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Notes on the Geography of Uzbekistan: Bukhara: Ismael Samani Mausoleum

The previous chapter mentioned that the Kalon Minaret was reminiscent in its brickwork of the Samani Mausoleum.  It's time to see why.

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Uzbekistan: Bukhara: Ismael Samani Mausoleum picture 1

The Samani family converted to Islam in the 9th century.  Ahmad ben Asad ben Saman, the founder of what became a dynasty, ruled an emirate in the name of the Abbasids in Baghdad.  Nasr Samani, his son, broke free of the Abbasids and claimed independence.  Under his son Ismael the city prospered: Firdausi, for example, lived here, and as the author of the Shahnamah he is the founder of New Persian literature.  The emirate's wealth, let it not be forgotten, rested chiefly on supplying Baghdad with slaves.

The Samani family tomb is among the oldest dynastic tombs in the Muslim world.  When built, it was outside the city and on the grounds of a Samani estate.  The family's power came to an end with the arrival of the Turks in 1005, and the tomb would have vanished long ago, except that it was literally buried, either deliberately or inadvertently.  The Russian archaeologist Shishkin was lucky enough to find it and excavate it in 1934.

Notice the modest dome, a feature that would be hugely amplified in coming centuries.  Notice, too, the lack of glazed-tile ornament.  Everything depends on the elaborate handling of brick.

Uzbekistan: Bukhara: Ismael Samani Mausoleum picture 2

Decorative columns of basket-weave brick.

Uzbekistan: Bukhara: Ismael Samani Mausoleum picture 3

The four doors--a hint at Persian influence--are also framed and trimmed in brick.

Uzbekistan: Bukhara: Ismael Samani Mausoleum picture 4

The texture of the building varies with the angle of the sun.

Uzbekistan: Bukhara: Ismael Samani Mausoleum picture 5

The complex brickwork continues inside, where the dome rests on a circle of squinches.


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