A brief visit to the Masjid-i Mawlana of Tayabad

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which had a beautiful stucco inscription backed by turquoise glaze

In the entry dated 12th May 1934, Byron records that the previous day, thus on the 11th of May 1934, he visited the Mawlana at Taybad. His visit seems quite brief: he was in a hurry since a storm was coming that could stop him and his travel companion, Christopher Sykes, to continue their journey, and they did not want to wait. This is how it went, according to Byron’s own travelogue:

Yesterday morning, about half-past ten, Christopher and I rode off to Vusufabad in a leisurely mood, intending to spend the day at the Maulana at Tayabad. On our way back the night before, we had noticed various low-lying points on the road that were still too deep in water for a car to pass them. Now they were almost dry. Simultaneously we saw a new storm rolling up behind us from Persia. It looked as if we must cross the frontier at once or endure another three days’ wait. We were better mounted than the day before. Christopher galloped back to fetch the car and luggage.

 

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Exterior view. Photo by Robert Byron (archnet).

Once arrived at the Mawlana mosque of Tayabad, Byron was positively impressed by the decorations, in particular by the beautiful stucco inscription backed by turquoise glaze”, which is the only feature of the monument that he mentions.

The monument that Byron calls ‘the Maulana at Tayabad’, is known as the Shaykh Zayn Al-Din Mausoleum. He was a Sufi shaykh, died in 1389. His mausoleum was built in 1444-45, some 75 years after his death. The place was a site of pilgrimage, as witnessed by the graffiti inscriptions made by pilgrims on the stone sections of the building, dating as far back as the 15th century.

IMG10248.jpg
General view of the Masjid-i Mawlana at Tayabad. Photo by Josephine Powell (archnet).

The inscription Byron is talking about is the one that frames the entrance iwan. It is assembled of carved terracotta segments, highlighted by the blue tiles in the background. Probably Byron was in a rush and did not notice the resemblance of this inscription with the ones of the Blue Mosque of Tabriz (1465), that he visited on the 15th of October the previous year, at the beginning of his long journey.

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Detail of the inscription framing the entrance iwan. Photo by Nandini Bagchee (archnet).

Another peculiarity of the inscriptions of the Masjid-i Mawlana that Byron did not know, is the calligrapher that made them. An inscription of the Mawlana identifies the calligrapher as the same person that made those of the Mosque of Gawhar Shad in Herat.

Byron was in a hurry, he had to go back and catch the car that Sykes was preparing to leave the place before the storm. Anyhow, his willingness to visit as many monuments as possible was so strong, that he went to the Masjid-i Mawlana alone, rushing against time and weather.

But he managed to do everything: he reached Sykes one minute before the car.”

Sources and further readings

I recommend checking Archnet file on the building for information over its architecture. There, you can find also more photos of the mausoleum.

Robert Byron, “Timurid Architecture”, in Arthur Upham Pope and Phyllis Ackerman (eds.), A Survey of Persian Art, Soroush Press, Tehran 1977, pp. 1119-1164.
Lisa Golombek and Donald Wilber, The Timurid Architecture of Iran and Turan, Princeton University Press, Princeton 1988.
Bernard O’Kane, “Taybad, Turbat-i Jam and Timurid Vaulting”, in Studies in Persian Art and Architecture, The American University in Cairo Press, Cairo 1995.

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