The Subhan Qoli Madrasa gate is believed to date back to
the 17th century Uzbek era and commissioned by Sayyid Subhan Qoli, a son of
Nazr Muhammad who ruled Balkh from 1651 – 1681 during which time his brother served as Khan of
Bukhara. Revenues from the silk route trade allowed Subhan Qoli to commission
the construction of the madrassa and accompanying gate, an action supported by
the Sufi community in the area with which Qoli had a positive relationship.
Subhan Qoli is believed to have ceremoniously given bricks to the local
religious leaders in the area in order to lay a portion of the Madrasa’s
foundation, displaying the community’s support and mutual ownership of the Madrasa.
The Madrasa represents a period of expanding academic and religious scholarship
in Balkh during the Uzbek period. The impressive gate leading to the madrassa
is ornamented with the delicate tile work of the Timurid style, and was
photographed and documented by a number of travellers and scholars including
Robert Machesney and Josephine Powell, who photographed the ruins of the gate
in the late 20th century.
The Madrasa was a significant structure in the area, with
the wafiya noting that “it comprises lofty arches and vaulted niches, a
majestic portal, a central courtyard and two large domed rooms, one of which is
intended as a lecture hall. The Madrasa also has 150 hojras (living chambers)
on two floors.” Tile work was extensively designed in the banna’I technique.
The madrasa itself is believed to be paired with the Mazar of Khwaja Abu Nasra
Shrine, a common technique in the Uzbek and Timurid time
periods that intended for one structure to mirror and eclipse another.
Originally the main gate (iwan) of a expansive madrassa,
one of the largest religious structures in Timurid Balkh (with two floors,
extensive living chambers and 24 salaries positions), the remains of the
structure are in a dilapidated state and require urgent conservation. The
damaged facades retain only a fraction of the glazed tiles that once decorated
the whole structure. The consolidation of this gate structure will ensure that another
of the few remaining historic structures (above ground) in the centre of Balkh
is consolidated and incorporated into the wider conservation initiative.
Located at the eastern perimeter of the Park, directly opposite the Khwaja
Parsa Shrine on the western edge, following its conservation the gate of the
madrassa could potentially be used as the main public access into the garden.
In order for this to occur, the structure and the valuable glazed tiles would
have to be protected, ensuring that falling debris does not injure pedestrians.
The objective of the project was to undertake essential
repair and restoration works on an important historic monument in Balkh,
employing local craftsman and daily labourers ensuring that the trained
personnel can assist with future maintenance of the site. This project will
also provide a platform for continued development of Afghan professional capacity
and training for skilled craftsmen.