Khiva is an excellent museum in the open air which antiquity and beauty can be compared only with antiquity and the beauty of the Ancient Greece. Khiva is more than 2500 years old with population about 40 000 people. It’s located on the territory of Kyzyl-Kum desert, 450 km from Bukhara. A living museum, Khiva is the richest in monuments of the once powerful Khanate of Khorezm. Khiva consists of a huge network of buildings in brick and tile work. It is the best preserved among the Central Asian cities.
Ishan-Kala is the inner town of Khiva, protected by brick walls about 10 metres high, with impressive buildings like Kalta Minor, Madrassah Amin Khan, Kunya Ark, Devon Begi, Juma Mosque, Abdullah Khan Madrassah and minaret. Ishan-Kala displays simplicity and monumentality of medieval architectural forms, the delicateness of woodcarvings, and skilled interweaving of ornamentation. The silhouettes of its tower and minarets surrounded by rather huge clay walls give a clear idea of a typical Central Asia feudal city.
Mohammed Amin Khan Madrasah
Just at the entrance of the main gate Ota Darvoza the double facade of celled shops to the right belong to the Mohammed Amin Khan Madrassah (1852-1855). At present it is the only medrasah in Uzbekistan which is used as a hotel for tourists. It old hujras (classrooms) are the hotel rooms for romantic tourists.
The madrassah’s patron, Mohammed Amin Khan (r. 1843-1855), was one of Khiva’s most illustrious khans.
The death of Medamin stopped completion of nearby Kalta Minor or Blue Minaret. The minaret supposed to be the highest in Central Asia about 72 meters, but it was finished when it reached only 26 meters. Different stories say that he agreed to build another minaret for Bukhara Emir and that he was thrown off the minaret for his treachery. The Kalta Minor is the most decorated construction with glazed tile of jade green that it seems to have sucked all the decoration out of the exhausted city into one glorious reservoir of color. Sixty four corkscrew steps lead up the truncated tower to reveal the structure in cross section and a fine view of the city.
The Kunya Ark
According to historical evidence, in 1686, Arang-khan began the construction of the citadel Kunya-ark at the western gates of Ichan-kala. The ark presented a complex multi-yard composition, containing a house for khan, the members of his family, and dignitaries. From the large numbers of constructions of the ark only several buildings of the nineteenth century and the beginning of the twentieth century were preserved. The khans of Khiva had several residences during the century before Soviet rule, including the Tash Hauli of Allakuli Khan and Nurullabai Palace of Isfandiar, but the Kunya Ark, or Old Fortress, remains the original and has for centuries provided fortified refuge during times of uncertainty.
Summer mosque (1838), where cool blues and whites flash in a concentrated burst of color and floral arabesques spiral up side walls like creeping ivy. The tiles were made by local masters Ibadullah and Abdullah Jin, who also decorated large parts of the Tash Hauli and Pakhlavan Mahmoud Mausoleum. In the corner of this small courtyard lies the old mint which funded the expansionary exploits of Rakhim Khan I from 1806-1825. Today the mint holds a collection of coins, medals and silk banknotes, dense with dawning socialist suns, from the early Khorezm Republic and a mock-up of a blacksmith’s workshop where Khivan coins were minted.
Kurinish Khana or Throne Room (1804-06), where the khan would grant public audience, either in the open summer iwan or in a warm winter yurt set upon its circular brick platform. The small court has beautiful ceiling decoration and geometric tile work with fine ganch and a decorated mihrab in the room behind, It was here that the wooden throne of the khan, built in 1816 and gilded in silver, traditionally stood until it was carted off to the Armour Chamber of St Petersburg’s Hermitage Museum by the victorious Russians. The Uzbeks are now in negotiations to retrieve their stolen heritage and figures of up to two million dollars are bandied about as rumoured Russian reimbursement. This core citadel, set against the city walls, is the oldest building in Khiva and foundations from the site are contemporary with the ancient Khorezmian fortresses, such as Toprak Kala, scattered in the surrounding deserts.
Pakhavan Mahmoud necropolis
The necropolis of Pahlavan-Mahmud is the religious center of Ichan-Qala. It formed around the tomb of Khiva’s patron Pahlavan-Mahmud (1247-1326). He was a poet, philosopher and wrestler. The early mausoleum of Pahlavan-Mahmud was built in 1810 by Muhammad-Rahim-khan I (1806-1825). The new mausoleum had included the old tomb and khanaka with a high double dome, whose silhouette became a symbol of Khiva.
The complex is entered through the early southern portal, dated to 1701 by an inscription on the carved gate, and leads to a pretty courtyard with hujra cells to the left, the main khanagha and mausoleums straight ahead and an open summer mosque and well to the right. This is the place where all new married couples come to pray and drink the water of the holy well.
The main hall covers the sarcophagi of Abdul Gazi Khan (left, r.1643-1663), Anusha Khan (right, r. 1663-1674/81) and Mohammed Rakhim Khan I (centre, r. 1806-1825), but the true focus of adoration lies adorned with local folk motifs in a left-hand chamber, behind an ornate screen inlaid with ivory. A further mausoleum dating from 1913 was originally designed to commemorate Isfandiyar Khan, but he was assassinated outside the city walls and could not be buried here and so today it contains only the tomb of Isfandiyar’s mother and son.
Islam Khodja Madrassah and Minaret (1908-1910)
The madrasah is named after the Grand Vizier, Islam Khodja, who rapidly earned the love of the people by building a public school and hospital and initiating a series of educational reforms. But his ideas and projects were not welcomed by clergy and Khan. In 1913 he was assassinated on the orders of his arch enemy Nazar Beg, with the tacit permission of the khan, but not before he had time to commission this madrassah (1908) and minaret (1910). The project was destined to be the last monumental architectural achievement of the Central Asian khanates, not least because its architect was buried alive by Isfandiyar in the wake of the assassination cover-up.
The height of the minaret is 57 meters (including foundation). The top platform, at a height of 45m, is the highest observation point in Khiva. Horizontal belts of dark blue, white, blue and green glazed mosaic decorate the minaret. Its skylight has a stalactite cornice and ceramic lattices – pandjara.
The small courtyard of the madrassah has forty two hudjiras. The decor of the main facade formed a good background for the minaret: blue and white majolica, tympans and glazed ornament.
The mosque occupies the southeastern sector of the madrassah. Its low heavy dome balances a on a column of the minaret. Majolica and carved ganch decorate the mihrab niche of the mosque.
Opposite the madrassah is the first Russian school built in Khiva (1912), now a Museum of Education where skullcaps and soviet medals, portraits of al-Khorezmi and other famous scientists.
Jome Mosque (1788)
Friday mosque or Jome mosque is the only mosque of its type and structure. At the entrance you see a big gallery roofed by wood, number of wooden pillars dating back to different periods. In the center of the building the roof is open and dim light comes through it.
Around the trees a vertical formation of 213 pillars, each 3.15 meters apart, exhibits a millennium long spread of Khivan history. The four oldest pillars were rescued from the dying Khorezmian capital of Kath in the tenth century and were joined 100 years later by a further 17 pillars that still stand. The most recent mosque was completed at the end of the 18th century. For once, the focus of a mosque, the mihrab, seems strangely incidental. The minaret climbs 81 steps and 33 meters to provide an unfettered panorama of deeply-etched streets.
Kutluq Murad Inaq Madrassah (1804-1812)
It was once home to a thriving local market, but today it gives hushed access to a tantalizing exhibition of the early black-and-white photographs of Divanov, one of the only Khivans to document the city’s meteoric transition from medieval citadel to Soviet Republic. Divanov was later executed in Stalin’s purges, accused of advocating Khorezmian independence. The madrassah is noted for the traditional but rare terracotta plaques decorating its corner towers and the covered, subterranean sardoba accessed by damp steps from the internal courtyard, Kutluq himself, the uncle of Allah Kuli Khan, is said to be buried under the floor of the main porch, at present under the watchful eye of a cartoon cutout of strongman Pakhlavan Mahmoud. He was stabbed in the back while in a conciliatory embrace with a rival Turkoman leader, and it is said that, after the subsequent massacre of the Yomut forces by the incensed Khivan population, six days hard labour were needed to dispose of all the dead bodies.
Allah Kuli Khan Madrassah (1834)
It introduces a series of buildings that all bear the royal stamp of one of Khiva’s greatest khans. The building is locked, but its artistic energy is publicly aired in the piercing blue tile work of the city’s highest portal. At the time of construction, space was limited in this busy part of town but the city walls, it seems, were more flexible than the plans of the Khan. Not only were parts of the walls demolished to accommodate the 99 cells of the royal madrassah, but the existing 17th century Khojamberdiby Madrassah (1688) was coldly sliced in two to provide student access, thereby endowing it with the popular nickname of the Saddlebag or Khurjum Madrassah. The madrassah now holds a tourist coffee bar.
The cool, bubbled cupolas of the Allah Kuli Khan Tim (1835-1838), also known as the Serai Bazaar or Palace Market, link the inner town to the main bazaar and also to the huge Allah Kuli Khan Caravanserai (1832). Now the wonderfully exotic location of the distinctly proletarian Univermag department store. In the 1830s huge trade caravans carrying Karakul pelts. Turkestan melons frozen in lead cases of ice, fine silks and cotton would regularly set off across the deserts to Orenburg and Astrakhan and return with samovars, furs, sugar and guns as Khivan-Russian trade reached fever pitch. One hundred and sixty years later. Russian goods have dried up and the state shop lies as bare as the surrounding Kara Kum. Just outside, the free-market bazaar.
Tash Hauli Palace
It was built by Allah Kuli Khan (1826-1842). The first section of the palace to be built was the Harem (1830-1832), home to the Khan (first room on left) and his four legal wives in the five comfortable southern iwans and to female relatives. The royal rectangle is decorated with a sober riot of the finest china blue tile work and is complemented by beautifully carved, slim, wooden pillars on carved marble bases. Fine painted ceilings, whose details were painted before assembly and then suspended upon hooks from the ceiling, provide a festive tone but the ice-blue right-angles of the courtyard still hint at the oppressive boredom of harem life, residents being forbidden to leave the high palace walls and with only an elderly, decrepit despot as company. A secret corridor, or dolon, to which only the khan was permitted access, joins the private world of the harem to the public offices of the court. The eastern court-yard, the Ishrat Hauli (1832-1834), served as a reception court where, in winter, visiting Turkoman, Uzbek or Kazakh clan leaders or even the khan himself would pitch a yurt on the raised circular platform in preparation for a welcome feast or royal audience.
Nurullah Bai Palace (1906-1912)
The palace of Nurullah-bai is in the northwestern part of Dishan-Qala. It was built by Muhammad-Rahim-khan II for his son and heir Asfendiyar-khan from 1906-1912.
After the Bukhara palace of Sitorai-Mohi-Hosa, the palace represents an eclectic mix of Khivan and European architecture.
The palace includes the reception hall of Asfendiyar-Khan, courtyard, living quarters and madrassah. German colonists participated in the decoration of the ceilings, windows and parquet. Decorative ceramic tiles were manufactured in Saint Petersburg.
The original interior of the Khan’s reception room is decorated with carved ganch, gilding and multi-colored paintings.