Everywhere you turn in Khiva....
....main streets, back streets, you'll find something interesting to catch your eye.
Your guide will probably trot you past some of these places without a word, others may be identified in passing - some you'll remember, some you'll forget, there are so many of them - Khiva is crammed with historic buildings, you'd need days rather than the few hours allotted on the average tour to spend time at each one. If you're not mosqued/mausoleumed/minareted-out at the end of the day, take a walk before dinner as the sun's rays turn the dun-coloured city the most gorgeous pinky-gold or get up early and take that walk in the cooler post-dawn light. You'll get some wonderful photos, all of the buildings have a handy sign somewhere and photographing such signs is a great aide-memoir for when you get home.
These photos are just some of the places and things that caught my eye as I took a walk around a small part of the south-west quadrant of the Ichin Kala between the Paklavan Mahmoud mausoleum and the Amin Khan Hotel :
1: The Sayid Allauddin mausoleum - the building is 17th century, the tomb it encloses is that of a Sufi sheikh who died in 1303.
2: Prayer rags
3: Doorway to the Abdurasolbay medressah, south of the Sayid Alauddin mausoleum
4: Graves behind the P. Mahmoud ensemble - being buried in the proximity of a holy man is a mark of piety and honour.
5. The Sheikh Mukhtar Ata mosque - the local or "quarter" mosque for this section of the city, built in 1810.
The Stone Palace 1
The lavishly decorated courts and iwans of the Tash Hauli (the Stone Palace) are connected by and to a maze of over 160 rooms -all built in a mere 8 years -although Allah Kuli Khan, the khan who commissioned it, wanted the job done in 2 and promptly impaled the original architect who had the temerity to suggest that the time-frame was too short. The attrition rate amongst Khivan architects should have been enough to convince any young man this was not a profession to take up lightly!
A new architect was found, but even his efforts - and those of a thousand Persian slaves - couldn't do the job quickly enough for the impatient Khan and he had to wait until 1839 for his palace to be finished.
The public face of the palace revolved around two courtyards
- one for ceremonial use - the Ishrat Hauli (Reception Court ) where another splendid iwan served for summer and a yurt was pitched in winter. The Throne Room and guest quarters were placed around this court - nowadays musicians perform here for tourists.
- and the other, the Arz Hauli, for local matters - where local people could present their petitions and where the Khan dispensed what passed for justice in this completely autocratic society.
As in most of the buildings of Khiva that are open to the public, there is a small museum (exhibits include two spectacular wooden wheels [photo 5] from an arabah
the traditional Uzbek cart, and - rather incongruously - a European-style carriage, a gift from the Tsar in St Petersburg) but it is the magnificent tilework, wonderfully carved pillars and the beautifully decorated ceilings that are the main attraction here.
The Stone Palace 2
Getting his priorities right, the Khan saw to it that the Harem was the first part of the Tash Hauli to be completed. Here a row of 5 stunningly beautiful iwans (one for the Khan and one for each of his wives) faces a somewhat more spartan complex of rooms (for the concubines and serving women) across the courtyard . The closed world of Harem is connected to the rest of the palace by a passage that only the Khan could use (photo 5). Each iwan is exquisitely and individually decorated with panels of tiles simulating hanging carpets, carved and painted ceilings and a single carved wooden pillar set into a marble pedestal (photo 4)
With no windows to the outside world, the harem opens onto a long courtyard (photo 1), with the khan and his wives occupying the north side - the best orientation to provide shelter from the scorching sun - ideal for summer, but it does make the rooms behind the iwans dark and shadowy spaces (photo 2) as the only natural light, if there is any, comes from screened windows set high in the wall of the iwan outside. The concubines' balcony must have been a much more pleasant place to catch a little winter sun (photo 3)
As well as the wives and concubines ( 4 of the first and anything up to 40 of the second) the Khan's sons lived in the harem until they were about 10 or 11, along with the women servants and the eunuchs who were the only adult males apart from the Khan who ever entered the harem.
With a little help from our friends
The will to help Uzbekistan regain its lost heritage of wonderful ctafts is as strong in Khiva as it is throughtout the country but years of Sovie domination has taken a heavy toll both intellectually and financially. Sponsorship from abroad has played an inportant part in helping to revive both the lost craft skills and the business know-how to make the most of the revival.
The Suzani Centre was set up in 2004 with the help of the British Council and Operation Mercy (an offshoot of UNESCO) to bring back the lost art of embroidery. Situated just around the corner from the Carpet workshop (see the embroidered map inm photo 3), the work is executed with the same evotion to authentic old practice - the hand-dyed and spun silks and traditional motifs are made up into cushions, bags and other small items - more affordable than the carpets for those who wish to support the project but whose budgets are tighter. Look for the little pomegranate symbol of the project worked into each piece (photo 4).
Even if you are not interested in buying anything - do come here. The colour and liveliness of the whole scene is wonderful.
Fair pay for their work
A visit to Khiva's Unesco-sponsored silk workshop in the Kazi Kalyan medressa is both fascinating and inspiring. Here young women (not children) are taught the old skills of carpet making by hand. Using natural dyes and unique patterns derived from the motifs found in the tiles and decoration of the Khivan palaces, these carpets are unique works of art and as such are truly collector's pieces. They are priced accordingly -a carpet here will cost you a good deal more than something similar bought in the bazaars but you can be sure the girls are paid a proper wage for their work and the profit goes into similar projects.
There is so much to look at here - the copper pots of dye bubbling on open fires in one corner of the courtyard (lunch cooking away in a smaller pot on the same fire), hanks of brilliantly coloured silk hanging on the walls to dry, young women working at the looms in the courtyard and in the cells around it, a stack of carpets for sale.
Around the corner in another small medressa, a similar group is working on embroidery in the same way - hand-dyed and spun silks and traditional motifs are made up into cushions, bags and other small items - more affordable than the carpets for those who wish to support the project but whose budgets are tighter. Look for the little pomegranate symbol of the project worked into each piece.
Even if you are not interested in buying anything - do come here. The colour and liveliness of the whole scene is wonderful.
- Arts and Culture
A memorial for a mathematician
New heroes are needed for a newly independent nation, and elsewhere in Uzbekistan the conqueror, Temur, and his scholarly grandson , Ulugh Beg, are much lauded. Here in Khiva though, the local boy made good is al-Khorezmi - the 9th century mathematician whose Latinized name became "algorithm" and whose work "Al-Jebr" has caused young scholars hours of grief ever since.
His statue stands at the side of the Amin Jhan Medressah Hotel. I guess whether you will want to have your photo taken with the great man will depend on your memories of school days and whether you enjoyed your maths lessons or regarded them as torture.
The unfinished minaret
The Islam Khodja may well be the tallest minaret in Khiva, but had the Kalta Minor (the Short Minaret, also known as both the Guyok Minor - the Green Minaret and the Kok Minor - the Blue Minaret) been completed it would have dwarfed it, and any other minaret, in all Central Asia. Originally intended to be 70 metres tall - "high enough to see Bukhara from the top", it was part of the Muhammed Amin Khan medressah ensemble, Built in 1855 to be the both the biggest and most luxurious medressah the city had ever known, with the highest minaret in all Central Asia, the minaret is the only one in Khiva to be entirely clad in glazed tiles and ceramic bricks. The death of the khan who commissioned it saw work on the Kalta Minor cease, leaving it some 45 metres shorter than it was meant to be. Now standing at just 26 metres it is nonetheless a most most remarkable structure, not only for its strange bulk but , more especially, for the magnificent tiling that covers it completely in bands of brilliant turquoise , white and gold with an inscription from a Persian poet encircling it towards the top . Its name aptly means 'Short Minaret' although it originally was known as the 'Kok Minor' or 'Blue Minaret'.
. Imagine what it would have been like had it been completed!
A mausoleum for a muscular saint
Wrestler, poet, strongman, doctor, saint are all rolled in to one man, Pakhlavan Mahmoud, who lived and died in Khiva some 400 years ago and whose mausoleum is the major place of pilgrimage in Khiva. The saint's is not the only tomb inside the chamber with its dazzlingly beautiful tiles and high dome, but it is to his tomb that the people of Khiva come with their prayers and supplications. A portal with elaborate wooden doors inlaid with ivory, coral and copper leads to an inner door withan opening in it through which the tomb can be seen. Kneeling pilgrims touch the door as they pray and then pass cupped hands over their faces in the act of a Muslim blessing which they then pass back to the door.
Such was Pakhlavan Mahmoud's prowess as a wrestler that, to this day, it is said that in Iran professional wrestlers hold him as their protector. Locally, he is the patron saint of barren women and all the wedding parties come here to ask for the blessing of children and, to make doubly sure, to drink from the well in the courtyard, the water of which is said to ensure any woman drinking from it will be blessed with many children. Men are guaranteed a blessing too - to drink once from the well promises 100 years of life.
The grand mausoleum seen here now was built over the saint's much smaller shrine in the early 19th century. Built so the family of the khan could lie in proximity with the holy man - a custom held in much esteem in this part of the world - it was the last such family mausoleum to be built in the region.
The beautiful turquoise dome is the only one in Khiva to be encased in tiles - everywhere else in the city, the domes are left unadorned.
Khivan believers hold mausoleums more sacred even than mosques - this is the only place you will go as a tourist in Khiva where you are required to remove your shoes before entering the chamber and, especially ensuring to when taking photographs, to be respectful of people's private sensibilities.
Medressa 3: A plethora of medressahs
Craft workshops of many kinds occupy some of Khiva's restored medressahs. Some are used by established craftspeople (photo 4) whilst others operate as schools to teach the crafts that were supressed during the years of Soviet rule. Where once students bent over their religious texts, now both young men and women are taught the crafts their great-grandparents learnt from their parents and grandparents, but instead of learning through family tradition, the task of teaching the old crafts is sponsored by bodies such as UNESCO and the British Council (the carpet workshop and Suzani centre in the Kazi Kalyan medressah - photo 3) and the home-grown Yodgorlik enterprise (a woodworking school in the Mazori Sharif Medressah - photo 1).
As to the rest - there are more than 30 medressahs still standing in Khiva (there were more than 60 at the beginning of the 20th century)- apart from those that are used in ways that make them open to tourists, others are put to community use and still others are locked and empty, some quite derelict, others in need of only a little restoration to make them functional once more. Not that the odd derelict or closed medressah is anything new in Khiva. Being built and endowed by individuals - khans, wealthy merchants, religious leaders, etc - their fortunes rose and fell as those of their sponsors did and at any time there were madressahs here that were no longer functioning.
Medressa 4: Look through the layers
You could be forgiven for thinking that the Mohammed Amin Inak Medressah, now used as Khiva's wedding palace, with its stained glass windows of a bride and groom modern furnishings and was a pastiche of a typical Khivan medressah. In actual fact, the medressah is one of the oldest in Khiva - it was built in 1785 by the founder of the last dynasty of Khivan khans and it was here he buried his young son who was killed in the fighting that preceded his takeover of the khanate.
With its Zoroastrian tiled exterior and interior, Koranic school history and Soviet-era decorations - including the marvellously kitsch baby-bearing stork over the door (a not-too-subtle message to the departing newlyweds) and astrological medallions - the medressah is an living demonstration of the important influences on Khivan life through many centuries.
Medressa 2: Artifacts and aerialists
Across the main square (once the setting for Khiva's brutal executions) from the Kunya Ark, the Mohammed Rakhim Khan Medressa is now used as a museum that focuses largely on the life of the Khan with a typically quirky Khivan addition of a high-wire circus act as an extra attraction.
Before you sit down in the courtyard to enjoy the show though, do take time to wander through the museum. You'll find an eclectic collection of objects and artifacts that tell us much about this interesting man. Popularly known as Feruz - the pen-name he used as a poet - he opened Khiva up to at least a glimpse of the outside world, bringing both the first printing presses and photography to his court. One room in the museum has some great photographs and the casmeras used to take them.
Feruz lived into old age - a fairly unusual achievement in Khiva, one that he attributed to the protective powers of a special coat he wore. Embroidered with Koranic sura and symbols of the lunar, solar and Muslin calendars, it's on display in the museum.
Weapons, armour, costume, carpets, musical instruments, manuscripts and more are on display. The gold, coral, pearl and turquoise jewellery you see is typical of a bride's dowry collection. Traditionally, a divorced woman could only take with her what she could wear when she left - some dowry collections weigh as much as 18kilos!
As well as housing the museum, the medressah is also home to the Khivan Craft Centre. Whilst many craftspeople work from home, a few have set up workshops in the medressah and the work of the Independent Craftmen's Association is sold here.
And the circus act? The Darboz brothers stage an act of considerable skill on their high wire and then finish up with a fanfare on traditional instruments - drum, flute and a braying horn. Definitely worth the $5 charge.
Nothing you have seen anywhere in Khiva prepares you for the strange, still beauty of the Juma (Friday) mosque with its forest of carved wooden pillars receding into the dim recesses of the great hall. Two openings in the roof allow squares of daylight to spill into the central spaces around the trees that grow through them. Over 200 pillars, each carved from a single trunk of an elm, support the roof in precisely spaced rows. The building itself dates from the late 18th century though four of the pillars are said to be over 1000 years old, whilst another 17 are only 100 years younger than that. Whilst they certainly look worn enough to be the age they claim - their carving is worn almost smooth and they have been burnt too at some stage - the carving on others is as fine as anything you will see here in Khiva.
Whilst no longer a working mosque this is an extraordinary place, filled with an all-pervading calmness that is quite entrancing.
At 32 metres the mosque's minaret - by far the oldest in Khiva, it was built in the 10th century and restored in the 13th - is second only to the Islam Khodja minaret in height. Its plain brick construction is ornamented with narrow bands of turquoise ceramic tiles.
2009 update Since our 2005 visit, the roof openings have been glassed in, making it necessary to remove the trees that were growing beneath them as they were quite a bit taller than the ceiling height. New trees have been planted but they'll never be able to spread their branches through the openings in the way the old ones did
Seat of all power
The combination of exquisite tiles - every blue and white panel different from the other; beautifully painted ceilings and the intricate carving on the soaring wooden pillars in the iwans of the palaces of Khiva is absolutely stunning. It's hard to equate such refined beauty with the tales of the brutal rule of the khans and the skulduggery of the Great Game that were played out here. Murder and treachery were the norm as successive khans held the lives of their subjects totally in their hands at the same time as they kept all attempts at diplomacy and invasion at bay.
This state of affairs lasted well into the 19th century, but the stakes were too high for the foreign powers to give up. Britain and Russia faced each other off again and again and the Khans played them at their own game but by 1920 the game was over - the juggernaut of Sovietization rolled into Khiva and the last Khan abdicated. The mosques and the harems were abandoned and the beautiful iwans fell into decay until, in the late 60s, the Soviets declared Khiva's Ichan Kala a museum city, evicted the people who had made their homes in the great buildings and began a programme of restoration. Now dancers in national dress perform on the dais where the Khan's yurt once was pitched and tourists rest from the heat under the high ceilings of the cool iwans.
Apart from the buildings themselves, almost all traces of the Khiva of those not-so-very-long-gone days has been swept away. The Khan's silver throne was carried off to St Petersburg as imperialist booty and a replica stands in the throne room of the Ark. The Khan himself died in a Soviet prison hospital but no-one knows or is telling what happened to his wives and concubines or his son, Temur Gazi, seen standing with his grandfather, Isfander, in an old photograph on display in the museum in the Mohammed Rakhim madrassa (photo 2).
A series of etchings in the mint shows monchrome scenes of punishment Khivan-style (photos 3 and 4) but for a wonderfully vivid depiction of 19th century Khiva, Captain Frederick Burnaby's A Ride to Khiva is as good as it gets.
Medressa 1: Where scholars once studied
The khans of Khiva and their senior ministers saw no irony in the vicious treatment of their subjects and slaves and their endowment and patronage of the many medressas that are to be found in the old city. Over 20 of these one-time institutes of scholarship and learning still remain within the city's walls. Not all are accessible -there is still much restoraton to be done here in Khiva and none serves its original function these days - museums, shops and restaurants have taken the place of the students and their tutors.
Built in 1851 and once the city's largest medressa ( part of the city walls had to be demolished to accommodate it) with some 250 students, the Mohammed Amin Khan medressa has become a hotel where tourists now occupy the students' cells. Non-residents can visit the courtyard and sit awhile over a drink in what was the medressa's mosque. Just how fitting that is is debatable but the local council of chiefs has no problem with it - pragmatically, they feel there is a modern parallel in this with the medressa's original purpose and are quite content to allow it to remain a hotel. UNESCO would prefer to see it restored to its original design, even though it is highly unlikely ever to serve as a medressa again and would therefore become yet another lifeless museum. Somehow, I think the chiefs are right.
In and out of the walls
The mediaeval heart of Khiva exists within the intact walls of the Ichon Kala - the inner city. Most of the inhabitants were cleared out of this part of the city when the Russians began to take a serious interest in its restoration in 1967. The result is a surprisingly intact maze of alleyways lined with medressas and mosques, palaces and tombs, most of which are now museums of one sort or another. What life there is in the old city is relegated to the back streets behind the grand monuments but more and more people are living within the walls and if you stay here, rather than in the nearby modern town of Urgench, it is interesting to walk around these back streets in the evening and again in the early morning particularly and see people going about their daily business.
Outside the walls, the Dishan-Kala - the outer town - with its bazaar and rather less immaculately restored buildings is well worth a visit for those who are here for more than the usual single day of organized tours. Whether you simply step outside the Palvan Darvoza (the East Gate) and take a wander through the bazaar or explore further afield, you'll find there's more to Khiva than the quiet alleys, restored medressahs and splendid but empty iwans and courtyards of the khan's palaces. You could start with the late 19th century Bika Jun Bika ensemble by the Ota Darvoza where the familiar combination of minaret, medressah and mosque includes, somewhat incongruously, a teahouse-cum-bar where a large screen television plays non-stop videos.
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