The Great Mosque of Yarkand is said to have been founded as early as the fifteenth century by Uygur vassals ruling the Tarim basin, at a time when the region was contested between the Dughlat and Chaghatai Khanates. The buildings that stand today, however, are more likely left from the nineteenth century, as they closely resemble those of the Aitika Mosque in Kashi. The principle buildings of the Great Mosque of Yarkand are the gateway, the prayer hall and a scripture house.
The gateway of the mosque complex leads from the street into a landscaped courtyard. The imposing square edifice of the gate is flanked on either side by a low wall, topped by a carved balustrade of open lozenges. Two thin, engaged columns hug the sides of the gateway pishtaq, the upper segments of which resemble those at the Aitika Mosque, and may also be borrowed from the brick minaret tradition of Bukhara. Delicate crescent finials rise from the columns, which are capped with scalloped edged domes resembling inverted lotuses. The recessed arch of the entry is bordered on three sides with panels containing arched niches like the Aitika Gateway although here the panels above the arch are screened windows. The gateway of the Great Mosque of Yarkand is also divided into two levels with a five-sided and vaulted balcony that bears plaster plaques painted with Arabic inscription. The square lower half of the entry recess is shallower and leads into the entry vestibule. The vestibule does not directly open into the courtyard but ends in a metal grill window containing Arabic inscription. The courtyard is accessed instead by two side doorways located behind the low flanking walls of the pishtaq. The garden elevation of the monumental gateway, although lower than the street elevation, is similarly framed by engaged minaret-like columns, and the shorter centerpiece is set with three arched balconies above the grille-window, flanked by two blind windows. Whereas the entirety of the street elevation is made of red brick clad in sections by blue glazed tiles, the garden elevation is set in yellow brick, outlined in a blue tile around the balconies and windows.
The prayer hall is located to the west of the courtyard. It consists of a wide, flat-roofed hypostyle outer hall that opens out to the courtyard, and envelopes a brick inner hall that adjoins the qibla wall. The complimentary relationship between inner and outer prayer hall, for alternating use in the summer and the winter, is common in Xinjiang mosque architecture, particularly south of the Tianshan Mountains. Wooden columns, with muqarnas carved wooden capitals, define the bays of the outer hall. The playfulness of the column capitals is extended onto the undulating paneled ceiling, with lively floral and pictoral motifs richly colored in red, blue, green and yellow, and to the arabesque and geometric patterns on the soffit of the eaves. The central five bays of this arcade that correspond to the inner hall are taller and contain three ramps that lead up from the garden level to the prayer hall. Breaking the flat roofline, the mihrab bay at the far west is crowned by a dome clad in glazed green tiles, similar to the mihrab chambers at the Great Mosque of King Imin and at the Great Mosque within the Abak Khoja Mausoleum Complex.
Qiu, Yulan. Ancient Chinese Architecture: Islamic Buildings, edited by Sun Dazhang, 118, 133-134, 169. Vienna: Springer-Verlag, 2003.