Anonymous Octagonal Tomb
Bust, Afghanistan
The tomb is situated on a mound on the eastern bank of the Helmand River and is the largest of eight tombs found in its vicinity. It was identified by Oleg Grabar as the mausoleum of Ghurid sultan Ghiyath al-Din Muhammad bin Sam (1163-1203), while Howard Crane and Robert Hillenbrand have deferred to its local designation as the mausoleum of Shahzada Shaykh Husayn bin Shaykh Ibrahim, or Shahzada Sarbaz. In the absence of epigraphic evidence proving its origin, the decorative elements have been dated to the twelfth or early thirteenth century.

Made of fired brick, the tomb is composed of eight massive piers joined by pointed arches to support an open dome. The footprint of each pier -- an elongated pentagon with three outer and two inner corners -- is articulated with embedded octagonal colonettes rising about halfway at each corner. Standing seven meters tall and four meters deep, the piers are massive in appearance only; their lower halves are filled with rubble while the upper halves are left hollow. Broad, pointed archways made of inner and outer arches linked by two-meter deep vaults span the four meter distance between the piers. The dome, which is twelve meters in diameter, is supported on squinches resting on the inner arches. Its thickness varies from 90 cm at the base to 30 cm at the oculus, which may be the unintended result of an incomplete dome.

The octagonal exterior of the mausoleum is decorated with arched blind niches on the piers' surfaces and decorative brick patterns on the arch spandrels. Only illegible sections have remained of the Kufic tile frieze that originally capped the façades above the arches. The squinches and archway vaults are woven with diamond and herringbone patterns, while the interior of the dome is covered with square tiles stacked flat and sideways in alternating rows. Floral tile medallions with terracotta plugs adorn the soffits of the outer arches and the spandrels on the interior. The direction of qibla is marked with two small niches carved onto the inner surface of the southwest pier.

The mausoleum, which has not been restored, lies in ruins with some of its exterior arch screens collapsed or buckling. Its open archways were woven in with informal mud-brick walls at different heights, leaving a small doorway for access on the southern side. There are numerous graves on the interior, some fenced in with mud-brick. Seven tombstones found inside the mausoleum, dating from the late 12th to mid 13th century, were documented by Janine Sourdel-Thomine. The wall inside the western archway has two built-in cells that may have been used as furnaces.

Sources:

Crane, Howard. "Helmand-Sistan Project: An Anonymous Tomb in Bust." East and West 29 (1979): 241-246.

Hill, Derek, and Oleg Grabar. Islamic Architecture and its Decoration: A. D. 800-1500, 57. Chicago: University of Chicago Press. 1964.

Hillenbrand, Robert. Islamic Architecture: Form, Function and Meaning, 281, 283, 533. Edinburgh: Edinburgh University Press, 1994.

Sourdel-Thomine, Janine. "Stèles Arabes de Bust (Afghanistan)." Arabica: Revue des Etudes Arabes III, no. 3 (1956): 285-306.
Location
Outside of ancient Bust, to the east of the Helmand river, Bust, Afghanistan
Images & Videos
Events
12th or early 13th c.
Style Periods
Variant Names
Anonymous Octagonal Tomb
Mausoleum of Ghiyath al-Din Muhammad b. Sam
Variant
Tomb of Ghiyath al-Din Muhammad b. Sam
Variant
Tomb of Ghiyath al Din Muhammad ibn Sam
Variant
Ghiyath ad-Din Tomb
Variant
Building Usages
mausoleum
funerary