Articles on Central Asia: Architectural monuments of the past

Mongol and Turkish Empires have left distinctive architectural traces which shed a new light on the development of urban space in this era. City planning was important, and new architectural methods were developed in religious architecture (for example, mosques, religious schools, and hospices) and civic architecture (such as trading complexes, baths, caravanserais, and bridges).  The destructive habits of Genghis Khan, Tamerlane and other nomadic plunderers has meant very little early old stuff remains. Most of the famous architecture in the region dates back to the time of Tamerlane (1336-1405) and the Timurids (Tamerlane and his descendents). Because wood and stone were not very plentiful in the deserts and steppes of Central Asia, brick became the desired building material. Buildings were traditionally designed to beat the heat, with large openings facing the wind and fountains and pools and even streams in the courtyard to provide a cooling effect.  Important advances that made Central Asia architecture possible included the development of fired bricks in the 10th century, colored timework in the 12th century, polychrome tile in the 14th century and the squinch (a kind or bracketing used in making large domes).

Mosques, madrasahs and other buildings in Central Asia are famous for their colorful tilework. The tiles not only make the building look beautiful they also make them appear lighter. The tiles are set up to reflect the desert sun. Deep cobalt blue and turquoise (meaning "color of the Turks") were often featured on domes. The tiles come in variety of styles: stamped, chromatic (one color painted on and then fired), polychromatic (several colors painted on and then fired), and faience (carved onto wet clay and then fired). Other decorative features include carved and painted woodwork. patterned brickwork and carved ghanch (alabaster). Central Asian mosques typically have a large portal which leads to a colonnaded space (sometimes open, sometimes closed) and covered prayer area. Many small mosques have a pointed roof supported by carved wooden columns. Some large ones have an enclosed space divided by many supporting pillars. Central Asian minarets are typically made of brick, sometimes covered with tiles, and often tapered inward to make the building nearby look bigger. Some have stairways which the muezzin climbed to call the faithful to prayer from the top. Others, like he ones at the Registan, are purely ornamental. Mausoleums were built by famous leader to highlight their fame or to honor holymen. Most have a prayer room set under a domed cupola. The actual tombs may be located in a central hall or underground in a crypt-like room. Some have accommodation, washrooms and kitchens.  Many of the most famous buildings in Central Asia—such as the massive structures at the Registan in Samarkand—are madrasahs, Islamic theological schools. They typically are two stores high and have a central courtyard surrounded by cell-like living quarters ( hujras) used by students, teachers and traveling scholars.  Madrasahs and the square in front of them were often the central building of a Central Asian city the same way a cathedral and market square were at the center of European cities. Markets were often set up in the squares in front of madrasahs and the niches in front wall of the madrasah were used by merchants. The main features are the monumental portal at the entrance, a mosque to the right of the entrance, a lecture hall to the right, and arched portals in the central courtyard. These days the cells in the courtyards are often filled with carpet sellers and souvenir shops.

The creative genius of the Central Asian architects of the 13th century manifested itself to the highest degree in popular architecture. Several schools can be singled out: those of Ferghana, Samarkand, Bukhara, Khiva, and a distinct folk architecture in the mountainous regions. All of these schools demonstrate careful consideration of natural climatic conditions, special features of planning and space volume solutions, and fine working out of detail. The popular traditions of building decoration—carved doors and ornamental pillars, painted ceilings, stucco variously carved with painted ornamental details and background—have all been preserved. The best masters of folk art were called to ornament the palaces of rulers , residences of wealthy citizens, and ward and rural mosques. These traditions have been carried on to the present times by folk craftsmen.

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