The Mausoleum of Khoja Akhmed Yassawi is a mighty architectural memorial and a vivid example of medieval architecture. The architectural object of Yassawi is a masterpiece of the Timurid architecture unifying a set of palaces and temples. It is the first building in Kazakhstan included in the list of UNESCO World Heritage. It is situated in the city of Turkestan, Southern-Kazakhstan region.
Due to various functions of the building scientists cannot find common view on the title of the building. Therefore it is named variously: mausoleum, mosque, memorial, khanqah. Each of these names characterizes only one of the functions of this grand building and doesn't reflect all services and rituals of it. Lately among experts it is often named as khanqah, a xenial building (monastery) for dervishes.
The mausoleum was erected in honour of Sufi founder, sage, poet and preacher Khoja Akhmed Yassawi. According to legend, Yasawi was a successor of Muhammad. After reaching 63 years Yassawi became voluntary anchoret in an underground mosque where he spent the rest of his life praying and preaching. Yassawi studied from Arystanbab and Yusif Khamadani, learnt basics of Sufism, Arabic, Chagatai and Persian languages, oriental poetry and literature. He founded “Yassawi" order in his hometown of Yassi. In his teachings he preached austerity, tolerance, kindness, justice and honesty. Only Khoja Akhmed Yassawi could combine Islam and traditional teachings of Turkic nations deriving from deep history. Thanks to teachings of Yassawi and his students Islam spread in the territory of Central Asia via Sufi teachings.
In the place of Yassawi's death was build a mausoleum. But after years it became shabby. After 233 years after the death of Yassawi by the order of Emir Timur, powerful governor of Central Asia, the new mausoleum was built.
In 1389, 1391, 1394, 1395 Timur destroyed Golden Horde and burnt its capital – the city of Saray-Berk. In honour of this victory the commander decided to built a new mighty memorial object in the place of old mausoleum of Akhmed Yassawi which became extremely shabby by that time. In his decision Timur was not only led by religious beliefs. On one hand by building the mausoleum Timur wanted to reverence the memory about the great preached. On other hand he wanted to enforce his power in conquered territories strengthening his authority among steppe nomads. Written source about the construction of the mausoleum is “Zafar-name" (“The book of victories"). According to historians Timur took personal participation in sketching design of the mausoleum. He personally defined main sizes of the building, particularly, the diameter of the main dome. In the order of Timur there were recommendations regarding some decorative details of the building and it's interior. Implementation of the order was relied on Mailian Abaidulla Sadr who was in charge of charity. The mausoleum was built in 1385-1405. After the death of Timur the construction of the building was stopped. As a result portal part (peshtak) and plastering the interiors of some premises were left unfinished.
The mausoleum of Yassawi represents a giant portal-dome type building. Its width is 46,3 meters, lengths – 65,5 meters. There are 35 premises in the mausoleum, united with passages, stairs and corridors that starts from corners of kazandyk and divides the premise in eight parts. The construction is built with burnt bricks on alabaster mortar. Southern portal of the building consists of two high minarets and giant arch. Thanks to considerable height (39 meters) and big lengths of the arch (18 meters) it dominates above main building and underlines statuesque of its architectural image. Northern facade is notable for its perfect proportions and rich decorations. Three-quarter columns in corners of its comparatively mid-size portal decorated with lyrate plates. Their patterns form continuous image. The dome of the table tomb of Akhmed Yassawi is located above the portal on high dome drum. Western and eastern facades of the building are plastered with glaze bricks. Whole facade of the building is decorated in turquoise gamma. The facades are decorated with various elegant floral and geometric patterns, but basement of the decorations is made of epigraphic ornament. All walls are filled with religious texts and quotes from the sacred writings.
The mausoleum of Khoja Akhmed Yassawi consists of eight premises of various qualities. The front premise – jamaatkhana or kazandyk – is a square room with sides of 18,2 meters long. According to idea of architects grand appearance and size of the hall had to indoctrinate among visitors the respect to the God. The hall is covered with a spherical dome, the biggest one in Central Asia. There is Taikazan in the centre of the hall. According to legends it was casted with alloys of seven metals. Kazan is a symbol of unity and hospitality. It's diameter is 2,45 meters with weight of 2 tons and volume of 2 thousand liters. Kazan is filled with sweetened water that has curative qualities. Kabrkhana, the main room of the mausoleum, is a table-tomb of Akhmed Yassawi. The room is covered with double dome. The height of inner one is 17 meters, external one is 28 meters. The panels of green hexahedral plates decorated with gold are placed on the foundation of the walls. The big and small palaces were residences of Kazakh khans in the 16th-18th centuries. Respected people were buried in the small palace. Kitapkhana is a room for saving and rewriting documents. Askhana (dining room) and kudukhana (well room) were considered as household premises. Moreover there were many habitable cells in the mausoleum.
Lately the mausoleum of Rabiga Sultan Begim, daughter of the famous timurid Ulugbek and wife of Abulkhair khan, as well as the mausoleums of Essim-khan, Ablay-khan, Djangir-khan were built around the mausoleum.
Scientific exploration of the mausoleum started in the end of the 19th century. The expedition of Russian committee on studying Central and Eastern Asia led by professor N.I.Veselovskyi was the first expedition to draw the sketches of the monument. Starting from 1922 several committees participated in technical review of the building. There were conducted more detailed explorations in 1952-1958 (B.N.Zasypkin, T.S.Kamuridze, J.Y.Mankovskaya, K.A.Shakurin) and in 1970-80 (B.T.Tuiakbayev, A.N.Proskorin).
The mosque of Akhmed Yassawi became the place of mass pilgrimage of Muslims from all over the world. A visit to this mausoleum was equal to three times hadj to Mecca.
By its size the mausoleum of Akhmed Yassawi is equal to the mosque of Bibi-khanym in Samarkand (Uzbekistan). Nawadays many tourists and pilgrims from all over the world visit Turkestan-Yassi to see incomparable masterpiece of medieval architecture.