ancient samarkandFor a picturesque scene from Samarkand’s Islamic revival, visit the charming shrine complex Khodja Abdi Darun in the southeast of the city. It is associated with the name of ninth century Arab jurist Abd al-Mazeddin (Khodja denotes one who has made the pilgrimage to Mecca). Seljuk Sultan Sanjar erected this ancient Samarkand mausoleum for himself in the 12th century, rebuilt by Ulug Beg in the 15th century behind a khanagha with portal and dome.

In the 19th century a mosque and madrassah completed the ensemble set around a large hauz (pool). Four ancient chinor trees throw dappled light onto the water as young boys attend Koran classes and old men pray beneath the colourful wooden man. The complex stands in a cemetery where a new madrassah is under construction. Nearby are fragments of the city wall, hence the mausoleum’s title Abdi Darun, (the inner Abd), compared to al-Mazeddin’s other mausoleum  Abdi Birun, (the outer Abd), far beyond the walls in a southern suburb.

Bukharan vizier Nadir Divanbegi is credited with building the latter in 1633 and, as in his other works, the tiling borrows from earlier floral and geometric styles. Ongoing restoration is refreshing these patterns on the portal and dome above the mausoleum chamber, while the donations of the faithful rebuild the adjacent mosque complex. Tell the taxi driver Lenin Byrogi Kolkhoz (Lenin’s Flag Collective Farm). To reach Abdi Darun, take bus No. 14 or marshrutka taxi No. 83, to the Andijan/Sadriddin Ayni junction.


Over the road from Abdi Darun lies the noble desolation of the Ishrat Khana, or House of Joy. Legend suggests a wife of Tamerlane built it as her tomb, but it became a pleasure palace once the ruler embraced her in awe at its beauty. The vanished opulence of its interior decor explains the joyous epithet—gold leaf, multicolour mosaic and stained glass—yet it was built as a mausoleum in 1464 by the wife of Tamerlane’s (Amir Temur) great-grandson Abu Said for their favourite daughter. Over 20 tombstones of Timurid women and children occupy the crypt. Above ground the impressive portal, a survivor of the 1904 earthquake that claimed the high turquoise dome, leads to a cruciform hall once flanked by two-storey galleries. Two of four spiral staircases still permit a rooftop panorama.


After the Koran, the book most revered by Muslims is the collection of Hadith (sayings of the Prophet Mohammed) selected by, among others, Abu Abdullah Mohammed ibn Ismail Imam Al-Bukhari. Born in Bukhara in 810, the young boy showed a precocious talent for memorizing the traditions of Mohammed. At 16 he accompanied his mother and brother on the hajj pilgrimage to Mecca. They returned home without him, for Al-Bukhari was set on his chosen task of roaming the Islamic world in search of Hadith. His 97-book masterpiece took 16 years to compile from over 600,000 traditions, gathered from over 1,000 sheikhs. He would not insert a text without first washing and praying. In addition to Mohammed’s life, Al-Bukhari explained the creation of heaven and hell.

Though his veracity and peerless knowledge were recognized in his lifetime, his popularity and independent spirit drew enemies in Persia that forced him back to Bukhara. Al-Bukhari wished to keep learning open to all who attended his mosque, so he refused private tuition for the Bukharan governor’s children. “Knowledge should not go to the pupils,” he said, “but the pupil must seek out knowledge.” His subsequent expulsion brought him to the village of Hartang outside Samarkand. Depressed by his treatment, the old master was heard one night in 870 to pray for God to release him. Within a month he was dead.

Centuries of research have confirmed Al-Bukhari’s work as the most reliable and respected collection of Hadith. As he never attached himself to a particular school, his mausoleum attracts pilgrims from around the world. Today one sees a complex dating back at most 200 years. Ongoing renovation expands this place of worship into a centre for international scholarship, though the bright restoration is not to every visitor’s taste. All visitors must dress conservatively (women must cover their heads) and request permission at the entrance. Reception and prayer rooms are spread around a hauz shaded by chinor trees. Through an archway beside the minaret is Al-Bukhari’s tomb, beneath a blue-domed mausoleum.

The Samarkand mausoleum is 25 kilometres (15 miles) north of Samarkand in Khodja Ismail Kishlak. To reach it take a tour, hire a taxi or enquire about pilgrim buses at the station. En route, between the Black and White Rivers, is the Machtumi Azam complex in Dakhbed village. The name is an alternative for Sheikh Khodja Mohammed Kasani, a devout follower of Bukhara’s Naqshbandi, who died here in 1542 aged 81. The large mosque, now heavily restored, was first built in 1613 by Yalangtush Bahadur, the Shaybanid ruler of Samarkand, said to rest in the raised dakhma of marble gravestones in the cemetery behind.