The Mausoleum of Khawaja Ahmed Yasawi (Kazakh: Қожа Ахмет Яссауи кесенесі, Qoja Axmet Yassawï kesenesi) is an unfinished mausoleum in the city of Turkestan, in southern Kazakhstan. The structure was commissioned in 1389 by Timur, who ruled the area as part of the expansive Mongol Empire, to replace a smaller 12th-century mausoleum of the famous Turkic poet and Sufi mystic, Khoja Ahmed Yasawi (1093–1166). However, construction was halted with the death of Timur in 1405.
Despite its incomplete state, the mausoleum has survived as one of the best-preserved of all Timurid constructions. Its creation marked the beginning of the Timurid architectural style. The experimental spatial arrangements, innovative architectural solutions for vault and dome constructions, and ornamentations using glazed tiles made the structure the prototype for this distinctive art, which spread across the empire and beyond. The religious structure continues to draw pilgrims from across Central Asia and has come to epitomize the Kazakh national identity. It has been protected as a national monument, while UNESCO recognized it as the country's first site of patrimony, declaring it a World Heritage Site in 2003.
The Mausoleum of Khawaja Ahmed Yasawi is situated in the north-eastern part of the modern-day town of Turkestan (formerly known as Hazrat-e Turkestan), an ancient center of caravan trade known earlier as Khazret and later as Yasi, in the southern part of Kazakhstan. The structure is within the vicinity of a historic citadel, which is now an archaeological site. Remains of medieval structures such as other mausoleums, mosques and bath houses characterize the archaeological area. To the north of the Mausoleum of Khawaja Ahmed Yasawi, a reconstructed section of the citadel wall from the 1970s separates the historical area from the developments of the modern town.
The town of Yasi was largely spared during the Mongol invasion of Khwarezmia in the 13th century. Overtime, the descendants of the Mongols settled in the area and converted to Islam. The town then came under the control of the Timurid Dynasty in the 1360s. Timur (Tamerlane), the founder of the dynasty, expanded the empire's realm to include Mesopotamia, Iran, and all of Transoxiana, with its capital located in Samarkand. To gain the support of local citizens, Timur adopted the policy of constructing monumental public and cult buildings.
Decline and Preservation
When the Mongol Empire disintegrated, control of the immediate territory passed on to the Kazakh Khanate, which made Yasi, then renamed Turkestan, its capital in the 16th century. The khans (Turkic for "ruler") sought to strengthen the political and religious importance of Turkestan to unify the nomadic tribes within the young state. Hence, as the khanate's political center, ceremonies for the elevation of the khans to the throne and missions from neighboring states were received in Turkestan. The Kazakh nobility also held their most important meetings to decide state-related matters in the capital.
The unfinished state of the Mausoleum of Khawaja Ahmed Yasawi, especially at the entrance portal and sections of the interior, allow for the better architectural scrutiny of how the monument was designed and constructed. The structure is rectangular in plan, measuring 45.8 × 62.7 m (150.3 × 205.7 ft), and is 38.7 m (127.0 ft) high. It is oriented from the south-east to the north-west. The primary material used for the building is ganch—fired brick mixed with mortar, gypsum and clay—which was made in a plant located in Sauran. Layers of clay reaching a depth of 1.5 m (4.9 ft), to prevent the water penetration, were used for the original foundation. These were replaced with reinforced concrete in modern restoration works.
Religious and Cultural Importance
The larger mausoleum which Timurid ordered further enhanced the shrine's religious importance. During the Kazakh Khanate, prominent personalities chose to be buried within the immediate vicinity of the monument. Among these are Abulkhair, Rabi'i Sultan-Begim, Zholbarys-khan, Esim-khan, Ondan-sultan (the son of Shygai-khan), Ablai Khan, Kaz dauysty Kazbek-bi. The mausoleum's holy reputation also reached foreign lands. In the early 16th century, Ubaydullah Khan, the successor to Muhammad Shaybani Kahn of the neighboring Uzbek Khanate, stopped at the mausoleum before his battle against Babur, who would later become the founder of the Mughal Empire.