Palace of the Qarakhanids
Termez, Uzbekistan
The palace of the Qarakhanids, or the Regent's palace, as it is popularly known, is a rare specimen of early Islamic palaces in Central Asia that escaped Genghis Khan's ravages (1220). Distinct from the Khwarazm region's local tradition of fortified manor houses (kushks), this palace is stylistically closer to the open architectural typology of Iranian palaces at Ctesipon, Ukhaidir and Samarra. The lavish wall decorations of this palace have been seminal influences on later Islamic palaces as far away as the Indian subcontinent.

The palace stands north of the Zurmala tower, in the eastern portion of the Shakhristan or city center of the ancient settlement of Termez or Tirmidh along the Amu Darya River. The palace was built in the eleventh century in the reign of the Great Qaghans of the western Qarakhanid Empire, though restorations were undertaken in the reign of Ghaznavid ruler Bahram Shah (1117 - 57) some time before 1129-30. The partly unexcavated, rectangular palace was originally part of a larger walled district that housed palatial, residential and commercial quarters. The spatial sequence consists of an imposing entrance portal leading to chambers arranged around a central courtyard, with an audience hall at the end of the axis. Interestingly, this arrangement of rooms (baits) grouped around a courtyard, central square pool, iwan and axial emphasis on the throne room are found in ancient Sasanian palaces, like that at Damghan and Firuzabad.

The audience hall was defined within the central courtyard by a five-columned portico, with a grand central arch. Within the audience hall, piers set close to the perimeter walls create a narrow ambulatory corridor that ran around a broad central nave. The ruler's throne presumably stood at the end of this central vaulted space. However, it is the carved stucco (ganch), wall paintings and decorative motifs (girih) that distinguish the palace of the Qarakhanids.

The design range and physical expression of the décor is imposing; walls, columns, vaults, niches and dadoes were rendered with pre-Islamic, zoomorphic motifs. Stars, rosettes and symbolic motifs were crafted with glazed tile and stained glass to form abstract animals and birds. Brightly colored, late Ghaznavid medallions with relief-cut glasswork discovered at the palace are unique specimens of early Islamic glassware. The audience chamber's walls were decorated with three parallel bands of ornamental panels, the lower two of which consisted primarily of medallions and girikhs respectively. Mud brick constituted structural members while floors were made of baked brick.

Famed historian Boris Petrovich Denike led Russian archaeological teams to the site over 1926-28, which led to the first published work on the palace's exceptional stucco decorations. Much like the early Seljuk Palace at Merv, the palace of the Qarakhanids deserves immediate preservation efforts.

Sources:

Hillenbrand, Robert. Islamic Architecture, 411-12, 580. Edinburgh: Edinburgh University Press, 1999.

Knobloch, Edgar. Monuments of Central Asia, 148. London: I.B. Tauris Publishers, 2001.
Location
Termez, Uzbekistan
Events
Built 11th c./4th-5th c. AH, restored before 1129-1130/523-524 AH
Variant Names
Palace of the Qarakhanids
Building Usages
palace
palatial