The Madrasa al-Ghiyathiyya is located in Khargird, a village 147 kilometers southwest of Mashad in Khorasan province. The madrasa takes its name from its founder Pir Ahmad, who was Shah Rukh's (1405-1447) vazir, under the title of Ghiyath al-Din, from 1417 until his death in 1447. Inscriptions reveal that the madrasa was designed and built mainly by the engineer Qavam al-Din Shirazi between 1438-1444. However, he died before its completion, at which time another architect took up the remaining work. The calligrapher, Jalal al-Din, was the same man who worked on Gauhar Shad's madrasa at Herat.
The Ghiyathiyya madrasa is rectangular in plan, its exterior perimeter measuring 42 by 56 meters, while its spaces are organized around a square courtyard that is 28 meters long. The madrasa is bilaterally symmetrical: each side along the axis beginning at the entrance to the northeast and culminating at the badgir (wind tower) of the southwest iwan is a mirror copy of the other. The badgir, used to ventilate the interior cells of the madrasa, is believed to be the earliest dated example in a monument rather than a residence, where they are most often found. The dimensions of the square courtyard are related to the shorter and longer perimeter walls by a mathematical proportion of 2:3:4. The spaces to the sides of the courtyard are organized symmetrically about both axes; an iwan is centered on each of the sides, flanked by two smaller pointed arched iwans on two floors leading to the students' chambers. On two floors, pointed arch openings occupy the beveled corners of the courtyard. Each leads to stairs that give access to the upper floor chambers. Square domed rooms with broad semi-octagonal alcoves occupy the corners of the madrasa. These are accessed either by the openings at the beveled corners to the southwest or by the two lateral openings to the northeast of the courtyard. They may have served as lecture halls, libraries, khanqahs, or meeting rooms.
The square plan of the madrasa that surrounds the perimeter of the courtyard extends toward the northeast (entrance side) into a rectangle in plan. Built on a site with no structures around its perimeter, it was designed to be seen from all sides. The main entrance elevation faces northeast and is composed of a large entry pishtaq, flanked by a tripartite arrangement of blind niches with the larger at the center, and a cylindrical bastion at the corners. At the back wall of the entry pishtaq there is an inscription band which follows the contour of the arch, revealing the date and the name of the building's architects and builder. The pishtaq is followed by a square domed vestibule that is open on all sides and leads into the courtyard iwan. The lateral openings lead to smaller vestibules on either side followed by large domed halls. The domed hall to the northwest served as a mosque while the one to the southeast served as a lecture hall. This sequence of spaces can also be experienced linearly when accessed via the entrances on the lateral elevations of the mosque that lie around the corner from the cylindrical towers of the main elevation.
The dome of the masjid is supported by four large arches that span each of the side alcoves. The alcoves are integrated in the articulation of the space with half arches that connect perpendicularly to the main arches. At the corners of the main space, the top of a pointed arch connects two of the side arches. The spaces created by the intersecting arches are filled with a plaster fan and muqarnas. A sixteen-sided drum precedes the dome and holds eight windows pierced in alternating facets. The transition from drum to dome is made with plaster muqarnas.
The dome of the mirrored space of the lecture hall has a shallower and smaller dome that sits on an octagonal drum with a window in each of its facets. It is supported by four arches, as in the masjid, but also by four other arches that are offset into the space, intersecting one another at the corners and which are outlined by plaster ribs. Muqarnas are found at the transitions between these elements, and a second dome caps the exterior. The other smaller domed spaces demonstrate various techniques of dome building. Some are articulated with arches that are supported by a groined pendentive, while others are corbelled.
Both the exterior and courtyard elevations are adorned with mosaic faience and both glazed and plain brick set in geometric patterns. The names of Allah, Muhammad, and Ali can also be found throughout the madrasa, spelled out in a glazed brick pattern. Painted geometric patterns decorate the wall surfaces above the dado of the mosque and lecture hall.
The Ghiyathiyya Madrasa was partially restored in 1937 and again in 1969-70.
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