Bibi-Khanum Mosque

 

The grandest structure of Amir Temur’s times is the chief Friday Mosque called Bibi-Khanum. Its construction started in 1339, after Temur’s victorious campaign to India, and lasted up to 1404: that is, for those times the work was completed within a rather short time. The best architects, craftsmen, stonemasons and artists from Samarkand as well as from the countries Temur had subdued, laboured at the construction of the Mosque. Ninety Indian elephants were used to do hard work at the site. During his stays in the capital between his military campaigns, Temur personally supervised the construction works. In his absence, it was watched over by his wife Sarai-Mulk-Khanum, who had the title Bibi-Khanum, or ‘Senior Wife’.

According to some historical sources, during the construction of the Mosque Bibi-Khanum also built a madrassah – a Muslim school that was named after her. When Temur returned from his regular military expeditions he was furious to find that the portal of madrassah surpassed in height that of the Mosque. He ordered to pull down the fully completed portal of the Mosque and to erect a new one, much exceeding the initial height.

Bibi-Khanum Mosque makes an unforgettable impression on its visitors. It consists of four buildings: the major mosque, two minor mosques and the entrance arch. The rectangular yard is about 5000 square meters in area, and is surrounded by an arched gallery. At the corners of the yard rise four 50-meter-high minarets. The majestic eastern portal is covered with marble, and initially had bronze gates. The entrance to the major mosque is decorated with a huge peshtak with octahedral minarets on either side. The building of the major mosque is crowned with a massive drum covered with inscriptions made in Kufic Script and topped with a colossal blue dome. Sharofiddin Iezdi, a poet and historian of Temur’s military campaigns, wrote, ‘The dome would have been unique but for the sky being its copy; the arch would have been singular but for the Milky Way matching it’. After Temur’s death his grandson Ulugbek, the great scientist and a ruler of Movarounnahr, set in the yard of Bibi-Khanum Mosque a huge marble laukh – reading-stand on which the famous Osman’s Koran was regularly placed during Friday public prayer service.

Unfortunately, this masterpiece of Islamic architecture did not pass the test of the elemental forces. For a few centuries the great ruins of the legendary structure had towered over Samarkand. In the 1990s there was carried out a large-scale restoration of the monument. The dome, the minarets and the portals of the mosques have been restored and the original layout of the whole structure has been reconstructed. As for the mausoleum of Bibi-Khanum it survived to the present day, whereas the madrassah that she had built lasted only till the 16th century.