Bukhara, one of the oldest cities in Central Asia, was already a town in the first millennium BC, it became important historically in the eigth century, when it was conquered by the Arab Abbasid Caliphate (709 AD/90 AH). Bukhara flourished both intellectually and commercially, and by the tenth century, under the powerful Samanid Dynasty, it became a renowned center of the arts and learning, especially the sciences and mathematics. The city's rich cultural heritage, commissioned by the patronage of its rulers, includes many architectural landmarks of the Islamic world. Recent excavations by the Uzbek Academy of Sciences have revealed that present day Bukhara is built up on layers of past settlements. By dating some of the discovered remnants that have been excavated, it is quite likely that Bukhara can be considered at least 2,500 years old.
Bukhara lies on a flat plain and is surrounded by semi-desert lands. It is situated on the edge of the Kizilkum desert and has a dry and arid climate. In the past, the Bukhara oasis formed part of a vast region of Central Asia which had been conquered by Alexander of Macedon. These events led to the forming of feudalism in the Bukharan oasis.
The new social system introduced a social hierarchy: the individual principalities were ruled by kings supported by armed nobility. The process of town formation became very active and the ancient settlements surrounding Bukhara developed into the towns of Varakhsha, Vardanzi, Ramish, and Kermine. All these towns followed a similar structural pattern, they all were made up of: the Ark (citadel), the Shakhristan -well planned residential; core, and a necropolis on the outskirts of the city.
Bukhara in this period followed the same layout and pattern of development. It sprawled over an area of forty hectares. The Shakhristan which was rectangular was cut into four sections by two crossing main streets which led to gates opening out on all four sides of the city. At the turn of the tenth century, Bukhara had developed into a major cultural and religious center. Bukhara was almost leveled by Gengis Khan in 1226/623 AH; few monuments survived the destructiveness of the Mongol hordes. Bukhara revived under the Shaybanid Dynasty in the sixteenth century, but it's importance decreased with the decline in traffic along the Silk Road. In 1753/1166 AH, Bukhara became an independent emirate and remained so until 1868/1285 AH, when it was incorporated as a vassal state under Tsarist Russia. Bukhara was forcefully taken by the Bolshevik forces after WWI; a number of monuments suffered great destruction during the bombardment.
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.
Azizkhodjayev, Alisher. Bukhara: An Oriental Gem, 89, 93. Tashkent: Chief Editorial Office of Publishing & Printing Concern, 1997.
Borodina, Iraida. Central Asia: Gems of 9th-19th Century Architecture, 130. Moscow: Planeta Publishers, 1987.
Hillenbrand, Robert. Islamic Architecture, 230. Edinburgh: Edinburgh University Press, 1999.
Prochazka, Amjad Bohumil. Bukhara: Architecture of the Islamic Cultural Sphere, 46. Zurich: MARP, 1993.
مدرسه عبد الله خان (Original)
Madrasah-i 'Abd Allah Khan (Transliterated)
Madrasa-i Abd Allah Khan (Alternate transliteration)
Madraseh-e Abd Allah Khan (Alternate transliteration)