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25.08.04 17:38

A WITNESS TO MILLENNIAL HISTORY

TURKMENISTAN HAS SET ABOUT TO IMPLEMENTING A PROJECT ON CONSERVATION OF ABU SEYYET ABUL KHAIR’S MAUSOLEUM

This masterpiece of Turkmen architecture stands 200 km to the southeast from Ashgabat, in Kaahka district, near the famous archeological monument of the Bronze Age, Altyn Depe. The monument is no less than ten hundred years old, overlooking a place where, according to a story, a legendary sheikh called by Turkmens Meana Baba founded the Khanak, a guesthouse for pilgrims and a Sufis’ tenement at the Mosque. He was born and died in the medieval city of Mekhne, which ruins rest near today’s village of Meana. Once it was a center of Khaveran – a densely populated oasis along the Kopetdag mountains, stretching somewhere between the modern villages of Dushak and Ak Bugday. “This land is watered with tears of saint Meana Baba whose profound prayers won hearts in the entire Muslim world”, “Ruhnama” by Saparmurat Niyazov says. Abu Seyyet’s fame derives from this place. He became extremely popular among people of all strata for his sermons. Peasants and craftsmen, scientists and poets, generals and governors listened to him with the same degree of respect. There hardly was someone else in Central Asia to have similar spiritual authority.

There is a parable in “Ruhnama” in confirmation of this topic: “…Some 40 Turkmen khans that beat to nothing the army of Masud, a son of the world most powerful Turkmen sultan, Makhmud Gaznevi, in a battle at Dandanak gathered and declared the new Turkmen state. A golden throne stands on the Dandanak battlefield and the renowned cleric, Abu Seyyet Abul Khair (Meana Baba), blesses Chagry Beg and Togrul Beg to govern the state. However, there were people, saying: “This is not the right place for a throne, today is not a good day.” And Meana Baba answers: “A place chosen by Allah can not be bad, and there are no bad days for Allah! If you build a people’s state and you follow the path of Allah, the path of decent and fair Turkmens, you will have no walls on your way.”

The XI century marks the establishment of a powerful Turkmen state ruled by the Great Seljuk dynasty that played an outstanding role in the history of peoples of the Middle and Near East. It was also a high time of Turkmen architecture. It had a natural peculiarity in the Seljuk period, which was previously unattainable perfection of brickwork, emergence of complex construction forms, superb ornamentation of walls with mosaic. Invention of two and even three-layer dome constructions was a considerable progress in architectural design.

A corporation of master-architects from Serakhs that were invited to erect exclusive constructions in many cities of the Muslim Orient was widely known in Iran and Central Asia in that period. Serakhs, founded in the 1st millennium B.C., had grown into a big city in VI-VII centuries, encircled by strong walls with towers and a trench. The city was booming in the period of birth of a unique architecture school (XI-XII). It is natural that the neighboring city of Mekhne, standing virtually on the west border of the Serakhs oasis, was developed by the same team of architects. Among their works that remained in Serakhs itself there are a mausoleum of Abul Fazl (Serakhs Baba in plain folk) built in 1024, the ruins of a shrine that today called Yarty Gumbez (1098) and a mausoleum of sheikh Lokman (Lukman Baba) on the Iranian bank of the Tejen river. But the most famous work by Serakh’s masters is, undoubtedly, a mausoleum of Sultan Sanjar in Merv, built during the fall of the Serakh’s school, hundred years after the construction of a shrine for Abu Seyyet Abul Khair. Contrary to Sanjar’s mausoleum, which was apotheosis of the style, the best work of masters from Serakhs, the mausoleum of Meana Baba is rightly regarded in many respects as a turning point of architectural development of a portal-dome group of Central Asian shrines.

An elongate portal, or Peshtak, with a deep lancet Ayvan is a prime distinctive feature of this monument (see photo). It is very hard to tell what was the initial height of the construction because its upper part has fallen in long before, and what we can see today is a rather coarse bulkhead constructed many centuries later, when high standards of construction art of the Seljuk age were lost. And as time passed by the whole look of the mausoleum, except for the internal part, changed dramatically. If in the XI century a brick texture and brick decoration of some parts dominated in both internal and external bricklaying, then 300 years after, in XIV century, the portal was coated with pulp mosaic in blue colors. According to the content, it was mainly a geometrical and styling-floral ornament with Arabic writings made in “Naskh” calligraphic hand. This very complex mosaic composition consists of majolica pieces of deep blue, cerulean, white and yellow colors. Unfortunately, time has left its traces on this masterpiece of architectural decoration and it needs restoration now.

The internal part of a hall under the dome has reach-colored paintings – flower-floral compositions on walls and a complex geometrical ornament with figural medallions on the inner face of the dome. These wall paintings are a truly unique archetype of the polychrome painting style adopted in Central Asia in XIV-XV centuries.

A construction design of Abu Seyyet Abul Khair’s shrine is also very impressive. It represents a cubic building with a dome on a high cylinder. The dome itself consists of two layers. Such a sophisticated ceiling construction was earlier applied by local masters at the erection of a shrine for Serakhs Baba. The sidewalls of Meana Baba’s mausoleum were decorated by pictorial arch alcoves. It indirectly points to the fact that another constructions like a Khanaka, a mosque and a madrasah might have adjoined the mausoleum, forming a single architectural facility. However, except for the character of the mausoleum’s front side bricklaying, only ruins of the XV century building, situated some ten meters away, confronting the mausoleum’s entrance, point to this. This monumental Khanaka, built much later, is a last evidence of the once huge group of buildings around the shrine of Abu Seyyet Abul Khair.

The shrine of the saint sheikh stands in the big hall of the mausoleum with the area of 100 sq.m. with deep arch alcoves on the central stands, and the flow of pilgrims visiting the shrine never stops. Having outlived the Russian rule, when Turkmen borders were absolutely closed for Muslims from other states of the world, the mausoleum is again open for believers today. Hundreds of people have visited here over the recent years, first of all from Iran, Afghanistan, Pakistan, Northern India, (state of Kashmir), where sheikh Abu Seyyet Abul Khair ranges with the most respectful saints.

The mausoleum is in critical condition today, and it keeps breaking down despite minor repairs. That is why Turkmen renovators have set about to implementing a project of high priority on conducting fortification and conservation works at this monument. This project, to be implemented within several months, provides only for most urgent works necessary to prevent the construction from the much serious deformation. At present, specialists examine condition of basements so that its ruinous parts could be shored up. Then much painstaking job on reinforcement of the monument’s constructions by re-laying crashed parts will begin. And finally, there has to be done cleaning of majolica tiles from platinum and fortification of the most fragile fragments of the face layer of the Ayvan. Of course, this is just a cosmetic repair, and there surely will be carried out a major restoration of this masterpiece of Turkmen architecture that hits 1,000 years in the XXI century.

Ruslan MURADOV

Architect

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