A memorial complex 8 km outside of the modern city of Termez, Sultan Saodat consists of a central passage lined with 17 mausoleums, mosques and khanakas, reminiscent of Samarkand’s Shah-i-Zinda.
Built over a period of 600 years from the 11th century onwards, Sultan Saodat grew into the testament and final resting place of the powerful Termez-based Sayyid clan.
Those with an interest in architecture, religion, the cult of death, Sufism, and the medieval history of Central Asia will find much to enjoy here. If you just like beautiful things: Sultan Saodat is, if not as exquisite as Shah-i-Zinda’s glazed magic, still really beautiful.
Like all mausoleums and Sufi shrines, Sultan Saodat is a place for contemplation and prayer. Foreign tourists are rare; you are more likely to encounter local pilgrims circumambulating. The absence of tourists frees up space to breathe and be present; here; meditate; mutters to a silent tomb, bricks swirl to constitute a dome… dissonant symbols of an earlier Zoroastrianism resonate never.the.less.
Who were the Sayyids?
Sayyids are descendants of the Prophet Muhammed through his grandsons.
Nowadays, 10s of millions of people in the world carry this title. Seeing how the Most Recent Common Ancestor of all humanity lived as recently as 3000 years ago, it is not unlikely you are also a descendant of the Prophet (if not through the male line).
So just see the Termezi Sayyids as a powerful clan with a noble name. And powerful they were! From the 11th to the 17th century, there was always a Termezi Sayyid arranging the affairs of the ruling dynasty, be it the Samanids, Seljuks or Timurids. Many influential religious figures of the time were also part of the Sayyid clan.
The dynasty’s founder was Hassan al-Amir, who traced his lineage back 5 generations to Muhammed’s grandson Husayn.
Sultan Saodat: the site
Sultan Saodat stands out for its continuity in structure and decoration, despite being built over the course of 600 years.
Like at Shah-i-Zinda, all mausoleums would have once been richly tiled. Despite a renovation completed in 2002, little such decoration remains, save for the show-stopper iwan connecting the 2 oldest mausoleums at the end of the street.
It’s these 2 original mausoleums, one of which holds the tomb of pater familias Hassan al-Amir, who are widely attributed to have been the magnet that attracted the resettlement of Termez after the Mongol destruction.
The high iwan that connects them was raised early in the 15th century by Timur’s grandson Khalil Sultan, after whom the ensemble is said to be named. In the second half of the 15th century a burst of architectural energy added another two adjoining mausoleums, expanding but not upsetting the artistic equilibrium, and a three-sided portal facade was created.
As centuries progressed, smaller mausoleums and khanakas were added to the central lane.
A few minutes’ walk from the Sultan Saodat complex stands the imposing facade of the 16th century Kokildor khanaka. Originally a resting place for itinerant Sufi dervishes and other holy men, it repeats the idea of a 3-part expanded frontal facade seen in some of the other buildings at Sultan Saodat.
Kokildor khanaka, with its sweeping side wings and complex vaulting, owes much of its design to Afghan influence and is, in many ways, closer to the architecture of Balkh than Bukhara.
This is hardly surprising, since the Timurid empire at the time spread all the way to Delhi and Tamerlane’s architects were sequestered from all over his empire. The tall, symmetrical portico appears imposing even now: it must have made quite an impression on early visitors.
- On the map
- 8 km out of Termez, minibus 14 passes nearby
- Entrance is free
- The Kyrk Kyz Fortress is within walking distance
Other sights nearby: