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Tombs of Paradise

Tombs of Paradise


The necropolis of Shah-e Zende at Samarkand represents a summit in the art of ceramic wall coverings in the Islamic world. Few studies have focused on the funerary ensemble of the Shah-e Zende and this is the first  to describe these monuments in all the details of their decoration and its techniques and motifs, as well as the different types of ceramics used and their composition. Perched on a steep cliff overlooking the ancient city of Samarkand, today the ghost town of Afrasiyab, the necropolis remains largely unknown to art historians and certainly to the general public.


In the vast territory of Islam, the Shah-e Zende complex reveals the finest hour of facade-tile ceramics. Nowhere else was such a wide array of techniques of fabrication developed in the space of one century. In the heart of one of these mausolea is a jewel of Islamix ceramics: the cenotaph of the venerated Qutham Ibn Abbas. In this magnificient shrine master ceramists, joined by the elite of illuminators, display an artistry rarely equalled in medium.


As Shah-e Zende offers a microcosm of the technical evolution of ceramic arts in Central Asia between the twelfth and fifteenth centuries, this work examines the individual monuments whose decoration represents steps along that ancient road. It is a study of cultural heritage, and at the same time a reference work for admirers of Islamic architecture and ceramics.


Jean Soustiel (1938–1999) began specializing in in Islamic art in 1963 and authored many auction catalogues and appeared at several conferences, notably at the Ceramics Museum of Sèvres. He was also the author of an important reference work, Islamic Ceramic (Friburg, 1985), written in collaboration with Charles Kiefer. 


Yves Porter (born in 1957) has studied many Oriental languages (Persian, Pashto, Turkish, Arabic, Urdu and Hindi) and has lived periodically in Iran and India. He holds a doctorate in Iranian studies and has published several works, as well as books for the general public.

  • Jean Soustiel and Yves Porter

    Tombs of Paradise: The Shah-e Zende in Samarkand and Architectural Ceramics of Central Asia


    July 2012

    Photography by Antoine Lesieur

    250 pages, 280 x 215 mm

    hardback, 204 colour and b/w illustrations
    ISBN: 978 2 903824 43 3

  • In the press

    "The detailed photographs collected here should bring these distant masterpieces before a new public. Meanwhile, the text offers an array of information on production methods and decorative motifs as well as archeological descriptions of the monuments." —Apollo

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