Chor-Minor Madrassah

 

Among the large number of Bukhara’s monuments Chor-Minor Madrassah stands out for its extraordinary design. Its four minarets, standing very close to each other; look from afar like buds of mysterious azure flowers. At closer survey they appear to be tall and strong towers, illusively “pressing” a domed cubical building. The entrance to the madrassah has a tall portal. Similar portal once decorated the exit to the courtyard of the madrassah. Inside Chor-Minor there is a writing in Persian, carved in two-color gunch-stucco; it shows the time the construction of the building was completed in the year of the Hijjra 1222 (1807 by modern calendar). In Central Asia the architectural principles of a madrassah construction were developed as far back as the Middle Ages, and up to the 20th century the local architects had stuck to these directives. However, the principles were broken during the construction of Chor-Minor Madrassah, for the constructors had to comply with the wishes and instructions of Caliph Niyazkul, who financed the project.

Niyazkul-Bek was a rich Bukhara merchant, coming from a Turkmen clan. He traded in horses and carpets and visited many countries. Most often he had to visit India. During his travels he always met his fellow countrymen from Bukhara and Turkmen tribe mates. A man of an inquiring mind, he was not only interested in bazaars but also in the local rarities and sights of the places he went to. Thus, in Hyderabad he was deeply impressed by the grand Charminar Triumphal Arch, a cube with four tall minarets; in Agra he admired Taj Mahal Mausoleum, whose dome was reflecting in the nearby pool, and whose entrance was decorated with four towers.

On return to Bukhara, Niyazkul-Bek invited architects and astronomers and offered them to build a madrassah in accordance with his sketches and on condition they would comply with two demands of his. The first demand was to build the madrasah on the Great Silk Road so that Turkmen caravans of the merchants from Merv, Kesh, Karakul and Alat could easily find the way to the building where they could find shelter and relax. The second was to make every visitor of the madrassah understand that the people who lived in different parts of the world had only one sky above and stood equal before God, the One and Only.

Although Chor-Minor is called a ‘madrassah’ in guidebooks, in reality it is only a chartak- main entrance to the madrassah, whereas the rest of the complex has not survived. However, we can envision the initial appearance of the madrassah thanks to descriptions made by the contemporaries as well as to archeological research. Under the dome there was a hexahedral hall with four exits, facing east, west, north and south. The four minarets symbolize not only four directions but also four dynasties of Bukhara rulers: the Samanids, Karakhanids, Sheibanids and Mangyts. Right under the dome and over the hall is a library with open loggias; from the library one can get inside the minarets.

In the middle of the round-cornered rectangular yard surrounded by two-storied hujra-cells there was a pool paved with marble stairs. In the eastern part of the yard there was a mosque with a wooden 9-pillar ayvan. In the north an inn with stables adjoined the building of the madrassah.

Today Chor-Minor madrassah is surrounded by modern apartment houses. But it towers over them as if reminding the people the old Niyazkul-Bek’s maxim: ‘Everybody stands equal before God”.