The name of the city came from the Khevak well, which was dug in the city in ancient time. Biblical son of Noah, is said to have marked out the city walls during mirage. He discovered the well and the water of the well so sweet and pleasant so the local exclaimed “Khevakh” and the city around the well was called Khiva.
The accession of Abul Gazi Khan in 1642 and his son Anusha Khan in 1663 finally ushered in the formative age of Khivan consolidation. The entire population of Gurganj was repatriated to Khiva and military expansion took war to the gates of Bukhara and Meshed.
The 18th century saw a return to tribal anarchy and accelerated political disintegration. Kungrad Uzbeks fought Mangit Uzbeks, northern Aral tribes won the battle, Yomut Turkomans revolted and the Persian Nadir Shah conquered and held the town from 1740-1747. In 1770 the Kungrad Inaks finally wrested his power. Succeeding khans such as Mohammed Amin (1792-1800). Mohammed Rakhim (1806-1825) and Alia Kuli (1826-1842) again managed to control the cycle of tribal massacre and revenge, to centralize the state, improve irrigation and restore and expand traditional borders. Trade with Russia and the Volga boomed at Bukhara’s expense, fuelling rapid urbanization and reconstruction. The khanate spread from the Aral to Merv and the scholars of Khiva became the leading exponents of Chagatai Turkic, literature.
On 29 May 1873 Russian troops arrived at Khiva’s gates from all over Orenburg, Krasnovodsk, Tashkent and Kazalinsk. So the could not resist the Russians attack. However, the khanate was fast approaching the end of its life. A series of nomad rebellions led by the Yomut Turkoman Junaid Khan rocked the town, fulminating in the assassination in 1918 of Isfandivar Khan. On 27 April 1920 the Khorezm People’s Republic was proclaimed and Khan Abdullah abdicated, later to die in a Soviet prison hospital. In 1924 it was joined to the Republic of Uzbekistan.
In 1967 Khiva got status as a museum city. Unlike other old cities of Uzbekistan it is small but unique with alits mosques, madrasah, mausoleum, museums and palace located within city wall. While walking in the city you get impression that you are in old time, but you see a lot of tourists, new wedded couples visiting shrines, mausoleum and mosques on wedding day. Khiva’s shakhristan is wrapped in 2.2-kilometre bastioned city walls that stands as old as the city it protects. Parts of the walls arc thought to date from the fifth century, but the strongest sections were added by Arang Khan, son of Anusha Khan, in 1686-1688. The main gate Ata Darvaza or Father gate is from western side of the city. To the north lie the double-sided guardrooms of the Bakcha Darvaza, where customs duties would be collected from the caravans arriving from Urgench. To the south are the Tash or Stone Darvaza (1830-40), whose twin stairwells lead up to a first-floor viewing platform and to the east lie the Palvan Darvaza. These gates would seal the town from dusk to dawn and offer protection to the city plagued by nomadic raids and desert storms. It is still possible to walk along the city walls from the northern Bakcha Gate to the edge of the Ark.
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 impressive, restored portal leads to a left hand mosque/hotel bar and a classic courtyard layout that in times past held sessions of the city’s supreme Muslim court. Access to the twisting corridors is largely unfettered, to reveal unique double roomed cells that look uncharacteristically outwards and also a series of rooms in the northeast corner of the madrasah that allow reluctant access to the Kalta Minaret.
The madrassah’s patron, Mohammed Amin Khan (r. 1843-1855), was one of Khiva’s most illustrious khans. He restored the khanates former territories, captured Merv. pacified the Saryk clan and then shifted his murderous gaze to the Tekke Turkoman in several epic battles fought in the wastes of the Kara Kum. Then, in a curious show of trust, he left the subjugated Tekke in the bloody hands of the Yomut and Uzbek tribes. Soon the Yomut were fighting the Tekke, the Tekke were fighting the Uzbeks and the Uzbeks were fighting the Yomut, until the exasperated Medamin finally hurled the Yomul leader off a Khivan Minaret. He succeeded briefly in uniting the squabbling tribes, but only against himself and shortly afterwards, on the eve of an attack on Serakhs (on the current Iranian border), he was decapitated by a rogue Tekke horseman and Khiva was left vulnerable to regular Turkoman ravage for the next 70 years.
The death of Medamin stopped completion of nearby Kalta Minor or Short 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 Kuha Ark
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 Kuhna Ark, or Old Fortress, remains the original and has for centuries provided fortified refuge during times of uncertainty The foundations of the Ark dale from the fifth century, but most of the complex was added to piecemeal in the 19th century by successive khans.
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.
Head west for the 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. It was here lhat the Russian Captain Muraviev was finally granted a royal audience after seven weeks of deliberation when his fate hung in the balance. 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. While those citadels died of thirst, the Khivan heart grew into the Khanate, to be used as a hermitage by Mukhtar Vali. The While Sheikh, and then as a watchtower and gunpowder arsenal. The top platform provides a classic Khivan profile, but dim lower halls require torchlight. Just outside the main gates lies the most recent Zindan city jail (1910) equipped with manacles, flails and a series of pictures recreating fiendish tortures and executions.
Pakhavan Mahmoud Mausoleum
Pakhlavan Mahmoud, Palvan Pir the kurash wrestler-saint, philosopher and poet is buried here. A small mausoleum grew up over the site of Mahmoud’s original furrier shop, but it was not until 1810-1835 that the tomb was given its present glory by the Kungrad khans of Khiva, as they transformed the shrine into the last great family mausoleum erected in Central Asia.
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 44.8 meters and two meters shorter than the Kalon in Bukhara, but is almost 800 years younger. It’s tapering bands of green glazed tiles lead up to the tallest watchtower in Khiva, essential for spoiling roving bands of man-stealing Turkomans, even in 1910. Wooden steps lead up to the height of the original madrassah entrance and another 98 continue up to the clerestory.
The 42 rooms of the madrassah now hold Khiva’s finest museum, displaying local applied arts ranging from women’s embroidered chetvan robes to the original carved wooden plaque of the Ata Darvaza.
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.
The Eastern City gate
The Palvan Darvaza (1804) was the main artery connecting the inner city with the bustling markets outside. Its 60-metre long, domed tunnel, is lined by deeply recessed cells which evolved over time from slave pens into shops, as the 19th century yielded to the 20th. The outer gates were also a plate of announcements, decrees, executions and punishment, where runaway slaves were nailed to the gates by their ears in public humiliation.
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 booms and prices rocket, leaving many Uzbeks and Turkomans angry, bewildered and longing for the golden days of Brezhnev’s Union.
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 fortified courtyards of Isfandiyar Khan’s residence today languish in a largely sorry state of disrepair, but the modern-style reception hall is still in good condition, enshrined as a holy Soviet site to commemorate the first people’s government set up here on 26 April 1920 as well as the revolutionary writer Hamza Niyazi who lived and worked here during 1922 and 1923. It is here that Isfandiyar Khan is said to have been murdered in 1918 by Turkoman assassins. The palace is worth a visit for its mind-spinning decoration. The courtyard square was home to the first Lenin in Central Asia until he was replaced by the popular khan Mohammed Rakhim II.
Close to the Ata Darvaza lies the Jim Bika Ensemble (1894), a mosque, madrasah, minaret built by a rich local merchant to honour the sister of Mohammed Rakhim II. Next door lies the tomb of Sheikh Kalander Bobo a 16th-century dervish and holy man. Further to the southwest lies the Mohamed Magrum Madrasah and local mahallya centre, here called “elat” in local dialect, and on the southwest fringe of the outer city the Gulsara minaret of the former Ashir Magrum Mosque still stands, disconnected from history, in the garden of a local family. Further west lies the site of the 19th-century Rafanek Summer Palace, now a school for the blind, and the Shakhimardan Cemetery one of seven cemeteries claiming to be the resting place of Caliph Ali, brother-in-law of the Prophet Mohammed.