Amir Temur’s son Mirzo Ulugbek, who ruled Movarounnahr in the first half of the 15th century, built three madrassahs. The first one was constructed in Bukhara in 1417. By that time Bukhara had been long since known as the capital of Islam theology. In the Orient at all times madrassahs were centers of science and education. It was no wonder that on the instructions of Ulugbek, a well-educated monarch who was often called ‘the scientist on the throne’, there was carved the following aphorism on the richly decorated entrance door: ‘Seeking after knowledge is the duty of every Muslim man and woman’. Another inscription was made on the nearby bronze plate for knocking: ‘Let the door of God’s blessing be opened to the circle of people, over and above the wisdom of books’.
Built close to the trade dome Toki Zargaron at the former city’s Mazar gate, Ulugbek Madrassah was decorated quite modestly compared to other monuments of the Temurids period. However, the geometrical patterns of decorative brickwork, ornamental mosaics and majolica, as well as Kufic inscriptions in Arabic script applied in the decoration of exterior and interior facades demonstrate extraordinary skills of the local architects.
The constructors’ names – Najmetdin Bukhari and Ismaeel bini-Takhir bini-Mahmud Isfaghani are inscribed on the wall of the madrassah. Historians believe that Ismaeel Isfaghani was the grandson of Mahmud Isfaghani, who was the constructor of madrassah and khanaga (dervish convent) premises of Guri-Amir Mausoleum in Samarkand. The architects managed to create an undoubtedly perfect architectural style of an Islamic educational institution. For many centuries onwards the layout of Ulugbek Madrassah became a kind of a canon for the constructions of such type which had to combine facilities for studies with those for accommodation and at the same time to adapt the building to the climatic conditions of the region. The facade of the madrassah has loggia niches and corner towers. The angular vestibule led to the yard and corner premises – the domed mosque and winter classroom darskhona. Two tiers of hujra students’ living cells surrounded the yard. Under the high portals in the yard there were constructed wide shady ayvan platforms where classes were conducted on hot summer days. On the second floor of the building there was a library.
In addition to the Koran and hadith such disciplines as logic, prosody, mathematics and geometry were taught in Ulugbek Madrassah. The students had daily classes from dawn to dusk. As a rule, the classes were conducted in the form of a dispute; the students had the right to choose a mudarris (teacher) they liked. The term of studies in this medieval ‘house of science’ averaged 15 – 20 years. Each student got a minor scholarship to buy food and clothes. Among the graduates of Ulugbek Madrassah there were many outstanding scholars, theologians, poets and philosophers.