Page C1.1 . 07 January 2004                     
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    Postcard from Turkestan

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    The Hodja Ahmed Yasavi Mausoleum shimmers blue and green. Photography by Matt Bridgestock.

    Dear ArchitectureWeek,

    While in Kazakstan on my round-the-world bicycle tour, I visited the Hodja Ahmed Yasavi Mausoleum, one of the country's architectural gems. Surrounded by desert and low, rough, mud-brick buildings, the green tiled dome shimmers above the city of Turkestan.

    Built late in the 14th century, the mausoleum houses the remains of a Turkic Muslim holy man and a Kazak king. Both men are still highly regarded throughout Central Asia, and their tombs are visited by busloads of pilgrims daily. The story is that the architect, Timur, died before the project was completed, and to preserve the integrity of his design, the building remains incomplete and a study of contrasts.

    The brown brick front facade is studded with timber scaffolding and a regular series of holes. The unfinished bricks and deep shadows give the front a tectonic edge. You feel compelled to touch the rough, warm stone and ancient timbers. The entrance is hidden in the base of the massive recess. There you feel the power of the building; you are small and insignificant in its presence.

    Inside, the scale relents, and you are human again in the two chambers that make up the mausoleum. The interior is bright white, and light cascades in through the roof lights. The ceilings are carved with deep geometric patterns, but the walls are crisp, white, smooth plaster. The interior has been recently renovated, and the intricate patterns and gold on the tombs sparkle in the light.

    Once outside, a walk around to the back of the building reveals the true aspirations of the architect. Bright, flamboyant tile graces every surface. The building shimmers in blue, green, and pink patterns. Around the eaves runs a band of Arabic script indicating the Turkic, not Russian, origins of the inhabitants.

    Crowning the burial chambers are two domes. The smaller one is delicately fluted and covered in mosaic. The larger one has a vibrant green-tiled dome which is bright against the deep blue sky. The domes are visible for miles around, the deep glazed finish giving a different tone from every angle. This building is a green oasis in the desert.

    On the road in Kazakstan,

    Matt Bridgestock


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    The tour through Kazakstan was part of World on Wheels, a journey begun in April 2003 by a few young British designers. Now traveling solo, Matt Bridgestock is circumnavigating the globe by bicycle, recording architectural and urban spaces as he goes.


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