If the Hazroti Imom Mosque anchors Tashkent’s Hast Imam Square due simply to its size, Barakhan Madrassa provides the ensemble with its architectural monument of greatest historical significance. With an eclectic history dating back to the 16th century, the picturesque blue domed madrassa takes up a prominent position directly across the square from the Hazroit Imom Cathedral Mosque.
While the tomb of Hazroti predates the Barakhan Madrassa by nearly 600 years, it is not situated directly on the square. Instead, Barakhan takes up the square’s southwest corner with its characteristic twin blue domes and vaulted niched entrance gateway, atypical for Islamic architecture in the vicinity of Tashkent.
Originally the madrassa was a cluster of several different buildings that predate the current structure only aggregated into the monument as it appears today in the mid 16th century. In the year 1530 the twin domes were built as part of a mausoleum for Suyuntshodja Khan, Shaybanid ruler of Tashkent from 1510 to 1524. The madrassa came together shortly thereafter under Suyuntshodja’s son, Navruz Ahmed Khan, who not only succeeded his father as ruler of Tashkent, but also became supreme leader of the Shaybanids after invading Samarkand upon the death of Abdulatif Khan in 1551. Navruz ordered the construction of a madrassa to be attached to his father’s mausoleum.
Extensive renovations of the elaborate carvings and mosaics on the vaulted entrance (something of course I neglected to take a photo of) were carried out during the Soviet era, from 1955 to 1963, restoring the former glory of the monument. No longer a working religious building, today the Barakhan Madrassa’s former cells, and even its mosque, serve as a shopping mall of sorts for tourist trinkets and souvenirs.
The Madrassa has been largely devoid of tourists on our several visits to the square during the past few years, but we figure this is because Tashkent is either the first or last stop on the Uzbek tourist route, and most people are either destroyed from their flight here, or exhausted after touring the whole country. Hast Imam ends up being left out. This is a real shame considering the site’s historical significance and genuine Central Asian aesthetic, as well as the best place in the country to buy gifts and souvenirs. Most foreigners we run into here are brought by private guides, or are other expats we already know.
Barakhan is also a regular stop on our leaving itinerary before flying out of the country to visit family and friends back in the U.S. or Europe. Traditional Uzbek crafts make great gifts, and at Barakhan, master craftsmen and artisans not only sell their work, but also use the space as an active workshop so you can see what you’re buying actually being made.
Now here’s a pro shopping tip for your trip to Uzbekistan. When it comes to prices, your absolute best bet is to purchase your souvenir items either in Khiva, or Tashkent. We figured out how this works after trying to buy the same exact items in different cities on the standard silk-road tourist trail. We’ll use a susani pillowcase as an example. As the first stop on the Uzbek tourist route, not many tourists in Tashkent will be ready to buy souvenirs to take home.
A susani in Tashkent might cost 50,000 сўм. Khiva is next on the tour, same story, maybe 60,000 сўм. But by the time you make it to Bukhara and are most enamored with Uzbek patterned textiles and blue tiles, prices shoot sky high (try 200,000 сўм ~ $25), coming back down only slightly in Samarkand (150,000 ~ $15). If you didn’t buy souvenirs before getting back to Tashkent, remember that good things come to those who wait for the Barakhan Madrassa.