In 12th and 13th century Tashkent there lived a well respected Sufi mystic, Sheikh Ay-hoja Zangi-Ata, literally “Dark Father” owing to his dark complexion, who was revered by the local people, and subsequently by 14th century Uzbek national hero, Amir Timur. Having hailed from abroad, likely from a noble family in Saudi Arabia, Zangiata spent his entire life as a shepherd, but was also well known for his wise demeanor and skills in conflict resolution. A scholar of the faith, he was renowned not only as a healer, but was also purported to have performed miracles, and therefore was elevated to the status of a Saint. After Zangiata died in the year 1258, he was buried in an ordinary grave, but miraculously it did not become covered in grass even more than 100 years after his death.
According to legend, the emperor had already ordered the construction of a mausoleum to 12th century Sufi mystic and spiritual ancestor of the Turkic tribes of Central Asia Ahmad Jassavi, but two different stories explain what prevented construction from taking place as planned. In one version Jassavi appeared to Amir Timur in a dream telling him to erect a monument to Zangiata first. In the other version of the legend, construction of the mausoleum to Ahmad Jassavi had already begun, but every time a wall was built, it would inexplicably collapse. In both versions, Timur instead built the mausoleum for Zangiata, who maintained a great reputation among the residents of Tashkent even a century after his passing. The mausoleum to Ahmad Jassavi was instead erected in Turkistan, located across the border in neighboring Kazakstan, and remains one of the best preserved examples of Timirud architecture.
The Zangiata mausoleum today is part of larger architectural complex built over the centuries around the original 14th century monument built by Amir Timur. 700 years ago, the mausoleum of one of the most important spiritual fathers to the religious community of Tashkent was a spectacular Timirud architectural masterpiece, with incredible mosaics, a marble tombstone, and interior rooms catering to pilgrims who came from across Central Asia to pay their respects. As the popularity of the mausoleum grew, expansion works were conducted in the 18th and 19th centuries with the addition of a mosque and madrassa complex, followed by a unique minaret in the early days of the 20th century. Since at least the 12th century, the site has also served as a cemetery, hence the building of the mausoleum over Zangiata’s original grave. The complex also includes a smaller mausoleum for Zangiata’s wife which was constructed in the later days of the reign of Amir Timur, in the early 15th century.
Recent renovations and beautification efforts have left a major mark on the complex. The early 20th century minaret, of an architectural style totally unique in Uzbekistan, was demolished to make way for a paved plaza in front of the 14th century mausoleum. A mosque and education center were constructed adjoining the original structure, and a brand new minaret rose to complement this addition. Century old trees were removed to make way for a new park, so today young saplings provide little shade from the unrelenting sunshine. Thankfully the new mosque is air conditioned, and the interior dome of 14th century mausoleum boasts restored muqarna, while outside the curious addition of a big-screen-TV mounted on the exterior vaulted iwan runs a continuous loop of the latest accomplishments of the President, with an inspirational narrative piped through loudspeakers strategically located throughout the complex.
Residents of the Tashkent region according to deeply ingrained tradition still make a pilgrimage to this holy site on a regular basis, for special occasions, and for the still spiritually significant 12 year zodiac cycle with origins dating back to Zoroastrian times. Typically, when someone in the family celebrates a 12th, 24th, or 36th birthday (etc…) a charitable gift is taken to the Zangiata Complex for the less fortunate. As our visit took place on the day before the author’s (yours truly) 36th birthday, it seemed only appropriate to dedicate this day of the countdown in homage to the wise shepherd of Tashkent from 700 years ago, the revered “Dark Father”, Sheikh Ay-hoja Zangi-Ata.