Among the large number of the madrassahs built in Bukhara in the 16th century Miri-Arab Madrassah stands out as a real masterpiece. It was built on an elevated platform right across from the Kalyan Mosque. This architectural technique, called kosh (‘coupled’), was quite common in the Middle Ages. After Miri-Arab Madrassah had been constructed, Poi Kalyan Square (‘The Foot of Great’) reached its logical completion. Miri-Arab Madrasah is still one of the world’s famous and largest Islamic colleges.
The construction of the building had dragged on for about 15 years and was completed in 1536. The main constructor of the madrassah was Sheikh Abdella Yemeniy, more known as Miri-Arab. He was a rather influential figure at the court of the Sheibanid ruler Ubaidullakhan who ruled over Buhkara for only six years, but inscribed his name upon the pages of Central Asian history. This stern warrior, raised in the spirit of Sufi philosophy, made numerous victorious raids on Iran and returned with rich booty. After one of the raids he sold 3000 captive Persians as slaves and invested all the money he gained on completion of the construction of Miri-Arab Madrassah.
The madrassah has the plan that became standard in the Temurids times. The facade has a great portal with two-tier loggias adjoining it. The corners are massive guldasta towers. Two lines of little vertical relief arches accentuate the height of the portal. The main entrance leads through a corridor to a square yard with four ayvan platforms and two floors of hujra cells around. The ceilings, arches and walls of the madrassah are harmoniously covered with mosaics, fine multicoloured stylized paintings of plants, a large number of inscriptions in elaborate sulus script (a cursive flowing script written with rounded letters). In the right and left wings along the facade there are two halls under the domes on high bases. One of these halls served as a mosque, whereas the hall to the right of the entrance was a darskhona classroom.
The building of the mosque became the burial vault of Sheikh Miri-Arab. Its cruciform hall has a system of pendentives topped with beautiful stalactites. Above them, as if soaring in the air, there a dome with star-shaped decoration. Ubaidullakhan himself was buried at the foot of Sheikh Miri-Arab. A beautiful sarcophagus decorated with carvings lies over his grave. Next to it there is a tomb of a noted theologian Muhammad Kasim-mudarris.
Two-storeyed hujra cells surround the yard of the madrassah. In comparison with other madrassahs, they are quite comfortable for students to live in. A vaulted vestibule leads to a domed living room with niches and storage compartments in the walls. Fireplaces heated the cells. Here the students also cooked their meals.
In the 1920s the madrassah was closed. But in 1947 it began functioning again. Today there are over 100 students in the madrassah. Many well-known religious figures of Uzbekistan and CIS countries got their education in Miri-Arab Madrassah.