Located in a desert along the trade route between Bukhara and Samarkand, the Ribat-i Malik was built in 1078-79 by the Qarakhanid ruler Sultan Nasr, son-in-law of Sultan Alp Arslan (1068-1080). It served both as a trade and royal outpost; in addition to providing accommodation for trading caravans, it also provided all the amenities needed by the Shah and his retinue.
The Ribat-i Malik was set in a square enclosure 282 meters long. Oriented to the southeast, the sides along the axis beginning at the entrance were mirror copies. Programmatically, it was composed of two parts: a large courtyard surrounded on three sides by vaulted chambers on two stories, and a square domed structure flanked by smaller rectangular courtyards. The first had a more public nature and served the trading caravans, while the second was more private, serving the sultan and his entourage.
Massive plain brick walls made up the perimeter of the structure, while cylindrical bastions occupied the corners, with the two front bastions extending above the perimeter walls as towers. The front elevation was articulated by a large iwan, serving as the only entrance to the complex, flanked on each side by an arrangement of semi-cylindrical piers connected above by squinch-like pointed-arch niches. Inset below the cornice was a narrow inscription frieze. This portal, and a portion of the front wall showing the middle set of cylindrical piers, is all that remains today.
The long portal iwan that led into the public rectangular courtyard was also flanked on each side by a series of rooms. Two stories of vaulted rooms surrounded the courtyard on three sides. The northwest wall of the courtyard extended all the way to the perimeter walls; only the iwan, and an opening to each side, led to the private side of the ribat.
Rather than leading into a square courtyard, as was the case of the Ribat-i Sharaf near Nishapur, the northwest iwan of the rectangular courtyard leads into an interior space. The footprint of the structure is a square, set between the northwest wall of the rectangular courtyard, the exterior perimeter wall of the ribat, and a rectangular courtyard to each side. The spaces within it are organized in rings, culminating at the center in a domed octagonal room. The outer perimeter of the square structure is composed of a series of rooms: two large rooms flank the entry portal, the same organization that is repeated along the northwest wall (with the exception of the entry portal), with five rooms at each of the lateral sides, the middle of which leads to each of the smaller rectangular courtyards. Corresponding to the organization of the spaces of the first ring, the second ring is composed of five domed bays on each side forming a continuous circumambulatory of the central octagonal domed space.
The rectangular courtyards to the southwest and northeast sides of the square structure each have only three rooms along the northwest perimeter wall, and two rooms to the southeast. A smaller room that is accessed from the public rectangular courtyard fits in the middle of these. In plan, these rooms make the physical link of the public and private quadrants of the ribat.
The extant portal reveals that the decorative technique, in keeping with the Seljuk time period, focused on the articulation of brick in various patterns. Set in a frame of plain brick, an inscription band follows the curve of the pointed arch. The whole of the portal is framed by a wide band of eight-pointed stars set between two ribs of brick that outline the band to each side.
Hillenbrand, Robert. Islamic Architecture: Form, Function, and Meaning, 341-344, 549.. Edinburgh: Edinburgh University Press, 2000.
Hoag, John D. Islamic architecture, 199-201. Milano: Electa Architecture; [S.l.]: Distributed by Phaidon Press, 2004, c. 1973.
Pourjavady, N. (ed.), E. Booth-Clibborn (originator). The Splendour of Iran, Vol 2, 166-167. London: Booth-Clibborn Editions, 2001.
Pope, Arthur Upham. Persian Architecture: The Triumph of Form and Color, 95, 128-129, 238. New York: George Braziller, 1965.