Reconstruction of Chorustun mosque in Termez

Issue #3 • 1027

In Central Asia, after Islam coming the mosques have been substituting houses for praying. According to the historian from Bukhara (the 10th century) Narshahi, in Bukhara nearby the Mokh bazaar had been a temple of fire-worshippers, on which place was constructed richly decorated mosque, where in 473 the fire caused great damage. There is an assumption that on the place of the Mokh mosque burned down was constructed the mosque of Magoki-Atori known now. Into a list of the earliest mosques can be included Chorustun in Termez, Afrasiab in Samarkand, two mosques in Merv and others. The carved wooden columns and mikhrabs at mosques in kishlaks of Obburdon, Kurut, Rarz and Chorku prove a fact that in the Middle Ages mosques had already existed in mountain kishlaks. In kishlaks of Fatmev, Varzi Minor and Rarz have been preserved minarets constructed of adobe. The scholars think that ancient mosques existed in seven kishlaks of the Upper Zeravshan.

Many ancient structures have been lost. Foundations of ruined walls of Chorustun mosque in Termez draw attention by its structure and layout. In its center there are four massive columns. Northern and eastern sections of the mosque were open, and a line of columns marked their border. Unclosed two sides were caused, first of all, by influence of planning tradition in ancient temples. For example, two neighboring temples in Pendjikent also had one side unclosed. Besides that, openness of two sides of the mosque testifies that it was constructed within a courtyard. Procedure of worshipping to the Supreme in mosques is simpler, than in temples of the other religions (Zoroastrianism, Buddhism, and Christianity).

We should pay attention to another aspect of this issue. In Central Asia buildings for holiday prays, Fitr and Kurban-khait, were constructed outside the city. In the earliest idgokha – holiday mosques – just the western walls with mikhrabs oriented to Mecca were erected. They, like aivan, could be open from two-three sides. For example, namazga Beshkent (the 12th- 13th centuries) has seven domes, 30 m in length and 2.5 m in width and represents a gallery unclosed from three sides. Later idgokhas were walled along three open sides and obtained a form of the modern closed mosques. For example, namazga of the 16th century in Bukhara was transformed into a three-room structure.

Engineering and design of Chorustun mosque originally provided two open sides: its cupolas were installed on massive columns and arches. In a case of need, to wall two open sides was easy. However, we have no evidences for the fact that these two sides later were walled. Therefore, we assume, that Chorustun mosque served for holiday and Friday prays as it was constructed in rabat of ancient Termez, i.e. outside Shahristan. The scholars identify Chorustun mosque with holiday Termez mosque which Istarkhi mentioned. Here actually were exercised holiday prays on days of khaits, Kurban and Fitr. Thus, it is possible to conclude logically that if the holiday mosque on which Istarkhi informed is the mosque of Chorustгn, it was initially expected for Friday and holiday praying.

Data on Chorustun mosque available in the scientific literature are rather poor. However, foundations of the walls preserved until now testify to grandness, greatness, solemnity and rich composition of this pious building. For this reason, graphic reconstruction of its interior is to be interesting. Fully realizing that such work requires strong efforts and professional skills, we would risk to perform this work.

A layout of Chorustun mosque is similar to mosques of Degaron in Bukhara and Nukhgumbaz in Balkh. However, as Chorustun mosque has not been preserved, some scientists believe, that it was similar to the mosque of Mokh, on which foundations Magoki-Atori was erected. Peculiarity of Chorustun mosque is that five massive columns were installed instead of two walls. It is necessary to note, that intervals between four central columns of Degaron mosque were wider. Such location promoted that a central dome also was wider and higher than others were. Location of columns in Chorustun mosque with equal intervals reminds the mosque of Nukhgumbaz in Balkh. Domes of Nukhgumbaz mosque are equal in height and width. It gives a reason to consider that nine domes of Chorustun mosque were similar to them.

Massive columns and heavy vaults allow to assume that they were ornamentally carved. A constructive basis itself required this to be facilitated. In this connection, we can conclude that joint points of columns with vaults also were carved. Such conclusion can be done proceeding from a composition of interior in the mosque, which was built from adobe and decorated with the burnt brick. Carved ornaments covering entire surface of columns makes them heavy. Therefore, we think that column bodies were decorated with dandana – several rows of the bricks lay vertically and boarded from above and below by narrow horizontal belts.

The richest ornament was in mikhrab, which in the majority of medieval mosques was decorated with carving. For example, magnificent mikhrabs were revealed at Afrasiab (the 9th – 10th centuries), in Shir Kabir mosque (the 9th – 10th centuries), in the mosque of Iskodar mountain kishlak (the 10th – 11th centuries), etc. Narshahi in his book paid some attention to description of mikhrabs, according to which in 970 – 971 Ismail Samani ordered to install beautiful mikhrab and minbar. Survey of Chorustun mosque’s layout has revealed that mikhrab’s niche was formed by a few semicircular slots. On both sides of the niche there are convex semicircles oriented to the pray hall. Obviously, the mikhrab’s decor consisted of circles, semicircles, vegetative patterns imitating branches of a tree, vertical strips in a form of plaits and cross diagonal lines forming triangles. To provide completeness of mikhrab, the ledges of niches were to be made as columns joined above in a form of the arch. Such arch-shaped top of columns at mikhrab has been preserved in the mosque of Shir-Kabir as well as in some other mosques. The ornamental decor of mikhrabs and marking of niches’ corners as well as their general composition formed by a row of columns were features of halls for praying in Zoroastrian temples, what archeological finds have proved. Mikhrab in Chorustun mosque had internal and external arches. The internal arch is a basic one – it entirely accumulates the composition of mikhrab and by this reason, here were done inscriptions. Tectonically the external arch as in a mirror effect repeating a layout of columns, which imitated the wall, colligates the composition of the mosque’s interior. Therefore, semi-columns as well as columns in the hall have identical thickness and height.

In this article we have carried out the analysis of the basic constructive elements and composition of Chorustun mosque’s interior. For graphic reconstruction of ornamental decor of the mosque, we used decorative carving similar to carving at the cultic structures of that period. We would think, that this reconstruction (refer to drawing) can give a general idea on interior of the mosque which was built in the 9th – 10th centuries and has lost. A variant of reconstruction we offered here became the first experience, which, we hope, will be further developed.

Author: Dodo Nozilov

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