Shaybanid ruler Abdullah Khan II (1556-1598) built the madrasa of Abdullah Khan in 1589-90, as a residential theological school to the southwest of Bukhara's city center (Shahristan). He located the structure immediately opposite his earlier Madar-i Khan Madrasa (b. 1566-67), thus creating another of Bukhara's typical double madrasa ensembles (kush madrasa). Abdullah Khan's madrasa was built during Bukhara's third and last great construction phase when numerous civic structures such as caravanserais, tims (markets), taks (domed market kiosks), hauz (lakes) and khanqahs (hospices). It is noted for its mastery of architectural form, plan and structure at a period of declining trade, political stability and lack of architectural innovation.
Although based on a traditional four-iwan madrasa type, the south-facing Abdullah Khan Madrasa departs from the typical rectangular or polygonal exterior envelope with a staggered west facade and two projections at the center of the north and east facades. The eastern features a turret in its northeastern corner, and the pentagonal projection to the north encloses a central domed chamber. A mosque and classrooms (darskhana) flank the antechamber of the south-facing pishtaq, in the conventional manner. The chapel mosque, which occupies the madrasa's southeast corner, is independently rotated to face the qibla. This marks a significant development over earlier solutions, such as at the neighboring Madar-i Khan Madrasa where the entire building was rotated to meet the qibla requirement while maintaining an oblique street aligned façade. The Abdullah Khan Madrasa also deviates from the typical courtyard typology lined by standard student cells (hujra); here, narrow passages lead from rectangular or five-sided vestibules along the courtyard walls to multiple cells linked to one another. This layout increased the total number of cells and created a chamfered rectangular courtyard. Passageways leading inward from the two northern corners of the courtyard pass through two rooms and arrive at the minaret steps.
The front elevation of the madrasa is symmetrical with six arched loggias- three on each floor- flanking either side of a magnified pishtaq. Towers (guldasta) capped at the wall cornice buttresses the corners and frames the composition. The vaulted portal and loggias are adorned with rich majolica, mosaic inlay and glazed brickwork seen in Timurid constructions of the early sixteenth century. The interiors demonstrate a focus on form as opposed to the conventional post Timurid emphasis on color, fretwork and pattern. This is reflected in the use of simple bi-colored gypsum carving (kyrma and chaspak) on a white background instead of the traditional glazed tile and gilt kundal decoration. The structure reflects contemporary innovations in cross-arched roof structures, with diagonal and parallel placement of structural arches of vaults. Twelve-sided cupolas supported by vaults and pendentives cover the three tall octagonal chambers with arched galleries running along the perimeter.
Russian archaeological teams extensively restored the madrasa's exterior tile work in the 1950s. The volute arch and dado of the pishtaq display intricate floral patterns in majolica and are fine examples of contemporary workmanship. The neighboring construction of a trade market and increasing volume of tourist activity pose a growing threat to the monument.
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Hillenbrand, Robert. Islamic Architecture, 230. Edinburgh: Edinburgh University Press, 1999.
Prochazka, Amjad Bohumil. Bukhara: Architecture of the Islamic Cultural Sphere, 46. Zurich: MARP, 1993.