By Peter Tase
[i][/i]On October 15th, Washington’s Arthur M. Sackler Gallery of the Smithsonian inaugurated an exhibition of 48 manuscripts and folios showcased under “the Art of the Qur’an: Treasures from the Museum of Turkish and Islamic Arts.” This collection was paired by manuscripts from the Sackler and Freer Art Gallery of the Smithsonian Museum of Asian Art.
The Qur’an, unlike any other Islamic masterpiece, has greatly influenced the architecture, culture, religious tradition, mores and customs of the lives of every citizen in the Autonomous Republic of Nakhchivan, Azerbaijan. The City of Nakhchivan, home of Prophet Noah and his mausoleum; will be the world’s Capital City of Islamic Culture in 2018; this territory of Azerbaijan is a remarkable site for everyone who appreciates the Islamic Culture and to every international scholar whose focus is the role of Islamic culture in the European Architecture, Culture and Intercontinental merchant routes.
The construction of the Juma Mosque in 1901-1902, in the city of Ordubad, is a genuine testimony of the presence of Islamic Art in Azerbaijan, inside its walls there are written a few sentences of the Koran by Al-Haj Mahammad Tagi, a well known calligraphist from Nakhchivan; such a calligraphic writing style embodies the deeply rooted culture of the Qur’an in the Azerbaijani society and in the cultural monuments of Nakhchivan. Moreover the history of Korani – Kerim of Ashabi – Kahf is connected with the Islamic Culture and many phrases of the Qur’an were written in the inner caves of this pilgrimage site, located only 13 km away from Nakhchivan city, in the very same cave there was also built a remarkable mosque.
Nakhchivan is the birthplace of many world renowned architects such as Ajami ibn Abubakr Nakhchivani, Mahammad Tagi and the Nakhchivani Calligrapher Mirza Suleyman Marandi, who have built and restored many cultural and religious monuments such as the Aghoghlan Tomb; Meydan Mosque and the Momuna Khatun Tomb.
In the northern side of the village of Sadarak (region of Sadarak) in the grave yard of Seyid Pari was built the Aghoghlan Tomb. According to the legend Seyid Pari and her son Aghoghlan; provided better living conditions to the local people, by killing the ugly dervish. The territory of Aghoghlan is a pilgrimage site for all of the worshippers of Islamic faith. While it is located in a beautiful landscape, Aghoghlan Tomb will be the center of various cultural events during the 2018 celebrations within the context of the World’s Islamic Culture Capital City of Nakhchivan. The impressive Nakhchivan’s architectural style has been incorporated on this monument including a six angled structure topped by an imposing dome. The tomb entrance is from the south. There are windows built on its main walls; the visiting pilgrims light candles inside this monument and the water from the nearby springs is considered to be blessed and may cure various diseases.
Another monument that deserves a greater attention by the Smithsonian scholars is the Meydan Mosque (square mosque) a historic architectural monument located at the heart of Dasta village, Ordubad region. Its entrance is from the West; its size has a length of 18.7 meters, a width of 12.3 meters, a height of 4 meters and a ceiling with 18 stands on wooden columns. There are 4 windows in the Eastern Wall, 4 in the Southern Wall, 2 in the Western Wall. According to the inscription located at the upper part of the entrance door, this mosque has been built by Architect Haji Mahammad Nagi, the son of Mashadi Huseynali under the auspices of Abdulkhan Javad oglu (1610-1611).
The Jame Mosque was built by Mahammad Tagi, an Architect from Nakhchivan architectural school. His name became known thanks to the inscription written inside this monument’s walls; that was built in 1894 and is still in use. Architect Mahammad Tagi, introduced his name by writing the following statement in its walls: “If there is a need to find out the architect of this mosque, after my death, my name is the same with the ninth Imam.” Indeed, the name of the eight Shiite Imam was Rza and after him, was the ninth imam namely Mahammad Tagi; this way the local historians discovered the name of such an important architect of Nakhchivan.
One of the pearls of the Eastern Architecture is the Momuna Khatun Tomb, a historical and architectural monument in Nakhchivan city, built in 1186 by the famous architect Ajami Abubakir oglu Nakhchivani, under the order of Shamsaddin Eldaniz, the founder of Azerbaijan and the Atabay state, who decided to build this monument. Eldaniz erected a tomb on the grave of his wife Momuna Khatun and his son Mahammad Jahan Pahlavan. Ajami Nakhchivani completed the construction of this masterpiece on April 1186 and the locals remember it as the “Atabay Tomb.”
Cufic writing has been engraved inside its head span, meaning: “After us a wind is left behind. After our death this is our gift.” The total height of Momuna Khatun was originally 34 meters; later on its outer cover, of eight meters, was destroyed. This tomb consists of an underground vault (ten angled) and over ground sections. According to research, the ruler of Atabaylar State, Shamsaddin Eldaniz, his wife Momuna Khatun and his son Mahammad Jahan Pahlavan have been buried in this vault.
In 2003 there was held a restoration project that brought to light the values of precious stones, decorated with carvings related to Islamic art; the vault, while it has an original structure, possesses a rich design arrangement.
It is impressive to see the columns in the center joining each corner through a cross over style. Such a structural style was implemented in the west by masters of the Gothic Architecture at a later time.
The above section of the tomb is a ten angles structure (surrounded with Cufic inscriptions on either side) but inside there is a round shape. There are four rounded lockets where the names of caliphs are carved inside the dome. The corners of Momuna Khatun Tomb built of burned bricks were completed with projection forms, but the surfaces are in a hollow form. The corner projections of the tomb are covered by inscriptions written in Cufic text. The length of these inscriptions reaches up to 500 meters. The tomb surface structure was designed with turquoise glazed tiles; they consist of a composition of geometrical ornaments and make such a masterpiece a unique monument of European and Caucasian architecture.
The Western Part of Momuna Khatun Tomb has a unique set of features. In this section its surface has been divided into two parts including ornamental designs. The inscriptions showing the name of the architect and the date when the tomb was inaugurated is engraved in the upper part of the head span. The inside surface of the monument has been plastered with clay meanwhile four medallions are decorating the interior cover of the dome. Due to its architectural design, height, precision, colors and the unique style implemented, this master piece has earned a special status, making it a rare item of the Middle Ages, a structure that has influenced many other architectural schools throughout Asia.
According to Academician M. V. Alpatov of USSR: “the Tomb of Momuna Khatun is a monument of rare beauty; it is eternal and the most magnificent classic work of the East; indeed it is similar to the literary works of ‘Layli o Majnun’ of Nizami Ganjavi.” It is a rare accomplishment by Ajami Nakhchivani, such an architectural paradigm was not even possible for a XII Century Europe.
Perhaps the Smithsonian could pay more attention to the Islamic Culture embodied in Ajami Nakhchivani’s architecture school and Nakhchivan’s unmatched presence and development of Islamic Culture, calligraphy, religious art and its unique monuments.