Phoenix Cities of Central Asia

Architecture of Khiva, I
By Eileen K. Gunn
  |  Gorp.com

The Ichan Kala, the innermost part of the old city of Khiva, is surrounded by a 10-meter-high wall. Khiva once had an outer wall — parts of it still remain — and its Stone Gate is still standing in the modern part of town, about 500 meters north of the Ichan Kala's North Gate. The inner city wall, made of clay, with gatehouses of sunbaked brick, is intact, and some parts are thought to date from fifth century. Inside, the Ichan Kala is densely packed into a space of less than a square kilometer. The wall opens at four gates: North, South, East, and West.

Khiva's architectural delights lie within the city wall in a relatively compact area. Most visitors enter the old town through the West Gate. Once inside, they find immediately on their left the Kunya Ark, the Old Citadel, which also includes elements dating from the fifth century. On their right is the the Mohammed Amin madrassah, now a hotel. The massive Kaltar Minar minaret is a bit ahead. In the center of old Khiva, about 200 meters (200 yards) away, is the Mohammed Rakhim madrassah. Past it, near the East Gate, is the 19th-century Tash Kauli palace and the Allakuli madrassah. A five-minute stroll south of the center of town are the ancient Seid Allaudin and the lovely Pakhlavan Makhmud mausoleums, the Shir Gazi madrassah, and the Islam Kodja madrassah and minaret.

The glazed tiling of the Khorezm region (of which Khiva is now the capital) has its own characteristic style, in a muted palette of deep blue, light blue, and white, sometimes with touches of brown, though what has survived fails to reach the intensity and quality of that of Samarkand. Only one of the traditional geometrical patterns common in Bukhara and Samarkand, the five-pointed stars in pentagons, are used in Khiva. Khivan decoration more often uses exceptionally lovely floral or twining vine and leaf patterns. In Khorezm, woodworking has long been an art, and remarkable carved wooden columns and doors can be seen almost everywhere.

The Kunya Ark (5th19th century: Though parts of the foundation of the Kunya Ark, the Old Citadel, have been dated to the fifth century, the clay fortress that dominates the structure was built in the 12th century by Ak Sheikh Bobo (the White Sheikh), Mukhtar Vali. Set against the city walls, this is the oldest building in Khiva. The roof is accessible from the city walls. Much of the citadel and many of its buildings, however, were erected a bit at a time in the 18th and 19th centuries. The summer mosque is especially notable for its wall of blue tilework with plant and flower designs. The mint and the harem are also restored and open to visitors.

Tomb of Sayid Allauddin (1306): One of the oldest buildings in Khiva, this is a Mongol-era tomb built by Kuyal Emir for the Nakhshbandi Sufi master Sayid Allah ad-Din. It incorporates several well-proportioned peaked domes. The building was restored in the early 19th century, and the blue, green, and turquoise majolica tile that decorates the cenotaph is an addition from that time.

Shirgazi Khan madrassah (17181720): This former school, now a museum of medicine, was built by Persian slaves, which the khan's army had captured and brought from Meshed, and Russians who had arrived on an ill-fated expedition from Peter the Great. In 1720, the slaves killed the khan on one of his visits to supervise construction, reportedly because they felt the khan was going to renege on an offer to free them when the project was completed. Over the entrance is a inscription that reads,"I accept death at the hands of slaves."

Pakhlavan Makhmud mausoleum (18th/19th/20th centuries): Certainly one of the loveliest buildings in Khiva, with an eight-sided turquoise-tiled dome over a rectangular chamber, this is the the mausoleum of the 14th-century poet and wrestler Pakhlavan Makhmud. Inside, blue and white majolica tiles cover the walls and ceilings. The poet's grave is in a small chamber to the left of the main room. The ornamental tiling of his cenotaph incorporates an especially stunning design in warm tones of brown, ochre, green, and black. The present building dates from the 19th century. Winter and summer mosques and a chai-khana on the site were completely rebuilt, along with the mausoleum, between 1810 and 1835. The complex is in the center of a royal burial ground that includes the graves of a number of rulers from the 17th to 20th centuries.

Jummi mosque and minaret (17881799): This is Khiva's Friday (Jummi) mosque, and a cool, dim, quiet atmosphere prevails on even the hottest, brightest desert days. Though the present mosque is only 200 years old, there has been a mosque on this spot for a thousand years. Four of the 213 wooden columns supporting the roof are said to date from the 10th century, brought here from Kath, a former capital of Khorezm. An additional 17 pillars are said to be from the 11th century. Their ornate carved wooden capitals are among Central Asia's finest woodwork.


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