The mausoleum of Muhammad Bosharo is located in the village of Mazar-i Sharif, twenty-five kilometers to the east of the city of Penjikent in Tajikistan. The building is situated in the Zarafshan River valley, which stretches from the Pamir Mountains in Tajikistan to Samarqand and Bukhara in Uzbekistan and contains most of the historical sites of Central Asia. Commemorating a Sufi saint who lived in the 8th and 9th centuries, the mausoleum is a venerated pilgrimage site and gives the name of Mazar-i Sharif (Noble Sanctuary) to the small village wherein it is situated. An inscription on the main portal bears the date of 1342-43, but the original structure is attributed to the eleventh century.
The mausoleum stands on a mountain slope with an ancient cemetery, overlooking a verdant valley containing a seasonal stream that flows toward the Zarafshan River. Raised atop a stone platform, the building is roughly rectangular in plan, measuring approximately 25 by 15 meters on the exterior. Historians divides the standing monument into three parts built in different stages: oriented toward qibla (southwest), the original structure was square in plan and consisted of a central domed space (7.6 meters in diameter) with axial alcoves and four corner chambers (a variation of the typical nine-bay layout commonly used in residential architecture). Based on a detailed examination of the building, Chmelnizkij suggests that originally the domed hall functioned as a mosque and was accessed on the qibla axis, through a portal on the northeast side. On the other hand, the presence of the corner rooms (called chelle khana, used for meditation and prayer in seclusion) indicates that the original building was related to Sufi practices as well.
Two flanking halls with funerary functions were later added to the square domed building: as Chmelnizkij has chronicled, following the burial of the saint in an underground chamber beneath the northeast portal, a three-bay structure, with a central domed space atop the crypt, was erected along the northeast side of the building. The elaborate pishtaq of the south side is also attributed the same building campaign. At a later date another hall was erected on the opposite side behind the qibla wall. Unlike the symmetrical layout of the first addition, the second hall was composed of a square room with a mihrab (ziyaratkhana) and a rectangular chamber containing a tombstone (gurkhana).
Passing the entry portal, the visitor enters a square domed hall with four axial arched recesses of different forms and functions. The two recesses located on the entrance axis are shallow and unadorned, whereas the southeast alcove is covered with a relatively higher dome and contains a mihrab with intricate unbaked clay decoration. The corner rooms are accessible from four low narrow arched doorways flanking the southeast and northwest alcoves. The two rooms on the south and the west corner of the hall are also connected to a passage that stretches from either side of the qibla niche. The arched recess located opposite the qibla wall contains five cenotaphs and leads to the northeastern hall, which can also be accessed from an entrance on the main elevation. The southwestern hall is connected to the main hall through the south room. Passing a square room, the visitor enters a rectangular chamber with a cenotaph at its center.
The decorative program of the structure is focused on the entrance portal, the two mihrabs, and the cenotaphs inside the mausolem. Bearing an inscription with the date of 1342-43, the portal is covered with inscriptions and various geometric and floral patterns in glazed and unglazed terra cotta. An epigraphic band, whose upper part has not survived, frames the pishtaq. Blue glazed bricks border the inscriptive band. Two circular engaged columns with intricate terra cotta decoration in relief flank the arch of the portal. Intricately decorated panels are present on the sidewalls of the arched recess. The other unique decorative feature of the building is the mihrab with unbaked clay decoration.
The mausoleum of Muhammad Bosharo, the most significant example of medieval Islamic architecture in today’s Tajikistan, has been studied by several Soviet scholars since the 1950s. According to ICOMOS's 2005 assessment, its restoration in the 1980s with improper materials has caused serious problems.
Chmelnizkij, Sergei. "The Mausoleum of Muhammad Bosharo." Muqarnas: An Annual on Islamic Art and Architecture VII (1990) edited by Oleg Grabar. Leiden: E.J. Brill, 1990.
"Tajikistan: A view from outside," in Heritage at Risk 2004/2005. http://www.international.icomos.org/risk/2004/tajikistan2004.pdf [Accessed Novermber 13, 2013]