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Samanid Mausoleum in Bukhara

Samanid Mausoleum, Bukhara

The Samanid mausoleum, built in the 10th century C.E., is located in the North-Western part of Bukhara, Uzbekistan, just outside its historic center. The mausoleum is considered one of the iconic examples of the early Islamic architecture and is known as the oldest funerary building of the Central Asian architecture. It was built as the resting place of the powerful and influential Islamic Samani family dynasty that ruled from approximately 900 to 1,000.

The Samanids established their de facto independence from the Abbasid Caliphate in Baghdad and ruled over some areas covered by the modern day countries of Afghanistan, Iran, Uzbekistan, Tajikistan, and Kazakhstan. Perfectly symmetrical, compact in its size, yet monumental in its structure, the Mausoleum not only combined multi-cultural building and decorative traditions, such as Sogdian, Sassanian, Persian and even Classical, but also introduced innovative dome support solution and incorporated features customary for medieval Islamic buildings - circular dome and mini domes, pointed arches, elaborate portals, columns and intricate geometric designs.

During the 10th century, Samanid's capital, Bukhara, was a major political, trade and cultural center that patronized science, architecture, medicine, arts and literature. Cultural and economic prosperity was fueled by Samanids' strategic positioning along the trade routes between Asia, Middle East, Russia and Europe.

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It is believed that the Mausoleum was built to emphasize the dynastic power of the Samani family and to link its history with their newly established capital. There are various estimates by the researchers of when the Mausoleum was built. Some attribute it to the reign of Ismail Samani (reigned 892 - 907 CE), a founder of the dynasty (born in 849), some reference Ismail's father, Ahmad, who governed Samarkand. Others attribute the building to the reign of Ismail's grand son, Nasr b Ahmad b Ismail (Nasr II) who ruled 914 - 943 CE. The reason for this later attribution is the lintel board with Kufic script found on the eastern side of the building during the restoration works in 1930s that contained the name of Nasr II.

Generally, the building is often referred to as the Ismail Samani Mausoleum with a time stamp from the first part of the 10th century. The tomb contains the remains of the Samani dynasty members. In 1930s, Soviet researchers discovered a copy of a 10th-century Waqf document (copied around 1568) that specified that Ismail Samani donated Bukhara's cemetery Naukanda land for what appears to read as a funerary building for his father, Ahmad, confirming earlier assumptions of a dynastic nature of the monument.

At the time of Genghis Khan's invasion into the area, the shrine was believed to had been buried in mud and sand from flooding and landslide and was to for remain so for centuries. Thus, when the Mongol armies reached Bukhara, the tomb was spared from their destruction, unlike most other buildings of that era. For the same reasons, the building was not known to the world until the early 20th century when Soviet researchers rediscovered it.

Major exploratory research and excavations took place during 1926 -1928 by the USSR team or architects and researchers. During 1937–1939, the Mausoleum was further studied and major restorations works took place under the leadership of B.N. Zasipkin. Graves of three male bodies have been discovered, one of them is identified as Nasr II (per the lintel board), the other two have not been identified.

During the Soviet era, some time after The World War II, the cemetery that surrounded the Mausoleum was paved over, and an amusement park (still in operation) was built next to and around the building.

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