Hidden in the grounds of Tashkent’s new Islamic University, north of Navoi’s museum and street, are 3 mausoleums dating back to the 15th century.
Of the 16 monuments of the Shaihantaur burial complex only 3 remain intact – the others fell prey to earthquakes and short-sighted Soviet planning. They are the only survivors of a Muslim complex of mosques and madrassahs founded in the 14th century with the burial of local saint Sheikh Khovandi Tahur (popularly Sheikhantaur).
Guarded by residential blocks, it’s a sweet, spiritual, quiet place.
Sheikhantaur was a local Sufi saint born in the late 13th century and believed to be a descendant of the Rashidun Caliph Umar. He was initiated into the order of Khodja Ahmed Yasawi and grew to be a famous local holy man. He died in Tashkent around 1360. His tomb, though heavily restored, dates from around that time.
The mausoleum was ordered by Amir Timur himself, who also ordered the construction of the Yasawi mausoleum in Turkistan. The 2 ascetic men must have turned in their graves over the opulent decorations built in their name.
The Sheikhantaur mausoleum is a small, brick-built structure with dark blue majolica tiles. Metal sheeting protects the Sheikhantaur’s brick dome, restored in the 19th century, from weather and pollution, while an ancient tree trunk seems to sprout from the interior.
Kaldirgach Bey mausoleum
Behind it stands the Kaldirgach Bey Mausoleum, originally built for a ruler of Moghulistan early in the 15th century. The tomb is particularly unusual because its turquoise roof is dodecahedral (12-sided) on the outside but domed on the inside. The gurkhan (burial room) has beautiful carved wooden doors and deep alcoves decorated with stalactite-like carving.
The mausoleum has particular significance for Kazakhs, as it is now the final resting place of Tole Bi, a revered wise judge and defender of the Kazakh lands against foreign invasion. He ruled Tashkent in his final years and was buried here in the late 18th century.
His nickname is Kaldirgach Bey (Karlygash Bi in Kazakh), the swallow judge. Something to do with a mythical bird that landed on his yurt and protected Kazakhs from foreign invasion. Karlygash remains a popular girl’s name in Kazakhstan to this day.
Yunus Khan mausoleum
The largest mausoleum is that of Yunus Khan, descendent of Genghis Khan, grandfather of Babur, one-time ruler of Tashkent and khan of western Mogulistan. After his death in 1487, his son built this 2-storey dome and portal memorial.
Although you cannot go inside the mausoleum, it’s still possible to appreciate the fine lancet arch of the portal, the turquoise dome and the Arabic calligraphy that decorates the facades. The tile work was restored in the 1970s.
It is thought the mausoleum was built on top of a Zoroastrian temple. A fossilized tree near the headstone of Yunus Khan might be an indication of former fire-worshipping.
How to visit
You can combine a visit with a walk through central Tashkent.
Entrance is free. The main gate is located on the small street between Navoi and A. Qodiri street, opposite the Navoi cinema. The Yunus Khan Mausoleum is best approached from the university’s north gate on A. Qodiry St and you may have to negotiate with guards to gain access.