The madrasa and khanaqah that Ulugh Beg, Timur's grandson and Governor of Samarkand, built facing each other across the Registan Square, were part of a large urban project incorporating several mosques, caravanserais and a bazaar. Of this project only the monumental madrasa survives; on the site of the khanaqah now stands the seventeenth century Shir Dar Madrasa.
Ulugh Beg, manifestly interested in learning, commissioned two other madrasas during his reign, the Ulugh Beg Madrasa of Bukhara, and the madrasa in Ghujdivan. The madrasa in Samarkand is the largest and most architecturally significant of the three, and was also significant as an institution of learning during the Timurid period, receiving great scholars, both religious and secular. The madrasa operated until the late seventeenth century, after which it provided grain storage for more than a century. Teaching functions were restored in the early twentieth century.
A two-story envelope lines a rectangular site, marked by minarets on all four corners and a massive pishtaq facing the square. The pishtaq rises to twice the height of the building, and stretches across the middle two thirds of the façade. The pishtaq iwan leads to another, smaller in scale, which in turn accesses a third that faces the square interior courtyard.
A double story gallery lines the courtyard, leading to fifty student rooms. Iwans mark the center of each façade; the western iwan accesses a long, narrow mosque in the rear wall of the madrasa. Cruciform, domed chambers occupy the four corners of the plan, flanking the mosque hall to the west, and the monumental iwan to the east.
A variegated decorative scheme, executed in hazarbaf brickwork, haft rangi tiles and mosaic faience, covers every exterior surface. Marble is used to form dados and moldings.
Blair, S., and J. M. Bloom. The Art and Architecture of Islam, 45, 204. New Haven and London: Yale University Press, 1994.
Brandenburg, D. Samarkand: Studien zur Islamischen Baukunst in Uzbekistan (Zentralasien), 162-168. Berlin: Bruno Hessling Verlag, 1972.
Golombek, L., and D. Wilber, eds. The Timurid Architecture of Iran and Turan, 263-265. Princeton: Princeton University Press, 1988.
Michell, G. Architecture of the Islamic World, 261. London: Thames and Hudson, 1995.