Location – Khatlon region, Shahrituz district. Sayod village, 6km south of Shahrituz in the direction of Aivaj, on the bank of the Kofarnihon River

In the 3-2nd centuries B.C. the area of the Kofarnihon Valley and its surroundings were part of the Greco-Bactria empire; in the 1st century B.C.- 3rd century A.D. they were part of the Kushan Empire, in the 8th century this territory (together with other regions of Central Asia) was invaded by the Arabs, and in the 14- 15th centuries it belonged to the state of Timur. All this shows the long history of the development of Kofarnihon Valley. The Khoja Mashad complex is one of the most interesting architectural monuments in this area. Khoja Mashad was a renowned personality in the Islamic world. He came to Qabodiyon from Iran or some other Middle Eastern country in approximately the second half of the 9th to the first half of the 10th century (the exact date is not known). He was an Islamic missionary and a wealthy man. According to some information, he paid for the construction of a madrassah and, after death, was buried there.

Local residents consider the complex a mausoleum which “emerged” in one night, i.e. by a miracle of Allah. Research says that it is more likely a development of an ancient madrassah. The area where the mausoleum is situated has been known from the earliest times as Qabodiyon and has always drawn the attention of travellers and explorers. However, only in 1947 was the first detailed study of the structure done and it was described as follows: “It is a monument consisting of two independent mausoleums standing side-by-side connected by a vaulted passageway.

At first sight both monuments appear identical. In fact, they are similar in their basic features. At the same time, they differ from each other in the details of the figures and it can be supposed that they were constructed in different time periods”.

Further study has shown that the eastern building was dated 9-10th century, and the western one 11-12th century. All the buildings were made of baked bricks. A variety of unique, decorative fir-tree-patterned brickwork themes were used in the western building. The eastern building was constructed as a freestanding central mausoleum with two entrances placed on opposite walls. The brickwork is interrupted by paired vertical brick inserts. The figured brickwork is made from alternating vertically-protruding bricks with three bricks end-to-end.

Both mausoleums contain tombstones and were connected by an ellipse-shaped vault. Its uniqueness is in the fact that the “fir-tree” brickwork was done without any auxiliary wooden structures from the four corners and is based on the joining of step-shaped bricks. As a result, the vault was made only one brick thick covering a relatively wide span.

A wide rectangular courtyard surrounded by the remains of mud brick walls and ruins adjoins the mausoleums on the northern side. There are ruins of a mud brick portal inside and of two domical mud brick premises on the sides. The courtyard is almost entirely filled with graves. The ground floors in the domical halls are also covered with ruined tombs. Two adjacent buildings with high domes and the remains of a portal with a veranda between them were preserved. Domical interiors were typical of pre-Mongolian Central-Asian architecture.

There is no consensus yet on what the function of KhojaMashad was. Some researchers consider it to have been a madrassah because there are narrow cells (hujra) along the perimeter of the closed courtyard which probably served as lodgings for students, two domical premises on the sides of the vaulted veranda may have been used as classrooms (darskhona), and a mosque, all of which are traditional madrassah elements. Inclusion of a mausoleum into a madrassah is not something strange as there are other examples in Bukhara, Samarqand, and Herat. The structure also would have served as a “Friday” mosque for residents of nearby villages. It is quite possible that NosirKhisrav, the famous 11th century poet and traveller from Qabodiyon, studied here.

Other scientists think that KhojaMashad is most likely a complex khankah memorial construction. Khankahs (khonkoh) are the hostels and places for performing the religious rituals of Sufis, heads of dervish orders, and pilgrims. This one would have included a dormitory with hujra (cells), a room for the head of the order, a refectory, a drawing-room, rooms for praying and general meetings, rooms for ritual ablution, a bath and sometimes a tomb of a patron of the order. In any case, it is obvious that the KhojaMashad complex, a sacred burial place, is one of the most interesting monuments in Tajikistan, and is an embodiment of the whole period of history and culture, architecture, aesthetics which still holds many mysteries. It’s also possible that KhojaMashad was an important element in the ancient city centre (of Qabodiyon) since a large number of ruins indicate the existence of the town centre of ancient Bactria (Tahoriston) were discovered in the area surrounding the monument. One can only hope that one day we will find the answers to these questions.

Nowadays, it is always crowded. The complex is visited by pilgrims from various districts of the country and from neighbouring Uzbekistan. Scholars interested in medieval architecture are also frequent guests here.