Ulugbek Madras and Abdullazis-Khanbek Madras, Bukhara
Among the alleys of the historical center of Bukhara, there is Ulugbek Madras, begun to built in 1417 by important architects of the time: Nadjmid -din Bukhari and Ismail Isfagani. This Madras deserves a visit especially for its domes of the side rooms with original frescoes of the fifteenth century, which have not been restored and therefore show original shapes and colors.
From the entrance the corridor leads in directions towards the darskhana (the lecture hall) on one side and the mosque on the other. The walls are decorated with geometric frescoes and end in precious muqarnas that continue on the dome in geometric games typical of Islamic decoration. The present theme is the astrological one as well as an abstract representation of hell on one side, with a predominantly purple-red color, and on the opposite side of paradise, dominated by blue.
The astronomical theme continues in the walls of the inner courtyard, with a double row of cells and interior portals decorated with muqarnas. The state of conservation is not optimal, so the decorations have suffered considerable damage. In addition, the courtyard is crowded with sellers with their craft products, which if on one hand gives color to the place, on the other hand takes away the charm of the old.
The external façade presents an ogival arch with two side turquoise decorative bands and the double order of external cells. The doors of the building contain the inscriptions: “The aspiration to knowledge is a sacred obligation for every Muslim man and woman;” and “Let the powerful mercy of God always rest upon the one enlightened with wisdom.” These writings reflect the work of the life of Ulugbek, an enigmatic ruler and patron of the fifteenth century.
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Hints on Ulugbek’s life
Ulugbek (Mohammad ibn Shahrukhibn Timur Mirza Ulugh Beg Guragan), born in 1394, is the nephew of Tamerlane. As a teenager he is interested in Science and spends his time in the palace library.
With Tamerlane’s death, internal feuds explode and Ulugbek’s father, Shahrukh, becomes the head of the region. Ulugbek is his direct heir, but he prefers the study of Mathematics and Science to politics and the Art of war. Its proximity to intellectuals and scientists of the time makes it an enlightened ruler that invests in the creation of Universities (Madras) and in research. His contemporaries describe him as an excellent surveyor and astronomer, capable of spreading culture even among women, an extraordinary fact for those times. Ulugbek himself lectures at the University in Astronomy.
His mentality annoys the clergy and conservative forces that order the assassination in 1449 and his astronomical Observatory is destroyed and thrown into oblivion. He is remembered by UNESCO in 2009 with a conference on his works 615 years after his death and with the declaration of the International Year of Astronomy.
The Abdullazis-khan Madras
Opposite to Ulugbek’s Madras there is the Abdullazis-khan Madras, built in 1652 in honor of the Khan Abdullazis of the Ashtarhanids who died in 1681. The portal of the external façade is richly decorated with turquoise side slabs full of floral motifs and the upper arch carved with crackling muqarnas of colors. Built with a height higher than the standard, the façade consequently alters the harmony of the proportions, seeming elongated and slightly curved.
The walls contain the double order of cells that is present in the internal courtyard, from which four portals with double arches and corner terraces overlook. The lamps are covered with golden Kundal-style curved motifs.
Even this Madras has not been restored and has ruined interior mosaics, with shades of yellow. In their decorations appear the mythical dragons and the Semung birds. As in the Ulugbek Madras, there is a darkhshana and a mosque with the same style of decoration; the frescoes have not been restored, so they are original. In the inner courtyard the exhibition of local crafts continues with the usual alienating effect.
Photo by Eva Zalesakova
Source: A.V., Bukhara, the city and the legends, Davr Nashriyoti, Tashkent, 2014