In many sources Khiva is cited as open-air museum, as while walking along old stone- paved streets of this legendary town you feel being brought to ancient history.
Khiva is a very ancient city. However, anyone cannot tell the exact date of its establishment. According to some legends, the city had appeared around the well dug by Shem, Biblical Noah’s eldest son. The spring was called Hewvah (pronounced like Khiva), and it still exists in the inner city. And its whole history, establishment as a city, growth, as well as destruction – all of them are directly connected with Khorezmshah’s State and of course, with Great Silk Road.
Khiva was stated as a main trading center on the Silk Road in the X century, all the caravans stopped here and had a rest before going to China and back.
In the early XVII century it became the capital of Khiva Khanate, as former capital Urgench had begun perishing owing to the change of Amu Darya’s channel. Up to now the city has been invaded by several conquerors, such as alexsander the Great, Qutayba ibn Muslim leading the Arabs, Gengis khan, Amir Temur, the Russian army, any of whom could not invade easily the town thanks to its natural geographical position and well-built fortress.
The city was divided into two parts: Ichan Qal’a ( Inner fortress), Dishan Qal’a ( Outer fortress). The majority of the architectural constructions are in the Ichan Kala which was also included in the WORLD HERITAGE OF UNESCO in 1990.
Like many ancient eastern cities Khiva was also divided into two parts: Dishan Kala – outer city or the suburb of the town, Ichan Kala – inner city where the fortress and other important constructions, the residential buildings are situated.
Ichan kala is well-known as an open-air museum, which includes the territory of 26 hectares with legendary oriental image of medieval ages. Here over 300 families live, majority of whom are engaged in crafts. The city is surrounded by the 2 km-long clay wall with 5-6 meter thickness and 10 meters in height. There are four walls facing four sides of the world: the north gate – Gate Bagci leading to Urgench; the south gate – Tash; the west gate – Ata Darvaza; and the east gate – Gate Palvan directing to Amu Darya.
In the city you can see over 60 ancient monuments of unique architectural importance, such as Kunya Ark Citadel, Tash Hauli Palace Complex, Caltha Minar with fully glazed tiles, Juma Mosque famous for its 213 carved pillars, well-known Islamkhoja Minaret and etc. it must be stated here that the Ichan Kala within all historical constructions is listed in the World Heritage of UNESCO.
As a khan’s fortress the construction of Kunya Ark Citadel began in 1686 by Arang Khan at the western gate of Ichan kala. The Ark includes the residence of the royal family and khan’s dignitaries, three yards, the kurinishkhana (reception), a mosque, a mint, and a harem. In the fortress only the buildings erected in the XIX-XX centuries were preserved, there used to be an armory, powder mill, a kitchen, an official building and a parade area. The cogged walls separated Kunya Ark from the other neighbourhood dwellings in Ichan Kala.
The outer yard served as a waiting room for Khan’s audiences which was followed by second cannons stored yard. In the last yard the officials of Khan gathered. Khans used a felt yurta (nomad tent) on a daily basis. From the Akshikh- bobo aiwan led by a narrow corridor the whole beauty of the city can be observed and Khiva Khans loved to watch the city at night.
The aiwan of the kurinishkhana was richly decorated with majolica which was destroyed during the Iranian invasion in XVIII century along with many other constructions of the ark. In the beginning of XIX century Eltuzarkhan restored it anew. The mint building and the mosque with an aiwan were erected as well. Usta Abdulla Jin and Ibodulla adorned the majolica façade of the mosque, the ceiling of the aiwan reflects golden patterns on the bluish background.
In the north of the citadel with the order of Muhammad Rahimkhan II a harem with magnificent aiwans was built in the second half of XIX century. The pillars of the aiwans appeal one by its unique carved ornaments.
The bath-house constructed in 1657 and devoted to Anush-khan has been preserved up to now. To the semi-underground hammam one can enter from lobby through the checkroom. The main bathing hall is connected with other arched passages leading the rest houses. Under the floor there are air canals through warm and hot strain flows.
The summer palace and Chadra hovli were added in XVIII century which are outstanding for their original architecture and modest, but beautiful ornaments.
The madrasah of Muhammad Amin-khan
Locating opposite Kunya Ark Citadel, next to Ata Darvaza Gate, Muhammad Aminkhan Madrasah completes a unique ensemble. The madrasah was built by Muhammad Rahimkhan II, during 1851-1854, and named after him. It was the largest educational institution in Khiva with 125 hujras – cells accommodating 260 students; it is 72x60m two-storey construction, with five domes and towers at each side.
The entrance facade is adorned with glazed brick, majolica representing herbal patterns, while doors exemplifies samples of Khiva wood-carving school. In the portal the following words are inscribed in Arabic: ‘’This wonderful building will stay here forever for descendants’ joy’’.
Years ago the Muhammad Rahimkhan Madrasah used to be one of the richest institution controlling a number of lands called vakf. The Supreme Muslim Courtyard Chancery was also situated here. Today the building has not lost its special peculiarities and hosts numerous visitors every day.
Kalta-minor: “short minaret”
As a symbol of the city, the Kalta Minor contributes greatly to the uniqueness of ancient Khiva. The construction works of ‘’ short minaret’’ was begun according to the order of Muhammad Aminkhan in 1852 and was not finished as khan died during military movement to Northern Iran in 1855.
The extraordinary shape and size of the minaret make the visitors excited. The incompleteness of the construction resulted in a unique design. The foundation of the Short minaret is 15 meters with 14.5 meter diameter, the height is 29 m. As going upper the diameter gets a bit narrower. Originally, it was planned to be 70 meters high (in some sources 110 m), but the unfinished tower stands with a thirds of presumed height.
However, the ornamentation of the Kalta Minor can give a huge impression to every visitor: the glazed tiles cover the whole minaret glowing bluish beams, and surprisingly, they are still glossy as before!
Ak Mosque (Ak-Maszhid)
Khiva as an ancient city is rich in lots and lots of historical monuments each of which is of architectural significance. One of such venerable buildings in Khiva is Ak Mosque.
The mosque was erected for two centuries: during the reign of sheibanid khan Anushakhan the foundation of this religious construction was put. However, the carved inscriptions on the wooden door prove the fact that it had not been completed before 1838-1842 under the reign of Kungirot dynasty. It is located near the eastern gate – Palvan Darvaza. served for daily five times prayers.
The mosque does not present rich ornamental decorations – it consists of a hall under dome which has aiwans at three sides. The columns are not either exceedingly adorned – just upper part of them are decorated moderately. The size of the room is 6.35×6.35m, on the wall of which dim inscriptions can be observed that means once there were written oiyats from holy Koran.
Arab Muhammad-khan Madrasah
The madrasah named after Arab Muhammadkhan is considered the oldest educational establishment built in Khiva. The construction began in 1616 and it is historically related with moving the capital from Ancient Urgench to Khiva by the order of sheibanid khan Arab Muhammadkhan.
The madrasah is located in the very heart of Ichan Kala, near to Muhammad Aminkhan Madrasah. Initially on the site of Arab Muhammadkhan Madrasah there used to be a smaller madrasah belonged to a well-known woman living in Khiva, the ruler Arab Muhammadkhan bought the madrasah with the lands around it and built the present one.
At first it was a one-storey building rectangular shaped erected from baked brick. Traditionally, in the entrance portal inscriptions from Holy Koran were written, at the corners of the building oriental minarets were placed. For students there were hujras to live in and a mosque to pray, and the study rooms next to the mosque.
Arab Muhammadkhan Madrasah was renovated several times, for example, in 1838 it was re-built by Allakulikhan according to contemporary architectural style of that time, adding the second floor and exceeding the number of hujras and classrooms for students. The construction has still preserving its original perfection.
One more architectural monument of Ichan Kala is famous Juma Mosque which was constructed at the end of XVIII century. The mosque stands solitarily without yards, aiwans, portals, galleries. The entire building is 55x46m which has four doors in each side; in the north façade the mosque faces a 52 meter-high minaret.
The interior of the mosque is a single hall with 215 pillars of wood supporting the flat ceiling. Around the world this type of one-hall mosques were found built early medieval ages: ancient Afrasiab (X cent.), Iranian Mosque in Plain (X cent), Morocco Mosque of Khasan in Rabat (XII) and etc.
The main deco was done on the pillars where you can observe Arabic inscriptions from Koran, some of which mean ‘’This possession belongs to Allah’’. On the surface of them the dates are carved showing the stages of constructing: 1316, 1510, 1788, 1789.
The hall is completely adorned by skilled masters of Khorezm Carving School, making the visitors amazed with its magnificence.
Mausoleum of Makhmud Pakhlavan
The name of this historic figure gives a feeling of admiration towards his courage. He is well-known, especially, in national legends about his heroism, according to which Pahlavan Mahmud with his bravery and intelligence from the dungeon of Indian king rescued numerous slaves from Khorezm and this evidence immortalized his name.
The mausoleum was erected in honour of great poet and warrior lived in XIII and XIV centuries – Mahmud Pahlavon. At first on the site was built as a modest grave, and later in 1701 the mausoleum was constructed and a well was dug by Shohniyaz khan, the fact can be proven by the inscriptions on the door carved by Nodir Muhammad Usta. The dome of the mausoleum is covered with blue glazed tiles, which is the one in ancient Khiva.
The next reconstruction was conducted in 1810 during the reign of Muhammad Rahimkhan. The mausoleum included three pain parts: the passage, the khanaka and the grave. Later in this place Muhammad Rahimkhan was buried and in XIX century it turned into a special place where the tombs of royal family were put.
Today it is a holy pilgrimage, local people frequently visit here, pray and sample the hallowed water.
Shergazi khan Madrasah is an outstanding ancient monument situated in Ichan Kala, not only thanks to its architectural peculiarities, but also for the history of its construction completed with a trgedy.
It is the one which was built on the labour of slaves prisoned by Shergazikhan after the defeat of Russian Army. Among them there were fate befell soldiers of Khorasan, Merv and Mashhad. During the reign of this Khan slaves were forced to toil in the construction. The works began in 1719, and went on till 1726. Although the slaves were promised to release back after finishing the madrasah construction, in fact, the ruler detained them even the works got to end.
In 1728 the ruler of Khiva Khanate shergazikhan was killed by slaves in madrasah and buried in Pahlavan Mahmud Mausoleum.
Stating about the architecture of the madrasah, it is a rectangular shaped single-storey building with a lecture hall, a large courtyard surrounded by 55 hujras. On the front side there were two floors. The madrasah had been built in poor quality as the slaves did not work with their own desire, as a result, it was repaired several times. The largest restoration was conducted in the XX century.
However, it was once called as ‘’Maskani Phasilan’’ which means ‘abode of knowledge’. Here studied famous Uzbek, Karakalpak and Turkmen poets, historians and philosophers, namely, Pahlavankuli Ravnak, Azhiniyaz Kasybayuli, Makhtumkuli and others.
Although the madrasah is not alive the walls may tell you about what they have witnessed over the centuries…
Islam Khoja complex
The complex, named after Prime Minister of Khiva Khanate – Islam Khoja, consists of the minaret which is considered the symbol of Khiva, and the madrasah behind it. The entire construction was erected in the beginning of XX century and became the symbol of the town.
The height of the minaret is 56.6 meters with 9.5m diameter on the foundation. In the deco of the minaret blue and white glazed ceramic belts alternate with brickwork and narrows upwards which recall the style of XIV century. On the top of the minaret an arched lantern and golden crown are set.
Islam Khoja madrasah has 42 hujras for students and a domed hall. The front side of the madrasah is two-storey making the entrance more grandiose. Above the entry door there is a piece of marble representing the history of the construction. The façade is adorned with glazed tiles.
Vazir Akbar Islam Khoja donated 5780 ha land for madrasah.
Today it hosts numerous national exhibitions of craftsmenships.
The Tash-khovli Palace situated in the east of the Ichan Kala was built by Allakulikhan during 1830-1838. The complex includes three yards and 111 rooms; the Arz-hovli – receiving yard and Ishrat-hovli – entertaining yard are in the southern part while in the north there is harem of the Khan. The yards and buildings are connected with one another by corridor labyrinths. The brothers and relatives of Khan used to live in the palace. High quality bricks were used in the entire construction.
The aiwans of the complex are of great significance, they are not just examples of architectural adornment, but they are so breathtaking that one can face northern winds here. The carved marble bases, wooden pillars illustrate epigraphic stories about Khiva Khans. The aiwans have preserved unique charm up to now. The installed pendant ceilings give the observer memorable impressions on the ancient Tash- havli of Khiva.
The interior walls of the construction are adorned more modestly: trees in blossom depicted in dim black, and blue colour used splendidly by the skilful masters of Khiva. One more noticeable feature of the complex is its well-designed architecture: best-skilled builders were able to use creatively light and shade, simultaneously, the open and closed structures as well.