The Ishrat Khanah or Ishrat Khaneh was built as a dynastic tomb for the royal women of the Timurid house in the 15th century. It was probably conceived as a successor to the Shah-i Zindah mausoleum complex, which was in use until the 1440s. The name of the tomb, which means 'the house of pleasure', refers to its once richly decorated interiors. Located in Samarkand's Siyob Tumani neighborhood, near the Bagh-i Firozi Park to the east of Registan Square, the tomb remains as damaged in numerous earthquakes.
Habibah Sultan Begum, the eldest wife of the last Timurid ruler Abu Sa'id (1451-69) commissioned the tomb in 1464 for her beloved and short-lived daughter. Used for the burial of royal women then onwards, Ishrat Khanah's crypt contained 20 tombstones at the end of the seventeenth century.
The exterior appearance of the tomb is dominated by the projecting portal (pishtaq), as well as the elongated drum of the central dome. The tomb's damaged southwest portal is 28 meters wide and 25 meters deep. Two shallow niches, one on each floor, arcades flank the central pishtaq, while the rear façade is composed of three decorative panels flanked by two, similar niches. The portal leads directly into the cruciform shaped burial chamber. Three rooms west of this chamber constitute the chapel mosque. To the east, four rooms flanking the chamber were known as the miyan saray or miyan khane, a space used for funeral rites. This tripartite plan is an example of later Timurid plan types, with transverse arches supporting the dome over a marble burial chamber.
The tall central chamber is crowned by a 16-sided, flat, elliptical dome supported by a series of intersecting arches and arch nets, which allowed builders to significantly reduce the dome's internal height while increasing its span. A system of fractured planes, in the form of stretched lozenges formed the spatial transition between the perpendicular arches and the supporting piers. Atop this elaborate inner shell, the outer glazed tile dome sits on a high cylindrical drum. Similarly, the tomb's side rooms display a variety of decorative vaulting. Corner piers of the central domed chamber enclose spiral staircases that give access to rooms above the mosque and miyan saray. Another staircase leads from the miyan saray down into the vaulted burial crypt.
The portal's tympana display polychrome mosaics with interlocking hexagonal stars. Built largely of fired brick, the elevations were decorated with geometric designs rendered in brick and faience, as well as glazed tiles and painted panels. Strips of glazed tile, colored brick inlays and mosaic panels were used to frame sections of the façade.
On the interior, remnants of the drum bear traces of hexagonal stars crafted in relief. The tomb's interiors are renowned for their intricate ornamentation and craftsmanship. A mosaic panel dado covers the interior walls up to human eye level, above which the walls are covered with kundal work. Kundal is a polychrome décor, achieved with vegetal motifs carved in high relief of red clay, plaster and glue, that is later covered with gold leaf and white lead. The tomb's colored glass windows were a rarity in the region and times.
Following the charitable endowment's (waqf) inability in preventing the structure's deterioration over successive earthquakes, the central dome and drum finally collapsed in 1903. The tomb was not included in Soviet restoration campaigns that from the 1930s till 1970s. Modern tourist circuits and subsequent preservation attempts appear to have bypassed this monument.
Borodina, Iraida. Central Asia: Gems of 9th-19th Century Architecture, 88, 89. Moscow: Planeta publishers, 1987.
Bulatova, V., and G. Shishkina. Samarkand: A Museum in the Open, 53. Tashkent, 1986.
Edgar Knobloch. Monuments of Central Asia, 108. London: I.B. Tauris Publishers, 2001.
Golombek, Lisa, and Donald Wilber. The Timurid Architecture of Iran and Turan, 268, 269. Princeton, NJ: Princeton University Press, 1988.
Michell, George. Architecture of the Islamic World, 258, 262. New York: Thames and Hudson, 1984.