Religious Architecture of Termez

Monuments of religious architecture in Termez

By the conquest of Surkhandarya, Moslim sacred buildings such as mosques, madrasahs, mausoleums, and hanaqas were the focus of construction in the period of prosperity in Termez in XI-XII c. and XV- XVI.


There can be separated into three main types quarter mosques, for use by one city quarter; cathedral (Juma) and festive (namazgoh - a palace for praying, idgoh, musalliya).Cathedral mosques: there were two types of cathedral mosques. The first version was a large an inside quadrangular enclosed yard encircled along the perimeter by columns as a gallery. Developing at the beginning of medieval period, it became a leading pattern of classical cathedral mosque in Central Asia. The second version of cathedral mosque was as a large multi-stage closed hall, covered by a multi-domed or a flat beam roof; it was less common in the following period and there are only a few isolated examples.

The earliest of the multi-columned mosques in Surkhandarya is Sapoltepa of XI c., which is near to Termez. It was situated in an oval area and the size of the building was 43x25, including a multi column hall. About 50 column bases made from baked brick have been found. They had a square sec tion (90x90cm.) and were evenly spaced with 3 m. between them.According to the sources of X c., the same composition (al-Istahri i al Mukaddasi) the beautiful mosque Saganiana was erected in the middle of the market with columns from baked brick. It did not have any arches (It was probably covered with( flat beam roof).

The Chor Sutun mosque in X c. Termez was probably used as a cathedral one, sometimes for fes tive occasions.It was a pillar-dome construction like a simple 10x10 shelter that was situated in the corner of the( courtyard. It was fenced with a solid brick wall along the west to the south, but from the north along the east it was not closed facing to the couryard with the arched gallery. There were nine columns, each a meter in diameter supporting the nine-domed overhead cover of the mosque - all work being done in baked brick. In XI c., a minaret was erected of baked brick in another corner of the courtyard; it is inscribed with the year 1032. The mosque was later renovated. Its raw brick floors and walls, including minaret, were faced with baked brick. The mihrab, which was placed in the centre of the southwest wall, had a horseshoe shaped bay area decorated with fluting after the fashion of the walls of those closest the raw brick keshk of Kurgon (castle) situated nearby.

The mosque of Katta Masjid ("big mosque"), built in the village Urta-aul of Termez region dates( back to the XVIII-XIX c. It was a square (about 14 m.) raw brick building with cross-like domed hall, including four domed rooms on each corner. The central square was a covered dome and the central entrances were covered by the half arch of balh and corner rooms covered the balh apertures. There were three entrances built in each wall, except the western one, where the mihrab was located. The interior of the mosque was lit by an upper round opening, which was situated in the zenith of the domes, and balh arches.

Should note that the fourth of the various styles of mosques, for burials in religious complexes, will be considered later.


The minarets were an indispensable part of the cathedral mosques with the express purpose of calling Moslims to pray. The first minarets of Central Asia have not been preserved, but it is known that they were built from raw bricks, and then later, in some cases, clad with baked bricks. From XI c. the majority of minarets were built from baked brick and decorated with horizontal patterns. The surface of the base was decorated with ornamental brickwork and also horizontal bands of relief design from terracotta. Most of these early minarets of cathedral mosques in Central Asia have been lost, but some of them are being renovated, even as separate towers (Kalyan in Bukhara, minarets in Vabkent and Jarkurgan).

The minaret at Chor Sutun mosque in Termez was rising above the ruins of the ancient mosque and which had been lost not long before. It was one of the ancient minarets built from baked brick. Its cylindrical shaft had a height of 13m. and diameter of 3m. It was erected in an octagonal foundation. It is one of the unique cylindrical minarets of Central Asia. It included a spiral staircase leading to an upper platform for a muadzin (a man for calling to pray). The initial height of the minaret was probably 16-18m. The textured bricks were decorated from the ground level shaft with four rows of patterns. The decorations were accomplished on the smooth surface of the pair of bricks by a special pattern. They were the earliest version of monumental calligraphy and thus the Kufi inscription was simplified and some geometrical character was used. On one of the bands of the minaret there was a date of construction 423 khijra (1032).

Unique in its original fluted form was the Jarkurgan in the medieval village of Charmangan, erected in 1109 by the architect Ali b. Muhammad Serakhsi. From the former two-tier minaret only the lower tier has been well preserved. The shaft of it was decorated with 16 closed half columns, which were fluted skillfully, like an fir tree spreading out its boughs towards the bottom and coming closer to each other in the upper part, where they reached the height of 20m, finishing in a horizontal design. Inscriptions from the Qur'an were not finished here; however, there was also a band with more elaborate patterns in the shaft, which was not preserved. This minaret reached the height of 21.6m. with it lower diameter of 5.4 m., and its diameter was 4.1m. in the upper part. Everyone was very impressed when looking at the carefully done ornamental artwork displayed on the minaret. They resembles that on the minaret in Jarkurgan and also that of the minarets of Northern India and Khorasan.


This type of construction was mentioned first by Muhammad Narshahi in his "History of Bukhara where the madrasah of Farjaka in Bukhara is mentioned which was burnt down during the fire in 937. Three madrasahs were erected in the XV c. by Ulugbek: in Bukhara, Samarkand and Gijduvan. These are considered to be the most ancient among the preserved madrasahs in Central Asia. Unfortunately the earliest classical constructions of madrasahs in Termez have been lost and we have a little information about them. However, looking at the architecture of the madrasah Sayyid Atalik, in Denau (XVI-XVII c.), we can study the traditions and ideas about the construction of madrasahs. This monumental structure of baked brick was built under the great influence of traditions that came from the schools of architecture in Bukhara. It was a large rectangle in plan, two- storeyed, including an inside yard built on perimeters of khujra and four portal terraces on its axes. Its open-sided facades inside of arched balconies were done in a typical Bukharan style.

Two simple brick madrasahs near Termez were researched by V.A. Nilsen in 1955. They belong to the XVIII-XIXc. The complexes of Khalif Niyazkul and Khalif Khudaidot in Bukhara, which were erected in a more monumental manner, can serve as a good example of their style.

The large one-storied madrasah complex built in the village of Khwaja Mulk on the left bank of the river of Surkhandarya is quite large, but is very simple in its architecture. There are about forty khujras as surrounding the square, a shady courtyard a pool in the centre. There were three large in the south-west corner, probably halls used as study rooms. In the west of the courtyard there was a large raw brick mosque with doorways, and a raw brick rostrum (minbar) lecture in front of it. Almost square khujras having the size of 3.5m. had lancet bays on the walls for keeping books and household items; moreover, there were clay stoves in the front right corner.

The complex with the madrasah in Saliabad, located to the northwest from Termez, smaller than the previous madrasah but it wa more carefully and was more elaborately decorated. It no longer stands. The entrance to courtyard of theas through a domed gateway, flanked by towers, called guldasta (like a bunch of flowers).There were almost square khujras covered by arched balh. The khujras were equipped with lancet bays to keep books and household utensils and there were semicircular fireplaces in the northern corner with flues in the outside wall. There was a three- domed with its front opening out onto the courtyard. Its central section was connected with a wide arch that formed a long hallway. The central part of the madrasah featured spherical domes, which gave the effect of lanterns. The side sections were also arched. In the centre of the western wall of the hall was a mihrab with five sides. This was decorated with carved ganch (alabaster work). Judging by the plan, the facade of this mosque was strengthened by arches. Three of them acted as doorways to the inside. The others served as bay areas in the wall. Five arches had been used to strengthen a three-domed building. The same technology was used on six-arched construction, an example being the Khwaja Isa mausoleum in the environs of Sherabad. In the southwest of the madrasah there was a terrace with wooden columns and its walls and bay area (mihrab style) were decorated by simple alabaster borders.


The mausoleums designed by the school of architecture of Surkhandarya differed from those of the other regions of Central Asia in their decorations being of a simpler nature. Often they were erected on the burial site of a Moslim saint. This place became a place of worship and pilgrimage, later becoming recognized as a sacred shrine. The complex Zul-Kifl, At-Termizi and Sultan Saodat are examples of that.

In Termez oasis one can also find raw brick mausoleums that consist of only one chamber; these belong to the XI-XII c. Because they were built using raw brick, only parts of these buildings now remain. The mausoleum Turtauzgumbaz built in the XI-XII c. in Termez district belongs to the latter group. Judging by previous research it appears to have been built as a one-chambered mausoleum in the shape of a square (7.20m x 7.20m), with a portal dome. Its openings, which were in the centre of each facade, were arched. On the southern side was the main facade with the portal having deep arched bay. Within the portals 'were apertures, which resembled surgical forceps in appearance. The base of the dome was octahedral. It was like an arch with 3-ribbed stalactite in the corners.

The Mausoleum Khwaja Rushani belonged to XI c. and was not far from the Termez-Angor road in the Termez district. It was also built as a one-chambered, raw brick portal gave rising up to become a spherical-conical dome. The motif of the interior decor was stalactites, the bricks coming out as structures in the corners. Four rows of such stalactites form the bosom of the angles of the sails and 3 rows of stalactite support the dome overhangs over the octahedral tier of the sail formation. Awide bay was placed asymmetrically in the lower part of the northern wall.

The mausoleum Ataulla Eshon is picturesque; it is situated at the summit of one of the hills near Sherabad. This is also a one-chambered centric construction that is almost square. The main entrance, is in centre of the northern facade, was done as a wide arch in brick. The corner sails of the interior were formed in an interesting way, like a floating entrance from the walls to the round base of the dome, without separating into the special horizontal tiers of the sails. Each sail was done as an arched bay; in the further portion of which, in the back ground there was horizontal cladding. In each there were separated 3 rows of diagonal fir trees. This motif was common for the XI-XII centuries. There was a big stepped gravestone plastered with clay saman (consists of clay and straw). The roof was in the shape of a spherical conic dome and made of raw bricks. In this construction were two rows of bricks fashioned to form corbels. A. Arshavskaya and E.V. Rtveladze researched this mausoleum in 1977 and came to the conclusion that the original belonged to the XI c., but they did wonder if it, in fact, might have originated later.

Mausoleum Uyukgumbas XI-XII c. was constructed in the form of one chamber, except that its terrace was F - shaped. The horizontal tier of arched sails and domes were based on the walls. The decorations of the walls in interior were original. In the centre of each was placed a high angular bay with another less and gently sloping creating the effect of shortened arches. The large bay in the upper part up to the level of five arches was framed in the shape of right - angled "II." The same motif, where a smaller arch was insert in the large arch was repeated in the corner sails too. There was only one entrance-in the corner of the northern part of the wall. It is interesting that a decorated terrace having 3 large flat wall bays was joined to the outside of this facade. It reminds one of the decor of the facade of mausoleum of Khwaja Isa in Sherabad. In the centre of the wall flanking the terrace from southwest there was a bay consisting of a number of reduced small arches. It can be considered as a mihrab bay of the terrace, which probably served as a funeral prayer mosque attached to the mausoleum. Despite the common character of size and space composition, lay out structure and construction materials used in these domed one chamber raw-brick mausoleums, each of them has its own decorative motifs and is specific in the appearance of the main facade and sails tier. But however the mausoleums of personalities significant and esteemed and considered to be saints were built in more monumental style from baked brick and often included other buildings the biggest of which was a funeral prayer mosque contiguous to a mausoleum.

The Mausoleum of Khwaja Isa was one of the most sacred in Surkhandarya, and Khwaja Isa was a famous Moslim, known in the orient for his theological works and also khadith writing. This mausoleum was located 6 km. southwest of Sherabad. Its shape was rectangular with 3 domes, placed as a suite with four rooms. Three of the sections are in a square shape, being covered by the domes. Inside they were joined together with wide, open arched doorways. The 4th room of the inside was joined in the southwest by a hallway. Its floor was lower than the other rooms. Using the staircase, one can get to the second floor, where there is another room above this 4th room.

This hallway also leads to the burial vault where there was an old sagana (tomb - stone). Not long ago, it was replaced by a marble gravestone in the style of the 15th Hakim At- Termizi. The wide arch of the mihrab opens out onto the mosque, where there is a marble bay in the central section and where there are three-lined entrances located on the axes on each section, except the western wall. Three dome sections are angular and concise in construction and decor, with an octagonal tier of the sails with a spherical dome above it. The longitudinal facades of the building were cut into six arched bays in the shape of "II". The arches decorated with "ribbon" type design. The surface of the walls both inside and outside were left in brick style, but in the joints ganch plastering was used. Where the interior walls were last renovated they used a layer of carved ganch with vegetable and epigraphical ornament.

The building of the mausoleum of Zul-Kifl belongs to the complex style of burial-vaults. This four-chambered building with complex asymmetrical planning consisted of domed rooms built in different times and was studied in detail in 1977 by Z.A. Arshavskaya and E.V. Rtveladze. The complex consists of a large domed building, which, to our mind was a funeral prayer mosque combining the function hanaqoh. In the south an oblong grave with a big gravestone was adjacent to it and from the west two small square rooms (3x3m) - a hall and zyarathana (a room in which the suras of Qur'an are recited by worshippers) were attached to this funeral prayer mosque. The mosque was built earlier with its high dominance. It was square in plan (about 7m.) and was a portal dome building with big portals. The wall had octagonal tiers, arched sails and spherical domes from which there were two rows coming out as corbel cladding. The north and west walls of the facade were strengthened by three arches, which was a popular device for the decoration of external walls in Surkhandarya mausoleums, e.g. those of Sultan- Saodat, Khwaja Isa, Uyuk Gumbaz. The main eastern entrance leading through the southern aperture to the gurhana where there was, at first, probably an open burial ground, or khazira. Later the southern entrance was blocked and the mosque was isolated from the gurhana. The entrance to the gurhana was from the south through zyarathana and hall. In the interior of the latter was used what looks like decorative-construction motif and the sails were done as two shortened arches with stepped groove in the bozom of the sails. The ribbon and fir tree cladding was used in the decor of the mosque.Some renovation took place in the XV-XVI c. and in the beginning of the XIX c. The interior surface walls of the mosque were covered with two layers of ganch plastering with shallow carving in the mihrab and panels with simple edging.