The name Bala Hauz Mosque translates as “The Mosque of the Bala Lake”, which refers to the octagonal pool (hauz) in its public forecourt that is lined with stone steps. It was built in 1712 for Bibi Khanum, the mother of Ashtarkhanid (or Janid) ruler Abu’l Fayud Khan (1711-47). Although built as a royal chapel, the mosque has become a significant civic monument as a consequence of its eminent site near the famed Registan Square.
The Bala Hauz Masjid was part of an elite neighborhood to the west of the Ark until the early nineteenth century, surrounded by two mosques, the residence of the imperial army commander, an arsenal, a weapon’s workshop, theological colleges (madrasa) and a Sufi hospice (khanqah). A richly decorated entry iwan was added to the mosque’s eastern façade during a general reconstruction of the area in 1914-17 by the last Mangit ruler Sayyid Alim Khan (1910-20). In 1917, famed local master craftsman, Shirin Muradov built a small minaret in front of the mosque.
The mosque consists of an east-facing porch that leads into a square domed chamber flanked by ancillary alcoves to the north, south and west. Clerestory windows along the drum of the high dome light the central chamber, which is also entered from the two sides. Two rooms are placed on either side of the alcove (mihrab) built into this qibla wall. More rooms are built behind six alcoves on two floors along the eastern wall, on either side of the entry vestibule.
The east porch, with a wooden coffered ceiling supported by slender wooden columns and masonry sidewalls, hides the large domed chamber behind it. Its twenty columns are crafted from walnut, poplar and elm wood, and arranged in two rows, creating two bays of roofed-prayer space, protected from the street’s bustle by latticed wooden screens (pinjara). Staircases lead one up to the roof at either end of the portico. The rooms along the eastern wall open out to this porch with windows framed by twelve iwans on two stories; a pattern continued on the sidewalls of the portico with shallow niches.
The Bala Hauz Masjid is noted for the profuse colors and carvings on the wooden columns of its porch and its ceiling. The joinery of its painted ceiling features extraordinary craftsmanship with the use of suspended weights, semi-circular arches and balusters.
The important mosque lies in disrepair today, despite considerable tourist interest. The porch is threatened by water damage while its front minaret tilts precariously despite repair attempts. The pool is not dredged or cleaned, and the public toilet adjacent to the mosque adds to its squalor.