Guri Amir Mausoleum – Amir Temur’s burial-vault is one of the best samples of the medieval Oriental architecture and one of the most significant monuments of Temurides’ times. Its construction was initiated by Amir Temur in the autumn of 1404. The mausoleum was originally intended for Muhammad Sultan, Temur’s beloved grandson and successor, who had died in Iran in 1403. The place for internment of the prince was designated to be near Muhammad Sultan’s madrassah and khanaka, which had been built one opposite the other during his lifetime. Their facades faced a yard with four aivan terraces and minarets at the corners; the entrance to the yard was decorated with a portal ordained with mosaic patterned tiles. It looks as if the ancient unknown architect of the madrassah and khanaka left space enough for the mausoleum. The space between the madrassah and khanaka is just enough for the mausoleum, as though the unknown architect of these two structures had left it on purpose. Today, as you look at the man-height walls that restorers bricked on the ancient foundations, you can easily picture the layout of the yard and the madrassah. Two of the minarets were also restored.
In February, 1405, just 6 months after laying the foundations of the mausoleum, Temur got ill and died in the town of Otrar during a military expedition. Actually, during his lifetime Temur prepared a resting-place for himself in the family burial Dorus Saodat in Shahrisabz – a mausoleum next to the one of his elder son Jahangir, who had died at an early age. But this mausoleum remained empty. Secretly, in order to avoid confusion in the army, Amir Temur’s body was transported to Samarkand, where the solemn funeral of “The Master of the World” took place. The medieval historian Ibn Arabshah described the interior of the mausoleum during the funeral as follows: ‘On Temur’s grave they put his clothes, on the walls there hung his weapons and utensils, everything was decorated with precious stones and gilt. Golden and silver chandeliers hung from the ceiling like stars in the sky … The floor was covered with silk and velvet carpets”.
Temur’s mausoleum impresses with harmonicity of its proportions: on an octahedral base stands a cylindrical drum topped with a grand 12-meter ribbed dome covered with greenish-blue majolica coating representing blue ornamental patterns. The lower part of the structure is faced with marble panels. Early in the 19th century a severe earthquake destroyed the upper part of the dome, but later it was reconstructed. Above the entrance to the mausoleum there was fixed a mosaic plate with the following inscription in Arabic: ‘This is the grave of Amir Temur Guragan, Sultan of the World’. In 1905 the plate was stolen and after a year it turned up in Istanbul, and then in Berlin… The wooden doors of the mausoleum were covered with engravings and inlays.
The interior of the mausoleum is remarkable for the splendour of its ornamentation. The walls around the periphery were covered with panels made of semi-transparent onyx with ophite inlays. The panels at the top end in stalactite cornice and a band with phrases from the Koran carved in marble. The marble carvings were gilded and covered with lapis lazuli. It must be pointed out that level of the medieval art of stone carving presented in the interior of Guri-Amir mausoleum was very high. Even the composite panjara lattices in the windows were carved out of marble. The dome and the pendentives are decorated with painting in gold on relief papier-mache ornaments.
Under the dome inside the mausoleum stand tombstones enclosed by a fascinating open-work marble rail. The most remarkable among the tombstones is Temur’s tombstone, made of dark-green nephrite. In 1740 the troops of Nadir Shah from Iran occupied Samarkand, removed the precious tombstone and transported it to the shah’s headquarters in Meshed. But on having examined the stone, the shah ordered to bring it back to its place. One can easily see that the tombstone is split in two. In fact, the crack appeared during its transportation to Iran.
Beneath the floor of the mausoleum there is a crypt which can be entered by taking the stairs leading down. In the crypt there real graves with tombstones carved out of white and grey marble. In addition to the graves of Muhammad Sultan and Amir Temur himself, there are the tombs of Temur’s sons Shahrukh and Miranshah, as well as the tomb of his grandson Ulugbek, the famous “scientist on the throne”, who was beheaded by order of his son who strived for power. Next to them is the grave of Mir Sayid Baraka, Temur’s spiritual adviser.
In 1941, under the direction of Academician T.N.Kari-Niyazov the graves of Temur and Ulugbek were opened for scientific purposes. Ulugbek’s remains showed that his neck-bones had been hewed and that he had been buried as a warrior, in the dress he wore when death overtook him. Temur’s coffin, made of juniper-tree, contained the embalmed body of the great ruler. T.N.Kari-Niyazov recalled that having learnt of the preparations for the opening of the graves, some elderly men from the nearest neighborhood had warned the scientists that the remains of “god of war” should not be disturbed because it might cause misfortunes. And indeed, Temur’s coffin was taken out on June 21, 1941, and the next day the Great Patriotic War of 1941-1945 started.
Alongside with other structures of the Temurides’ times, the unique Guri-Amir Mausoleum is inscribed in UNESCO World Heritage List.