The so-called South Palace, or Grand Palace, is the largest of several palatial structures at the palace-city of Lashkari Bazar,
located to the north of Bust on the banks of the Helmand River in Afghanistan. Based on both textual sources and finds made during excavations at the site, scholars attribute the palace to Mahmud I of Ghazna and date it to the early years of his reign (r. 998-1030/388-421 AH). Daniel Schlumberger, who excavated the site, gave it its modern name. The medieval name is unknown.
The palace is situated at a point on the Helmand approximately eight kilometers north of the Citadel of Bust where the riverbank forms a natural corner, so that two facades of the palace afford riverfront views. The plan is roughly rectangular and is aligned nearly perfectly with the cardinal directions. Its main axis runs from south to north. It was constructed largely of mud-brick, with baked brick used for the most monumental and important components.
Preceding the palace itself is a long, rectangular enclosure or forecourt, nearly twice the area of the palace itself. Along the west side of this enclosure is a mosque, long and very shallow in plan. Preceding the enclosure is an avenue, running north-south, which once served the purpose of a bazaar and had shops lining its sides. The palace is thus a point at the end of a longer block of axially-arranged, public and semi-public spaces.
Having walked the bazaar avenue and traversed the length of the enclosure, then, one reached the southern facade of the palace. This facade was decorated with a blind arcade on two registers. The main entrance was at the center of this facade, through a recessed portal that led onto a cruciform hall. This hall gave onto a large central courtyard, rectangular in form, surrounded by a blind arcade punctured by doors leading onto small chambers. At the center of each facade was an iwan, with the iwan on the north facade being the largest. On the west (riverfront) side of the courtyard, these chambers gave onto an irregular area of units arranged around courtyards. The rooms on the east side of the courtyard abutted the eastern enclosure wall of the palace.
Through the iwan on the north side of the courtyard, the building's main axis continued. The iwan gave onto a square chamber, which then gave onto a rectangular hall. The hall's position at the culmination of the palace's north-south axis, its architectural plan, and its lavish decoration all suggest that it served an important ceremonial function, such as reception. In terms of plan, it is actually an inner hall surrounded by an outer ambulatory set off by six large piers. The room's northern facade, now eroded, would have faced over the river, to which the room was connected via a small stair. A channel brought water through the middle of the room, where it collected in a basin before flowing out the other side. Frescoes depicting attendants dressed in finery adorned the lower half of the walls of the inner area, and surmounting these was geometric ornament and an inscription band with verses from the Qur'an describing Solomon's reception of the Queen of Sheba in his palace. This choice of verse is significant given the presence of a water basin in the chamber and a view from room over the river: Solomon's palace as described in the Qur'an had a glass floor that tricked the Queen into thinking it was made of water.
The chronology of the building's components and its occupation is somewhat vague. Historical and archaeological evidence strongly suggested to Schlumberger that the bulk of the building was constructed during the reign of Mahmud I of Ghazna, but it is clear from evidence of two fires and a number of renovations that the building did undergo changes during its occupation. Janine Sourdel-Thomine suggested that the most important component of the building, the audience hall and its decorations, may date later based on comparisons to other architectural ornament in the region, but Terry Allen has pointed out that the comparanda were weighted toward later periods and may not be sufficient to accurately date the building.1 Schlumberger suggested that the first fire may have been caused by the Ghurids, whom historical sources indicate overthrew the Ghaznavids and burnt their palaces. Part of an inscription mentioning the a year in the 550s AH (between 1155 and 1164 CE) applied to the covering of a burnt wall support this idea, as the range of dates falls after the Ghurid sack of Ghazna and Bust circa 1149-1161/544-546 AH. This led Schlumberger to propose a fire during the Ghurid sack of Bust, followed by a renovation period under the Ghurids, followed in turn by a second fire that marked the end of occupation, possibly connected with the Mongol occupation of Afghanistan in the 1220s.2
- Allen, "Notes on Bust." 59-60.
- Schlumberger, "Palace Ghaznévide," 256-258.
Allen, Terry. “Notes on Bust (Continued).” Iran 27 (1989): 57–66.
Schlumberger, Daniel. “Le palais ghaznévide de Lashkari Bazar.” Syria 29, no. 3–4 (1952): 251–70.
Schlumberger, Daniel. Lashkari Bazar: Une residence royale ghaznévide et ghoride. Part 1A: L’architecture. Paris: Diffusion de Boccard, 1978.