Holiday in Central Asia (23): Khiva in Uzbekistan 

We are now in Khiva (Day 22). Khiva, Bukhara and Samarkand were all caravan cities on the legendary Silk Road, the ancient trading route that led from China through the Middle East and into Europe, and Khiva is the most intact and the most remote of these Silk Road cities.

The place has existed since pre-Biblical times and it was at its most powerful in the 16th & 17th centuries, although the oldest remaining buildings are only 19th century. Since 1967, Khiva’s status as a museum city has ensured that it remains the most homogeneous collection of architecture in the Islamic world. Today it is a city of 80,000, some 3,000 of them located in the legendary inner walled city. Holiday in Central Asia (23): Khiva in Uzbekistan known as Ichan Kala. The walls are 26 feet (8 metres) high and run for over a mile (2.2 km).

In the morning and early afternoon, we had an excellent tour of some of the many sights of the Inchan Kala with a tiny local guide called Ana. It was another really hot day. 

Entering by the South Gate, we started at the Islam Hodja Madrassah (1908) and the Islam Hodja Minaret (1910) named after the Grand Vizier of the time and constructed by a poor architect who was subsequently buried alive. The minaret stands 146 feet (44.8 metres) high, only a little shorter than the Kalon in Bukhara.

Next stop was the Pakhlavan Mahmoud Mausoleum, named after a character who lived from 1247-1325 and – unlikely as it sounds – managed to combine being a wrestler, a poet, and a furrier. This mausoleum was created between 1810-1835 but, during the Soviet era, it was transformed into the Khorezm Museum of Revolutionary History.

We called into workshops for carpet and wood carving before admiring the imposing Kalta Minor Minaret (Short Minaret) which was commissioned by the khan in 1852 to stand at 230 feet (over 70 metres) as the biggest in the Islamic world, but abandoned in the wake of his death while standing at only 85 feet (26 metres). It is still a beautiful sight with bands of different coloured tiles glistening in the sunshine. There was music and action as an outdoor puppet performance entertained the tourists. 

Now we visited the complex known as the Kuhna Ark (Old Fortress). The foundations of the Ark date from the 5th century but most of the structure was added to piecemeal in the 19th century. At the heart of the complex is the Summer Mosque which is also known as the Ak-Sheikh Bobo Mosque. Black elm pillars support a structure of majolica tiles housing the usual mihrab (a niche facing Mecca) and minbar (a pulpit). The other impressive feature of the complex is the Kurinsh Khana (Throne Room) which was built in 1804-1806. Here the khan would grant public audiences. Indeed, as luck would have it, we witnessed a guy dressed up as the khan pontificating to a group of subjects also wearing period costume. 

Next we came to the Sayid Allauddin Mausoleum. This tomb dates from 1310 when Khiva was under the Golden Horde of the Mongol Empire and is known as the earliest standing building in Khiva. It was restored in 1825 and is decorated with gorgeous majolica tiles. 

Then we were on to the Juma Mosque of 1788. What makes this particular mosque memorable is the forest of black elm pillars which makes it reminiscent of La Mezquita in Spain’s Cordoba. In total, there are 213 pillars, each 10 feet (3.15 metres) apart, but they are of very varying ages (the four oldest being 10th century). A scene from the movie “Orlando” was filmed here in 1992. Beside the Juma Mosque is the 154 feet (47 metre) Juma Minaret. 

The final visit of the tour was a highlight: the Tosh-Hovli (Stone House) Palace built between 1830-1838 on the orders of Allah Kuli Khan. It is a complex of 163 rooms and three courtyards, consisting of a harem for the four wives and 37 concubines, a reception court (Ishrat Hauli), and a court of law (Arz Hauli).  The complex’s first architect was executed for failing to complete the task in two years. 

We had free time in the afternoon. In a part of that, I returned to the Islam Hodja Madrassah to look around the Museum of Applied Arts. Then dinner was a buffet affair at the hotel. It was a rather mediocre affair, but then we have been spoiled by lots of excellent dinners in splendid restaurants. 


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