The two free-standing domed structures are located on a plateau outside of Chisht-i Sharif, a twelfth-century religious center that gave its name to the Chishtiyya order of Sufism. Inscriptions on both structures name Ghurid sultan Ghiyath al-Din Muhammad ibn Sam as their patron. Their original function is unknown, and speculations have ranged. Given their form and situation in a present-day graveyard, scholars originally believed them to be tombs. Another theory is that they belonged to a mosque-madrasa complex. The two structures are often differentiated as the "Eastern Mausoleum" and "Western Mausoleum," but the taller "Eastern" structure stands to the northeast of the more intact "Western" one. For the purposes of this essay, they are described in an agnostic manner as the "Western Dome" and the "Eastern Dome."
The Western Dome
The shorter and more intact structure to the west is a square domed chamber entered from arched doorways centered on each façade. The southern entrance was distinguished with a portal screen, of which only small sections have remained on either side of the doorway. The fragments include a door frame composed of three bands of tile reliefs -- two braided bands around a narrow band of floral arabesques -- separated by rows of bricks. Shallow niches topped with a narrow pointed arch and a broad horse-shoe arch flank the doorway to the left and right, respectively. Bordered by embedded colonettes, the two niches are decorated with geometric tile reliefs and bands Kufic inscriptions made of molded brick. The corners of the brick chamber have largely eroded on the exterior, with a collapsed squinch exposing the interior at the southwest corner.
The dome of the Western Mausoleum is supported by four grand arches embedded into the walls that rest on heavy columns set into the corners. Transition to the dome is achieved through an octagonal drum with squinches at the corners. Each dome arch is framed with a band of tile Quranic inscription composed in kufic script, topped with floral arabesques. The construction date of 1167 (562 A.H.) is marked along the eastern arch. A fifth band enveloping the interior below the arch springers includes the title "Shams al-Dunya wa'l-Din," an earlier epithet of Muhammad ibn Sam. The Eastern Dome
The walls of the taller structure have largely eroded over time; the dome and the northern arch, seen in photographs as late as the 1970s, have since collapsed. As built, the monument consisted of two grand archways (south, north) and two blind walls (east, west) supporting a dome with an oculus. An octagonal drum with corner squinches provided the transition to the dome.
Inside, the western wall has a simple mihrab niche with a semi-dome set inside a tall rectangular frame and blind niches with horseshoe arches adorn the upper sections of the east and west walls. Soffits of the southern and northern archways were decorated with contrasting tile reliefs featuring floral arabesques and braided geometric reliefs, respectively; the northern arch has not survived. Two portal fragments flanking the southern archway show parts of the dedicatory inscription, which was made of floral ornaments and triangular tiles placed in high and low relief between molded Kufic letters. Use of the word "great sultan" here with reference to Muhammad ibn Sam has led Sheila Blair to suggest a later date for this structure, which confirms the reading by Ralph Pinder-Wilson of the date 1194 (590 A.H.) on an octagonal plinth (since lost) above the north entrance.
Both monuments are in urgent need of stabilization and restoration.Sources
Society for the Preservation of Afghanistan's Cultural Heritage. Herat Province, Chisht-e Sharif. http://spach.info/ephotosheratchist-esharif.htm
. [Accessed July 18, 2006; inaccessible October 4, 2013]
Blair, Sheila S. "The Madrasa at Zuzan: Islamic Architecture in Eastern Iran on the Eve of the Mongol Invasions." Muqarnas
III (1985): 75-91.
Dupree, Nancy Hatch. "Obey and Chisht-i-Sharif." In An Historical Guide to Afghanistan
. Kabul, 1970. Available online at https://archive.org/details/azu_acku_ds351_d87_1977
Pinder-Wilson, Ralph. "Ghaznavid and Ghurid Architecture and Epigraphy." In The Art of the Saljuqs in Iran and Anatolia: Proceedings of a Symposium Held in Edinburgh in 1982,
edited by R. Hillenbrand. Costa Mesa, CA: Mazda Publishers, 1994.