What remains of the Madrasa of Gawhar Shad

The origin of this baffles me.

View of the madrasa minaret from south, with a minaret of Sultan Husain Barquq’s Madrasa seen behind. Photo by Robert Byron (archnet).

On the 23rd of November 1933, while visiting the Musalla Complex and its monuments, we can imagine Robert Byron lingering a while in front of a solitary minaret. In his own travelogue, he records that he was quite perplexed. He then wrote: “Next, on the east of the mausoleum, stands the solitary minaret with two balconies. The origin of this baffles me. Its ornament of blue lozenges, jewelled with flowers but separated by plain brickwork, is not to be compared with that of the Musalla [mosque] minarets. But he has the right intuition: “Perhaps it was part of Gohar Shad’s college”.

Indeed it was.

The minaret is now known by the pretty lame name of “Minaret #5”. From the 15th century until 1885, the shaft proudly stood next to the entrance of the Madrasa of Gawhar Shad. On archnet.org we read that eyewitness accounts describe the madrasa as a rectangular building, with a central courtyard. The big western iwan was used as a classroom, while the northern and southern parts of the courtyard hosted the students’ rooms. At the corners of the courtyard, the minarets embellished the architectonic composition. And of all this, only Minaret #5 remains.

Detail of the remaining minaret of the Gawhar Shad Madrasa. Photo by Robert Byron (archnet).

And it has remained in a very precarious state. Having survived the demolition of 1885, the earthquake of 1931, and yet another earthquake in 1951, the minaret arrived at the beginning of the 21st century endangered. In 2003 cables were set for support, thanks to UNESCO, within the project “”Emergency consolidation and Restoration of Monuments in Herat and Jam, Phase I and II”.

For further reading

As for every monument of the Musalla Complex, archnet.org provides images and additional information. The website of the SPACH (Society for the Preservation of Afghanistan’s Cultural Heritage) is another useful source.

S. S. Blair and J. M. Bloom, The Art and Architecture of Islam 1250-1800, Yale University Press, New Haven 1994.
R. Byron, “Timurid Architecture”, in A. U. Pope, A Survey of Persian Art, Oxford University Press, London and New York 1939, vol. II, pp. 1103-1118.
L. Golombek and D. Wilber, The Timurid Architecture of Iran and Turan, Princeton University Press, Princeton 1988.


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