Samarkand • Madrasa Shir-Dor - Mosaics and Tigers of Samarkand

Nestled in the heart of vibrant Samarkand, on the mythical Registan Square, stands the Madrasa Shir-Dor, like a living painting telling Uzbek history. Built between 1619 and 1636, at the instigation of Governor Yalangtush Bakhodur, this Koranic school stands out as one of the architectural jewels of the Shaybanid era. 


Its name, Shir-Dor, means "having tigers", a poetic reference to the majestic felines that adorn its entrance gate, a singularity in the Islamic world where the representation of animals is rare. A tiger, or perhaps a leopard, chases a deer under the stars, while a human sun looms over them, a fascinating fusion of astronomy, mythology and nature. 


The facade of the madrasa is a kaleidoscope of colors, a symphony of ceramic mosaics that dance in the sun. Geometric patterns sit alongside floral designs, creating a visual carpet that dazzles and inspires. Two slender minarets frame the portal, rising skyward as if to seek to touch the heavens. 


The interior of the madrasa is equally impressive. A square courtyard, peaceful and inviting, is lined with cells that once housed students in search of knowledge. In this oasis of calm, you can almost hear the murmur of lessons from long ago, the whispering of wisdom that has spanned the centuries. 


Today, the Madrasa Shir-Dor is a must for any visitor to Samarkand, a window to the past, a symbol of the greatness of Uzbekistan. Each stone, each mosaic, tells a story, an echo of the time when Samarkand was a crossroads of knowledge, a sparkling jewel on the Silk Road.

Samarkand • Madrasa Shir-Dor ( Uzbekistan,  )

Samarkand • Madrasa Shir-Dor

Samarkand • Madrasa Shir-Dor ( Uzbekistan,  )

Samarkand • Madrasa Shir-Dor

Samarkand • Madrasa Shir-Dor ( Uzbekistan,  )

Samarkand • Madrasa Shir-Dor

Exterior Architecture 


The Shir-Dor Madrasa is an architectural marvel of the Shaybanid era. Its facade is a visual spectacle, dominated by a monumental portal (iwan) flanked by two slender minarets. The iwan, which opens onto a large courtyard, is a typical feature of Islamic architecture, acting both as an entry point and a shaded area for reflection. 


The entrance portal is richly decorated with multicolored ceramic mosaics, featuring intricate geometric patterns, floral designs and zoomorphic figures. This last feature is rare and unique in Islamic art, as it illustrates two tigers (or leopards) chasing a deer under a solar face, which gives the name to the madrasa: Shir-Dor, "having tigers". 


The Minarets 


On either side of the entrance portal stand two minarets, symbolizing both the grandeur of the madrasa and its role as a landmark. They are adorned with the same polychrome ceramics as the portal, creating visual harmony and adding to the symmetry of the whole building. 


The inner courtyard 


Past the majestic portal, we discover a square courtyard, typical of the madrasas of this period. Surrounding this courtyard are student cells (hujras), indicating the building's primary role as a center of education. The courtyard also offers a space for contemplation and socializing, a peaceful place away from the hustle and bustle outside. 


Decorative Details 


A notable element of the Shir-Dor Madrasa is its attention to decorative detail. In addition to the ceramic mosaics on the facade and the minarets, ornamental elements are found inside, such as majolica panels and carved wooden ceilings. These elements add to the overall aesthetic of the building and testify to the skill and craftsmanship of the craftsmen of the time. 


In conclusion, the Shir-Dor Madrasa is an outstanding example of Islamic architecture of the Shaybanid era, combining functionality, aesthetics and symbolism. Its detailed design, use of color and symmetry make it a must-see landmark in Samarkand.

Architectural features

Facade and External Decorations 


The impressive facade of the Shir-Dor Madrasa is one of the most striking architectural elements of this historical monument. Its imposing main portal (iwan) is decorated with brightly colored majolica and ceramic mosaics illustrating floral and geometric motifs, as well as animal figures. The illustration of the latter, specifically two tigers chasing a deer under a radiant sun, is singular in Islamic art and gives its name to the madrasa, "Shir-Dor" meaning "having tigers". 


The Minarets 


Overlooking the portal, two slender minarets rise, punctuating the Samarkand sky. They are decorated with the same colored patterns as the portal, thus forming a harmonious and balanced whole. These towers served not only as landmarks for the place, but also as symbols of the eminence of the madrasa. 


The inner courtyard 


Passing through the gate, one discovers a traditional square courtyard surrounded by student cells (hujras). This classic layout of madrasas highlights the initial role of the building as a place of education and life. The courtyard itself, with its central pool, is a space of tranquility and reflection. 


Details and Ornaments 


The Shir-Dor Madrasa is renowned for its richness in decorative detail. In addition to the sumptuous mosaics of the facade and the minarets, inside there are majolica panels, finely carved wooden ceilings and delicate floral and geometric motifs. These ornamental elements testify to the refined craftsmanship of the time and add to the aesthetic aspect of the monument. 


In sum, the Shir-Dor Madrasa, with its unique architectural details and colorful aesthetic, is an iconic example of Islamic architecture of the Shaybanid era. Its intricate and symmetrical design reflects not only the cultural richness of Samarkand, but also the crucial role of education in the society of the time.

Monument profile
Madrasa Shir-Dor
Monument category: Madrasa
Monument family: Mosque, Minaret or Madrasa
Monument genre: Religious
Cultural heritage: Islamic
Geographic location: Samarkand • Uzbekistan
Construction period: 17th century AD
This monument in Samarkand is inscribed on the UNESCO World Heritage List since 2001 and is part of the serial nomination "Samarkand – Crossroad of Cultures".

• Links to •

• List of videos about Samarkand on this site •

Samarkand, the city of Amir Timur • Uzbekistan

• References •