Yunus-Khan Mausoleum, Tashkent

Yunus-Khan Mausoleum in Tashkent is one of the oldest and strangest monuments of the Timurid Era in Uzbekistan’s capital, a memorial to one of the early rulers of the city which belongs to the Shayhantaur Memorial Complex.

Yunus-Khan, a direct descendant of Genghis Khan, briefly ruled Tashkent before his death in the 15th century. Drawn into the ongoing feuds of his time, he waffled between alliance with and against the Timurids, the ruling dynasty of Amir Timur (Tamerlane) which dominated Central Asia during Yunus-Khan’s lifetime. The mausoleum was built by one of his sons in memory of his father after the ruler’s death in 1487.

Yunus-Khan Mausoleum is a T-shaped khaniqah (khanaka) monument, a structural style reflective of Iranian Sufism that is rarely seen in Central Asia. Its dominating external feature is a large cupola which rests over the monument’s central chamber. The mausoleum was minimally decorated, and one of its only significant artistic details is the latticework across some of the windows. The carved main door was added in the 1930s, having been transferred to the mausoleum from a local mosque.

Inside the mausoleum is a high-vaulted, open vestibule with orifices on three sides and a domed ceiling accentuated by overlapping arches. Several stone columns and two-story khujras, or cells, are prominent, while traces of decorated vaulting known as muqarnas are visible under its arch. What the tomb lacks in visual flair was offset by one of its most unusual features: The original main doors were rigged with a harp-like instrument known as a chang skillfully embedded between its panels so that they would strum chords whenever the door was opened or closed. Sadly, these doors have not survived to our day.

Even tourists with little interest in architectural marvels will be captured by the unanswered questions of Yunus-Khan Mausoleum in Tashkent, the most conspicuous being why no burial chambers have ever been found inside this supposed tomb.