The Mazar Arab Ata, or the "Shrine of the Arab Father," is a cubical, domed brick mausoleum built in 977-78 in the town of Tim in Uzbekistan's Samarkand province. The Arab Ata mausoleum was probably built in the reign of Samanid ruler Nuh Mansur (976 - 997) and is noted for its seminal architectural form and décor experiments that shaped much of Central Asia's early domed square mausoleum typology.
The Arab Ata mausoleum features one of the earliest examples of the pishtaq, or exaggerated, projecting arched portal. Unlike latter-day pishtaqs, the Arab Ata mausoleum's portal does not merely project beyond a horizontal roofline; it occupies the entire front elevation and screens the dome. The inscription frieze that embroiders the portal's rectangular frame is another innovation that became a customary motif in the region's subsequent mausoleums. The remaining elevations were left stark, possibly to concentrate all visitor attention on this elaborate portal façade. The mausoleum is also noted for its use of the earliest form of muqarnas decoration, seen as a two-stage transition from a squinch base to a round dome. A decorative squinch flanked by half squinches on either side cover the structural corner squinch. This trilobed squinch and trilobed arch motif was to become a standard in later Seljuk and Timurid architectural styles.
However, not all of the Arab Ata mausoleum's architectural experiments were as readily duplicated. The pishtaq's tympanum features a group of three rectangular windows that are rarely seen in latter day structures. The mausoleum's elevations were adorned with elaborate star-and-polygon patterns in brick tiles, and double-stretcher brick courses as seen in pre-Mongol brickwork of the region. However, these are in dire need of preservation today. Its remote location has reduced the Arab Ata mausoleum to a neglected cousin of Bukhara's other Samanid mausoleum and World Heritage sites.
Hillenbrand, Robert. Islamic Architecture, 288, 290, 291. Edinburgh: Edinburgh University Press, 1999.
Knobloch, Edgar. Monuments of Central Asia, 117. London: I.B. Tauris Publishers, 2001.