 town was being captured by Tsar soldiers led by General Chernyaev. Russian soldiers fired on the mausoleum where the besieged had taken refuge. Several shots were fired at the mausoleum, leaving 11 holes.
Later the members of progressive Russian intelligentsia (historians, archaeologists, architectures and orientalists) initiated the study of architectural monuments of East and organized the expeditions to Turkestan.
In 1884-1886 the walls of the copper room, the burial-vault and the mosque had been once decorated above the mosaic panel with ornamental murals, were painted over with whitewash during the repair works.
In 1886-1887 in order to prevent the corner of the north-west of the building from subsiding further, four massive buttresses were added on the outside. It is particularly valuable that in the course of the repair work the architects and engineers compiled detailed drawings of the various architectural details and drew up a plan of the mausoleum.
There were several restoration works in Soviet period. But unfortunately they were not sufficiently well-planned from the historical and cultural points of view. Suffice it to say that in the course of the earthwork many interesting monuments which created the authentic historical atmosphere and and spatial environment in which the complex life of the mausoleum proceeded, were either destroyed or badly damaged. Lack of attention to the so-called secondary monuments, relatively small mausoleums and religious buildings by comparison with the Khoja Ahmed Yasawi Mausoleum resulted in the monument losing a considerable part of its surroundings and consequently it now appears as a solitary, random edifice without anything nearby to emphasize its scale.
Source: Nagim-bek Nourmoukhammedov “The Mausoleum of Hodja Ahmed Yasevi”, Alma-Ata, Oner, 1980