The Mausoleum of Khoja Ahmed Yasawi, in the town of Yasi, now Turkestan, was built at the time of Timur (Tamerlane), from 1389 to 1405. In this partly unfinished building, Persian master builders experimented with architectural and structural solutions later used in the construction of Samarkand, the capital of the Timurid Empire. Today, it is one of the largest and best-preserved constructions of the Timurid period.
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Outstanding Universal Value
The Mausoleum of Khoja Ahmed Yaswi, a distinguished Sufi master of the 12th century, is situated in southern Kazakhstan, in the north-eastern section of the city of Turkestan (Yasi). Built between 1389 and 1405, by order of Timur (Tamerlane), the ruler of Central Asia, it replaced a smaller 12th century mausoleum. Construction of the building was halted in 1405, with the death of Timur, and was never completed. The property (0.55 ha) is limited to the mausoleum, which stands within a former citadel and the archaeological area of the medieval town of Yasi; the latter serves as the buffer zone (88.15 ha) for the property.
Rectangular in plan and 38.7 meters in height, the mausoleum is one of the largest and best-preserved examples of Timurid construction. Timur, himself, is reported to have participated in its construction and skilled Persian craftsmen were employed to work on the project. Its innovative spatial arrangements, vaults, domes, and decoration were prototypes that served as models for other major buildings of the Timurid period, in particular in Samarkand. It was left unfinished, providing documented evidence of the construction methods at that time and by having a unique architectural image.
Considered to be an outstanding example of Timurid design that contributed to the development of Islamic religious architecture, the mausoleum is constructed of fired brick and contains thirty-five rooms that accommodate a range of functions. It is a multifunctional structure of the khanaqa type, with functions of a mausoleum and a mosque. A conic-spherical dome, the largest in Central Asia, sits above the Main Hall (Kazandyk). Other notable attributes include fragments of original wall paintings in the mosque, alabaster stalactites (muqarnas) in the intrados of the domes, glazed tiles featuring geometric patterns with epigraphic ornaments on the exterior and interior walls, fine Kufic and Suls inscriptions on the walls, and texts from the Qu’ran on the drums of the domes. The principal entrance and parts of the interior were left unfinished, providing exceptional evidence of the construction methods of the period.
The property, burials and remains of the old town offer significant testimony to the history of Central Asia. The mausoleum is closely associated with the diffusion of Islam in this region with the help of Sufi orders, and with the political ideology of Timur.
Criterion (i): The Mausoleum of Khoja Ahmed Yasawi is an outstanding achievement in the Timurid architecture, and it has significantly contributed to the development of Islamic religious architecture.
Criterion (iii): The mausoleum and its property represent an exceptional testimony to the culture of the Central Asian region, and to the development of building technology.
Criterion (iv): The Mausoleum of Khoja Ahmed Yasawi was a prototype for the development of a major building type in the Timurid period, becoming a significant reference in the history of Timurid architecture.
All components of the Mausoleum of Khoja Ahmed Yasawi have been included within the boundaries of the property. Its historic setting, the former citadel and archaeological remains of the medieval town of Yasi, serve as the buffer zone for the property.
The Mausoleum of Khoja Ahmed Yaswi is considered to be stable, although deterioration associated with rising damp and salts, due to the high water table, can potentially threaten structural integrity. To maintain the conditions of integrity, the impact of high water table levels needs to be mitigated as well as the impact of other humidity factors that can increase the risk of condensation and salt migration.
The Mausoleum stands within the former old town area, an archaeological area where the houses were destroyed in the 19th century. Since no rebuilding has taken place, it possesses valuable potential for medieval archaeology, since cultural layers of all the stages of evolution of this important religious, cultural, economic and administrative centre of a large region have been preserved.
The northern part of the old citadel wall was rebuilt in the 1970s, providing an enclosure for the mausoleum and adjacent buildings. The new town of Turkestan, which developed to the west, has maintained a low skyline, allowing the mausoleum to stand out as a major monument within its context and maintain the required visual integrity. Since Turkestan is situated in a vast plain, any high-rise buildings outside the buffer zone would have a significant impact on the visual integrity of the mausoleum. This needs to be controlled by the continuous enforcement of adequate planning regulations to ensure the required protection.
The Mausoleum of Khoja Ahmed Yaswi maintains an exceptionally high degree of authenticity as a monument as it has preserved its architectural design and workmanship, as well as the original materials. It has not been subject to any major changes over time and can be considered a genuine representation of the architecture of the Timurid period. Although it suffered from inappropriate use and neglect, particularly during the mid-19th century, it has been better preserved than other examples of Timurid monuments, including the Bibi Khanum Shrine in Samarkand, which is of comparable size.
The mausoleum has preserved its original vaults’ structures and a large part of its external decoration. Original remains of the wall paintings are visible in the interior, and it is possible that more may be discovered under the whitewashed surfaces when further restoration work is undertaken. The muqarnas of the ceilings are still in place. The unfinished state of the principal entrance and parts of the interior are of added interest, serving as documentary evidence of the construction methods of the period.
Protection and management requirements
The Mausoleum of Khoja Ahmed Yaswi is a national monument, inscribed on the List of National Properties of Kazakhstan (decree 38 of 26.01.1982). It is owned by the state and protected by the Law of the Republic of Kazakhstan on Protection and Use of Historical and Cultural Heritage (No 1488-XII, 02.07.1992). The mausoleum site is included in the Plan of Zones of protection of monuments of the history and culture of the city of Turkestan (1986), which was prepared under the supervision of the Ministry of Culture, by the State Institute for Scientific Research and Planning on Monuments of Material Culture (NIPI PMK, Almaty). The site within its boundaries has the highest level of protection. Adjacent to its boundaries are Zones of planning control with different regulations and a Zone of protected natural setting. The Plan was approved by the Committee of Culture and confirmed by the decree 628 of 22.11.1988 and it is still in force.
At the national level, the management of the property is under the responsibility of the Committee of Culture of the Ministry of Culture and Information. Locally, the care of the mausoleum and its setting is under the responsibility of the ‘Azret-Sultan’ State Historical and Cultural Reserve Museum which was founded under the Committee of Culture of the Ministry of Culture and Information (decree 265 of 28.08.1989). Reserve Museum includes architectural complex of Khoja Ahmed Yasawi mausoleum, archaeological remains of the medieval town of Yasi within the boundaries of the buffer zone and the adjacent secondary monuments. The main task of the Reserve Museum is to provide protection and preservation to archaeological and architectural monuments in their authentic state, to their interiors, historical setting and related territories. Reserve Museum builds its activities in cooperation with the Institute of “Kasrestavratziya”, Institute of Archaeology of the Academy of Sciences and other interested organizations, conducts historical studies of the site and its monuments, develop museum funds and collections for scientific research and to make them acceptable for wide public. Since the property was inscribed on the World Heritage List, annual budget and permanent staff of the Reserve-Museum have increased. From the year 2006, the State Enterprise “Kazrestavratziya”, under the Ministry of Culture, has been responsible for conservation projects and their implementation.
The Protection Zoning Plan (Plan of Zones of protection of monuments of the history and culture of the city of Turkestan) (1986) has not been integrated into the last development plan for Turkestan. The Museum and “Kazrestavratziya” are working on the revision of the Protection Zoning Plan and on its legal adoption and integration into the new Master Plan for the City of Turkestan, in order to strengthen control over construction that is underway just outside the buffer zone. This measure will ensure that the increased pressure on the property and its buffer zone, as a result of illegal and high-rise construction, is comprehensively addressed.
The Management Plan for the 2004-2009 period was not implemented and needs to be updated. A new five-year Management Plan for the Protection and Preservation of the Mausoleum of Khoja Ahmed Yasawi and architectural and archaeological monuments of Ancient Town of Turkestan, whose focus is the property and its buffer zone, is under elaboration. The Ministry of Culture is planning to revise and update the long-term management plan for the Mausoleum, which will address safeguarding, research, conservation, monitoring, maintenance, education and training, visitor controls, raising of public awareness, and risk preparedness. The management plan, to be developed in cooperation with organizations and authorities linked to the site, should include conservation guidelines so that adequate methods are identified for the restoration of the wall paintings, metal works, wood works, and surface finishes.
To ensure the sustained management and conservation of the property, adequate financial, technical and material resources will need to be secured. A qualified permanent technical team of specialized technicians and skilled craftsmen dedicated to the maintenance of the property will need to be maintained. A documentation centre for the property and the buffer zone will also be important tools to facilitate conservation and management endeavours and to promote larger awareness of legislative and heritage preservation issues.
The Mausoleum of Khoja Ahmed Yasawi and its site represent an exceptional testimony to the culture of the Central Asian region, and to the development of building technology. It was a prototype for the development of a major building type in the Timurid period, becoming a significant reference in the history of Timurid architecture and contributing significantly to the development of Islamic religious architecture.
The origins of the modern town of Turkestan go back to the early Middle Ages. At first known as Yasi, it was a suburban area of Shavgar, in the region of Syr Daria, the crossroads of agricultural and nomadic cultures. Shavgar developed into a large handicraft and trade centre, but from the 12th century, Yasi gained in importance over it. Pilgrimage to the tomb of Ahmed Yasawi was another factor that contributed to its development. In the 1370s, Timur (Tamerlane, c . 1336-1405) became the new ruler of Central Asia, and his reign extended from Mesopotamia and Iran to Transoxiana. His capital was Samarkand.
Timur's policies involved the construction of monumental public and cult buildings (mosques, mausoleums, madrasas ) in regions such as Syr Daria, where towns were vital outposts on the northern frontier of his possessions, including the Mausoleum of Ahmed Yasawi. Timur's wish was to contribute to the diffusion of Islam, but even more so to fulfill specific political objectives. The Mausoleum of Khoja Ahmed Yasawi, a distinguished Sufi master of the 12th century, is situated in southern Kazakhstan, in the city of Turkestan (Yasi). The mausoleum is placed in the area of the former citadel, in the north-eastern part of the ancient town, now an open archaeological site. To the south, there is a nature protection area; on the other sides the modern city of Turkestan surrounds the site. The property is limited to the mausoleum of Ahmed Yasawi; the buffer zone covers the archaeological area of the ancient town.
The mausoleum was built between 1389 and 1399, continuing until the death of Timur in 1405. The building was left unfinished at the entrance and some parts of the interior, thus providing documented evidence of the working methods at that time. In the 16th century, the mausoleum went through some repair and reconstruction on the main portal; the arch was repaired by Abdullah Khan, the governor of Bokhara. From this time until the 19th century, Turkestan was the residence of the Kazakh khans. In the 19th century, Kokand Khan turned the mausoleum into a fortress, and built a defensive wall around it in mud brick.
The mausoleum is one of the largest built in the Timurid period. There are some other buildings in the vicinity, including mausolea for distinguished persons, small mosques, and a medieval bath house. On the north side, the mausoleum is separated from the new town by a section of the ancient citadel wall, which has here been reconstructed. The structure of the building is in fired brick with mortar of gypsum mixed with clay (ganch). The foundations were originally built from layers of clay, but these have recently been rebuilt in concrete. The main entrance is from the south-east through the iwan into the large square Main Hall, Kazandyk, covered with a conic-spherical dome, the largest in Central Asia (18.2 m in diameter). In the centre of this hall is a bronze cauldron (kazan ) for ritual purposes, dated 1399. The tomb of Khoja Ahmed Yasawi (Gur khana), the most important space, is situated on the central axis at the end of the building in the north-west. The sarcophagus is in the centre of this space.
The building has spaces assigned for several functions: as meeting rooms, a refectory (Ash khana), a library (Kitab khana), and a mosque. The mosque is the only room where fragments of the original wall paintings are preserved, which are geometric and floral ornaments in light blue color. The intrados of the domes is decorated in alabaster stalactites (muqarnas ). In the exterior, the walls are covered with glazed tiles with large geometric patterns with epigraphic ornaments, characteristic of Timurid architecture.
There are fine Kufic inscriptions on the walls and texts from the Qu'ran on the drums of the domes. The building remained unfinished at the death of Timur in 1405, and was never completed, and so the main entrance still lacks the surface finish and the two minarets that were planned. Source: UNESCO/CLT/WHC
Sufism (tasawwuf from ‘wool' in Arabic) is a mystic movement in Islam. It has been considered as the inner, mystical, or psycho-spiritual dimension of this religion, developing as a spiritual movement from the 9th and 10th centuries. Sufist ideas evolved particularly in the 12th and 13th centuries in the thoughts and writings of people such as: Attar (perished in1221), Ibn Arabi (1165-1240) and Jalal al-Din Rumi (1207-1273).
Starting in the 12th century, Sufism also developed into several regional schools, of which the Turkic branch was headed by Khoja Ahmed Yasawi. Sufism has been seen as one of the forces that sustained the diffusion of Islam, preventing its downfall, especially in the difficult period after the Mongol invasion in the 12th century. Yasawi was born in Yasi or in Ispidjab (Sairam), in 1103. After initial education by his father he studied in Bukhara, one of the principal centres of Islam at the time. He spent most of his life in Yasi, and died there in 1166. His contribution was crucial for Central Asia, where he popularized Sufism, and contributed to the diffusion of Islam.
The town of Turkestan: The modern town of Turkestan is referred to ancient Kazakh towns, and its origins go back to the early Middle Ages. Until the 16th century, it was called Yasi. At first it was a suburban area of Shavgar, in the region of Syr Daria, the crossroads of agricultural and nomadic cultures. Shavgar developed into a large handicraft and trade centre, but from the 12th century, Yasi gained importance over this. It was also one of the few places that do not seem to have been destroyed by the Mongols in the 13th century. Pilgrimage to the tomb of Ahmed Yasawi was another factor that contributed to its development.
In the 1370s, Timur (Tamerlane) (1328-1405) became the new ruler of Central Asia, and his reign extended from Mesopotamia and Iran to Transoxiana. His capital was in Samarqand. Timur's policies involved the construction of monumental public and cult buildings (mosques, mausoleums, madrasahs) in regions such as Syr Daria, where towns were vital outposts on the northern frontier of his possessions, including the Mausoleum of Ahmed Yasawi. Timur's wish was to contribute to the diffusion of Islam, but even more so to fulfil specific political objectives. Considering that the Sufi orders determined the support of nomadic tribes in the steppes, the construction of this remarkable sanctuary aimed to gain the support of the Sufis and of the large nomad community, who otherwise might have presented a risk for his ruling. He is reported to have participated personally in the design of the Mausoleum, which was built parallel with the Mosque of Samarkand. For the first time here, Timur used a team of immigrated skilled master builders from Shiraz and Isfahan. The building also represented an experiment, where he introduced innovative spatial arrangements, types of vaults and domes, that were later implemented in the capital cities.
From the 16th to 18th centuries Turkestan was the capital and residence of the Kazakh Khanship, developing into its largest trade and craft centre. The Mausoleum of Ahmed Yasawi was the outstanding monument of the town, and several prominent personalities were buried close to it. However, the political struggles and the shift of trade to sea routes resulted in the decline of urban life. In 1864 Turkestan was invaded by the Russian army. The old town was destroyed and deserted. A new railway station was built far from the old town, becoming the new centre for development. Some vernacular dwellings were built closer to the old town, called ‘Eski Turkistan'. Today, the old town is an archaeological site, and one of the 14 Reserve Museum sites in Kazakhstan.
The Mausoleum: the construction took place between 1389 and 1399, continuing until the death of Timur in 1405. The building was left unfinished at the entrance and some parts of the interior, thus providing documented evidence of the working methods at that time. In the 16th century, the mausoleum went through some repair and reconstruction on the main portal; the arch was repaired by the order of Abdullah-Khan, the governor of Bukhara. From this time until the 19th century, Turkestan was the residence of the Kazakh khans. In the 19th century, Kokand khan turned the mausoleum into a fortress, and built a defence wall around it in mud brick. In 1864, when the Russian army took over Turkestan, the building was in a poor state of repair. In 1872, the authorities decided to preserve it. From 1938 there has been regular maintenance, and since 1945 several restoration campaigns have been carried out, the latest from 1993 to 2000. In the Soviet period, this monument was treated as a historic building and a museum. Since the independence of Kazakhstan in 1991, its spiritual function has prevailed, and it has even come to epitomize national identity. Source: Advisory Body Evaluation