1103 Mausoleum of Khoja Ahmed Yasawi – 2003

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The , in the town of Yasi, now Turkestan, was built at the time of Timur (Tamerlane), from 1389 to 1405. In this partly unfinished building, Persian master builders experimented with architectural and structural solutions later used in the construction of Samarkand, the capital of the Timurid Empire. Today, it is one of the largest and best-preserved constructions of the Timurid period.

Brief synthesis

The Mausoleum of Khoja Ahmed Yaswi, a distinguished Sufi master of the 12th century, is situated in southern Kazakhstan, in the north-eastern section of the city of Turkestan (Yasi). Built between 1389 and 1405, by order of Timur (Tamerlane), the ruler of Central , it replaced a smaller 12th century mausoleum. Construction of the building was halted in 1405, with the death of Timur, and was never completed. The property (0.55 ha) is limited to the mausoleum, which stands within a former citadel and the archaeological area of the medieval town of Yasi; the latter serves as the buffer zone (79.36 ha) for the property.

Rectangular in plan and 38.7 meters in height, the mausoleum is one of the largest and best-preserved examples of Timurid construction. Timur, himself, is reported to have participated in its construction and skilled Persian craftsmen were employed to work on the project. Its innovative spatial arrangements, vaults, domes, and decoration were prototypes that served as models for other major buildings of the Timurid period, in particular in Samarkand. It was left unfinished, providing documented evidence of the construction methods at that time and by having a unique architectural image.

Considered to be an outstanding example of Timurid design that contributed to the development of Islamic religious architecture, the mausoleum is constructed of fired brick and contains thirty-five rooms that accommodate a range of functions. It is a multifunctional structure of the khanaqa type, with functions of a mausoleum and a mosque. A conic-spherical dome, the largest in Central , sits above the Main Hall (Kazandyk). Other notable attributes include fragments of original wall paintings in the mosque, alabaster stalactites (muqarnas) in the intrados of the domes, glazed tiles featuring geometric patterns with epigraphic ornaments on the exterior and interior walls, fine Kufic and Suls inscriptions on the walls, and texts from the Qu'ran on the drums of the domes. The principal entrance and parts of the interior were left unfinished, providing exceptional evidence of the construction methods of the period.

The property, burials and remains of the old town offer significant testimony to the history of Central Asia. The mausoleum is closely associated with the diffusion of Islam in this region with the help of Sufi orders, and with the political ideology of Timur.

Criterion (i):

The is an outstanding achievement in the Timurid architecture, and it has significantly contributed to the development of Islamic religious architecture.

Criterion (iii):

The mausoleum and its property represent an exceptional testimony to the culture of the Central Asian region, and to the development of building technology.

Criterion (iv):

The was a prototype for the development of a major building type in the Timurid period, becoming a significant reference in the history of Timurid architecture.


All components of the have been included within the boundaries of the property. Its historic setting, the former citadel and archaeological remains of the medieval town of Yasi, serve as the buffer zone for the property.

The Mausoleum of Khoja Ahmed Yaswi is considered to be stable, although deterioration associated with rising damp and salts, due to the high water table, can potentially threaten structural integrity. To maintain the conditions of integrity, the impact of high water table levels needs to be mitigated as well as the impact of other humidity factors that can increase the risk of condensation and salt migration.

The Mausoleum stands within the former old town area, an archaeological area where the houses were destroyed in the 19th century. Since no rebuilding has taken place, it possesses valuable potential for medieval archaeology, since cultural layers of all the stages of evolution of this important religious, cultural, economic and administrative centre of a large region have been preserved.

The northern part of the old citadel wall was rebuilt in the 1970s, providing an enclosure for the mausoleum and adjacent buildings. The new town of Turkestan, which developed to the west, has maintained a low skyline, allowing the mausoleum to stand out as a major monument within its context and maintain the required visual integrity. Since Turkestan is situated in a vast plain, any high-rise buildings outside the buffer zone would have a significant impact on the visual integrity of the mausoleum. This needs to be controlled by the continuous enforcement of adequate planning regulations to ensure the required protection.


The Mausoleum of Khoja Ahmed Yaswi maintains an exceptionally high degree of authenticity as a monument as it has preserved its architectural design and workmanship, as well as the original materials. It has not been subject to any major changes over time and can be considered a genuine representation of the architecture of the Timurid period. Although it suffered from inappropriate use and neglect, particularly during the mid-19th century, it has been better preserved than other examples of Timurid monuments, including the Bibi Khanum Shrine in Samarkand, which is of comparable size.

The mausoleum has preserved its original vaults' structures and a large part of its external decoration. Original remains of the wall paintings are visible in the interior, and it is possible that more may be discovered under the whitewashed surfaces when further restoration work is undertaken. The muqarnas of the ceilings are still in place. The unfinished state of the principal entrance and parts of the interior are of added interest, serving as documentary evidence of the construction methods of the period.

Protection and management requirements

The Mausoleum of Khoja Ahmed Yaswi is a national monument, inscribed on the List of National Properties of Kazakhstan (decree 38 of 26.01.1982). It is owned by the state and protected by the Law of the Republic of Kazakhstan on Protection and Use of Historical and Cultural Heritage (No 1488-XII, 02.07.1992). The mausoleum site is included in the Plan of Zones of protection of monuments of the history and culture of the city of Turkestan (1986), which was prepared under the supervision of the Ministry of Culture, by the State Institute for Scientific Research and Planning on Monuments of Material Culture (NIPI PMK, Almaty). The site within its boundaries has the highest level of protection. Adjacent to its boundaries are Zones of planning control with different regulations and a Zone of protected natural setting. The Plan was approved by the Committee of Culture and confirmed by the decree 628 of 22.11.1988 and it is still in force.

At the national level, the management of the property is under the responsibility of the Committee of Culture of the Ministry of Culture and Information. Locally, the care of the mausoleum and its setting is under the responsibility of the ‘Azret-Sultan' State Historical and Cultural Reserve Museum which was founded under the Committee of Culture of the Ministry of Culture and Information (decree 265 of 28.08.1989). Reserve Museum includes architectural complex of Khoja Ahmed Yasawi mausoleum, archaeological remains of the medieval town of Yasi within the boundaries of the buffer zone and the adjacent secondary monuments. The main task of the Reserve Museum is to provide protection and preservation to archaeological and architectural monuments in their authentic state, to their interiors, historical setting and related territories. Reserve Museum builds its activities in cooperation with the Institute of “Kasrestavratziya”, Institute of Archaeology of the Academy of Sciences and other interested organizations, conducts historical studies of the site and its monuments, develop museum funds and collections for scientific research and to make them acceptable for wide public. Since the property was inscribed on the World Heritage List, annual budget and permanent staff of the Reserve-Museum have increased. From the year 2006, the State Enterprise “Kazrestavratziya”, under the Ministry of Culture, has been responsible for conservation projects and their implementation.

The Protection Zoning Plan (Plan of Zones of protection of monuments of the history and culture of the city of Turkestan) (1986) has not been integrated into the last development plan for Turkestan. The Museum and “Kazrestavratziya” are working on the revision of the Protection Zoning Plan and on its legal adoption and integration into the new Master Plan for the City of Turkestan, in order to strengthen control over construction that is underway just outside the buffer zone. This measure will ensure that the increased pressure on the property and its buffer zone, as a result of illegal and high-rise construction, is comprehensively addressed.

The Management Plan for the 2004-2009 period was not implemented and needs to be updated. A new five-year Management Plan for the Protection and Preservation of the and architectural and archaeological monuments of Ancient Town of Turkestan, whose focus is the property and its buffer zone, is under elaboration. The Ministry of Culture is planning to revise and update the long-term management plan for the Mausoleum, which will address safeguarding, research, conservation, monitoring, maintenance, education and training, visitor controls, raising of public awareness, and risk preparedness. The management plan, to be developed in cooperation with organizations and authorities linked to the site, should include conservation guidelines so that adequate methods are identified for the restoration of the wall paintings, metal works, wood works, and surface finishes.

To ensure the sustained management and conservation of the property, adequate financial, technical and material resources will need to be secured. A qualified permanent technical team of specialized technicians and skilled craftsmen dedicated to the maintenance of the property will need to be maintained. A documentation centre for the property and the buffer zone will also be important tools to facilitate conservation and management endeavours and to promote larger awareness of legislative and heritage preservation issues.

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