From the beginnings of Islam, there have been three types of mosques: Djuma mosques, which are intended for the large crowds that come to Friday services, Namazga country mosques (musalla idgoh), which are used by the male population of both the city and the surrounding countryside to celebrate the two Muslim holidays Qurban and Ramazan, and Quzar mosques, which are designed to be used as daily mosques in residential neighbourhoods.
The soaring 46-metre-high Kalyan Minaret dominates the historical heart of Buhkara, Uzbekistan and can be seen from all over the city. Built in 1127 to summon Muslims to prayer, the minaret survived until today.
The minaret is made of brick and narrows from nine metres diameter at the base to six metres at the top. Foundations were dug to a depth of 13 metres, a base measuring 9 metres in diameter was sketched out and a lime mortar was mixed, fortified with camel’s milk, egg yoke and bull’s blood.
A spiral staircase leads to the magnificent sixteen-arched rotunda near the top.
Reeds were stacked underneath to prevent earthquake damage, and the entire foundation was left to set for 2 years, after which the building of the 47m-high minaret began.
A band of glazed blue tiles constitutes the first use of the material that would later come to define architecture in Central Asia under Timur.
The gallery at the top is crowned by a magnificent cornice adorned with muqarnas (stalactites). The conical stump that crowns the minaret is all that remains of an original extension which pushed the minaret even higher than it stands today.
Nearly 100 years after its construction, the tower impressed Genghis Khan who entered the ancient city destroying everything on their way, the great commander’s cap fell when he raised his head to look around the minaret. He said: “Such great that forced me to take off the cap!” Genghis Khan gave credit for its superiority and didn’t destroy it.
700 years later, the minaret’s skylight was blown to bits by 10 Bolshevik shells during the 1920 civil war.
It is also known as the Tower of Death because, until the early 20th century, criminals were executed by being thrown from the top. The convicts were tied in a sack and then this sack was thrown from the top of the minaret. Fitzroy MacLean, who secretly visited the city in 1938, wrote in his memoirs, Eastern Approaches, “Through the centuries to 1870, and from 1917 until 1920, people were thrown to their deaths from the finely decorated galleries, and that was the pinnacle.”
The last recognized execution took place in late 1920’s during the Russian Revolution.
There are many legends about the Kalyan Minaret. One of such legends says that in the ancient times there was a shakh. He was cruel and wilful. He was a bad ruler and spent all his time in pleasures. The shakh had a wife who tried to help people and to improve the situation in the country. But she did it in secret. Once the secret was revealed and angry shakh ordered to throw his wife off the Tower of Death. But his wife was very clever. On the eve of execution she asked to fulfill her last wish. The shakh agreed.
On the day of execution she wore all her dresses and skirts and climbed the top of the minaret, carrying her head high. All people crowded around the minaret to give the last honors to their beloved ruler. A wise woman quietly stood at the edge of the minaret and jumped down. People stood breathless, but at the same moment someone in the crowd shouted: “Oh, wonder!” The woman did not die because when she jumped from the tower, her wide skirts had released as a parachute and resulted in the soft landing without any damages. Paying tribute to the courage and wit of his wife, Shakh forgave the woman and did not execute her.
So, one early Thursday morning in late July 2015, I was standing in the huge square in front of the Kalyan Mosque and Minaret. The first rays of the sun embraced the domes of the Mir-i Arab Madras. Mystical silence, not even a living soul anywhere. Not even tourists, luckily. The air is clean, cool and ideal for photography. As I walk around the square looking for motifs, suddenly an old man appears on the corner of the square. He walks slowly towards the entrance of the mosque, apparently for the morning prayer. In a moment it dawns on me that if I manage to get in with him, I might be able to take some good photos. An old man alone in the huge inner courtyard of the mosque, devoted to prayer and me in the background with a camera in my hand. I hurry and reach the entrance at the same time as the old man. The old man looks at me kindly, nods and knocks on the front door, which was still locked. Nothing happens. The old man knocks again. Still silence on the other side of the door. The man looks towards me, shrugs his shoulders, gestures to indicate that someone is still sleeping on the other side of the door. Then he turns and slowly walks away with a gliding step.
And I was left without photos.