THE MAUSOLEUM OF HODJA AHMED YASEVI
Kazakhstan bears the traces of an ancient civilization. Millenia ago its inhabitants, the ancestors of the present-day Kazakhs, engaged in cattle-breeding and farming, and created an original cultural form. Some outstanding monuments of their cultural life have survived in the form of burial mounds, sites of ancient settlement, fortifications, mausoleums and even whole towns. Unique among these is an unparalleled masterpiece of medieval architecture, the mausoleum complex of Hodja Ahmed Yasevi.
The mausoleum was erected at the end of the 14th century in the town of Turkestan (Chimkent Region of the Kazakh Soviet Socialist Republic). It is an edifice which reflects many achievements of preceding epochs. In the remote Neolithic and Bronze Ages on the Kazakh territory certain concepts were formed regarding construction techniques and the use of different types of building materials. Studies of Bronze Age settlements and burial grounds conducted by Soviet scholars have yielded interesting use of stone and wood by the Kazakhs in their buildings, and the use of clay in ancient edifices. The same period saw developments which later produced the technique to construct the sham vault by means of overlapping blocks of stone. The most impressive monuments of the Bronze Age were memorial edifices.
Building developed most intensively during the Late Bronze Age when the principles of constructing the sham vault were established and such building materials as sun-dried brick and pasha appeared.
Ancient Greek writers mention the prolification of towns in the basin of the Syr Darya and link them to the domestic activity of the Sacae tribes. One can get an idea of their architecture from such monuments as Jeti-Asar, Balandi, Chirikrabat and the Babyshmulla Mausoleum. Referring to the tomb of Balandi II 4th-2nd centuries B.C.), built in an area where there existed close cultural interaction between nomadic and settled tribes, the well-known Soviet scholar S.P. Tolstov notes the outstanding role of the Syr Darya Sacae in the invention of the sham dome He writes the following: "The discovery of the dome in an architectural monument of the barbarian steppe tribes to the northeast of Khorezm, who did not know the technique of building a dome right up to the Afrigidian times, is a fact of prime importance."
The structures of the lower Syr Darya had circular or rectangular ground plans. Their monumental walls, crowned with domes, were made of sun-dried brick. Many planning devices used in the buildings of this period and some town-planning principles and methods of construction in the Middle Ages had an influence on building as a whole in Central Asia, Kazakhstan, the Near East and Europe.
The Medieval period of the Mongol invasion was marked by the establishment of feudal relations, the consequent growth of trade and handicrafts and a more marked transition to a settled life. All this resulted in the growth of towns, and building increased accordingly.
Kazakhstan and Central Asia were gradually drawn into a vast cultural world. Scholarly works were written in arabic, a language which was common to the Moslem Orient, and similar religious buildings were constructed everywhere. The inhabitants of what are today Kazakhstan and the Soviet Central Asian Republics played an important role in the development of medieval culture. In the 9th to 11th centuries the names of some brilliant scholars became widely known such as the great philosopher, mathematician and musician Al-Farabi, the brilliant physician and philosopher Avicenna, and the eminent scholar and man of learning Abu Raihan al-Biruni. The Karakhanid period brought important new cultural archievents in the field of philology. In the 11th century, the Karakhanid Turkish scholar and philologist Mahmud Kashgari compiled a dictionary of Turkic dialects which is an invaluable source for the study of Turkic languages. The first major work in Turkish was Jusuf Balasaguni's poem Kutadgu bilgi. A divan (collection of poems) by the Sufi poet Ahmed Yasevi (12th century) also written in Turkish has survived.
The great flourishing of learning and culture in the Middle and Near East can be seen from the fact that already in the 9th and 10th centuries special arithmetical and geometrical formulac were discovered and used in architecture. Al-Farabi writes about this in his treatise Enumeration of Sciences: " There are also numerous skillful geometrical devices, among which is the techniqueof directing building."
The arithmetical and geometrical devices for the construction of architectural forms elaborated in the mathematical works of Al-Farabi subsequently provided the foundation for the art of building throughout the Near and Middle East. Many of his theses were used later by Eastern scholars. For example, his Book of Skillful Spiritual Devices and Natural Secrets on the Refinements of Geometrical Figures, was included almost entirely in works about geometrical constructions. Giyas-ad-din al-Kashi (14th-15th century),who wrote the treatise A Key to Arithmetic, also borrowed a great deal of information from Al-Farabi. These mathematical works became widely known among medieval architects, and served as practical methods for the construction of structures. References to the great role of mathematics in the art of architecture can be found in the great Eastern thinkers Avicenna, Biruni and al-Kwarizmi.
An analysis of the many edifices of the age of Timur shows that the architects of the 14th and 15th centuries continued to use techniques the construction of structures which were developed and used from the 9th to the 13th centuries and this applies without reservation to the mausoleum of Hodja Ahmet Yasevi.
The flourishing of culture in the pre- Mongol period is reflected in the development of architecture and the applied arts.
The production of poychrome-glazing was developed. In addition to sun-dried brick and pasha, baked brick began to be used extensively for large public buildings, and alabaster was used as a cementing material as well as for decorative details. Wide use was made of terra-cotta and glazed tiling in the decoration of facades. Techniques used to make roofs became more advanced. Different forms of vaulting and versions of the pointed arch appeared, and construction techniques of domes improved. The monuments of the pre-Mongol period include the Ismail Samani mausoleum in Bukhara, the Aisha-Bibi and Babaj-hatun mausoleums near Djambul, the Rabat-i-Malik fortified caravanserai on the road between Bukhara and Samarkand, the minarets in Bukhara and Babkent, and the domed mausoleum of Sultan Sanwar in Merv.
In spite of the great damage inflicted on urban life by the Mongol, invasions cultural life in Central Asia and Kazakhstan did not cease. The centralized states of the 13th and 14th centuries provided the prerequisites for the further development of architecture and the applied arts. The portal-domed type of mausoleum continued to be developed in Kazakhstan. Striking examples are the mausoleums of Ayak-Hamir, Jochi-khan, Sirli-tam, Kok-Kesene and others. The architecture of this period is distinguished by monumental forms and refinement of decoration. The architects tried hard to extend the constructional possibilities of baked brick, and complex systems of covering large chambers were developed.
The impressive buildings of Timur, who had united all the Central Asian lands, led to the creation of a magnificent monumental style. The majestic edifices with strongly developed portals and high domes, richly decorated with tiled mosaics, were intended to glorify the ruler and reflect the greatness of the military-feudal state created by him. The town of Yasi (renamed Turkestan in the 16th century) was the scene of Hodja Ahmed's religious activity. He spent a large part of his life and was buried here. Written sources reveal that in ancient Yasi, on the site of the present mausoleum, there was a small mausoleum above the grave of the dervish Sheikh Hodja Ahmed, where people prayed. Later Yasevi was added to his name which indicated the city in which he had preached.
The inhabitants of this town had withstood a seven-month Mongol siege.
Also in the town of Turkestan were the tomb of Hodja Ahmed Yasevi's daughter Gauhar, the grave of his son-in-law Ali Hodja, the mosque of Bab-Arab and many other monuments. Clergy merchants and craftsmen accounted for the vast majority of the town's inhabitants. No doubt the burial-vault of Hodja Ahmet Yasevi became, thanks to the offerings of the many pilgrims and local inhabitants, one of the richest burial-vaults in the world. It was no coincidence that one of the khans of the Golden Horde, Khan Tokhtamysh, frequently attacked Turkestan and looted the mausoleum of Ahmet Yasevi.
In the year 1389, 1391, 1394 and 1395 in numerous bloody battles, Timur destroyed the power of the Golden Horde and set fire to its capital, the town of Sarai-Berke. It was in honor of this victory that Timur decided to build a new, grandiose memorial complex on the site of the old mausoleum of Hodja Ahmet Yasevi, which was by then in need of repairs.
There can be no doubt that Timur was guided not only by religious considerations for by this act he was increasing his authority, asserting the idea of the inviolability of his power and, a matter of no less importance to him, ensuring the security of his steppe hinterland.