Yusif ibn Kuseyir mausoleum – unique example of medieval Azerbaijani architecture
By Vugar Khalilov
Nakhchivan, one of Azerbaijan's major cultural hubs, is home to many ancient monuments that have stood the test of time, reflecting the splendor of eastern architecture and Turkic-Islamic culture. The Yusif ibn Kuseyir mausoleum, which dates eight centuries back and was the first fruit of great architect Ajami’s genius, is one of these monuments.
The mausoleum's double-domed design is the only example of a dome-type monument that has preserved its original form. The monument was built in 1162 by architect Acami Nakhchivani, one of the greatest representatives of the Nakhchivan-Maraga school of architecture and Azerbaijani architecture in general. Information about this is recorded in the inscription located on the upper surface of the dome.
The monument consists of an underground vault and an above-ground tower-like part. The underground sarcophagus gives the mausoleum the appearance of a single-story tower from the outside. The ground part of the monument is octagonal inside and out.
Since the tower of the tomb was made with internal and external niches, the corner parts in the form of thick supports create a structural system similar to a lattice structure. Such a structure strengthens the visual stability of the external appearance of the monument. Due to the structural strength of the corners, the key challenge was to secure the building's lifespan without employing substantial partition walls. The monument is the only tower tomb in Azerbaijan of which the top pyramidal cover has survived for more than 800 years thanks to a superior engineering solution.
All eight surfaces of the tomb were decorated with different geometric ornaments. These decorations were made from small baked bricks that were then mortared together to make the pan forms that were applied to the surfaces.
Both the main construction and decorative masonry of the Yusif ibn Kuseyir tomb were made with only one material - high-quality baked bricks. This strengthens the integrity of the clear and clean geometric shape of the monument and gives it a uniform, expressive reddish color. Prismatic body, pyramidal dome, recesses and protrusions of the faces, abundant shadow, and light effects enrich the color of the monument.
The tomb's surface facing the west side is the only one that was solved differently, according to the structure. This is where the tomb's front door is located.
The interior of Yusif ibn Kuseyir tomb was not decorated. Its exterior niches were lined with dense geometrical patterns made of bricks. Above the niches, a scrolling belt closes the body. With its delicacy and decorativeness, this inscription strip creates a light transition between the body and the cover.
The name of the architect was written on the left side of the entrance door of this inscription in Arabic Kufic script. The inscription on the left side of the main facade of the tomb indicates that the monument was built by architect Ajami Abubakr Nakhchivani.
Another inscription on the tomb reads: "This tomb belongs to Yusif ibn Kuseyir, the khawaja, the glorious leader, the intelligence of religion, the Jamal of Islam, the head of the sheiks."
The pointed pyramidal cover seems to rest not on a solid prismatic body, but on the fine mesh of the writing belt. The architect also decorated the interior of the niches with pattern compositions and enhanced the vertical rhythm and constructive value of the corners. Additionally, the external surfaces of the tomb were processed in a manner consistent with the environment, giving it a high level of architectural and aesthetic appearance, as well as quality.
The mausoleum's north face was given an arch composition by the architect, and a doorway leading to the tower above ground was positioned there. The door was placed in a deeper niche, and the top was decorated with a large inscription plate. The architect designed this section as the main element of the monument, by delicately working on the details and shapes.
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