Unlike in other ancient cities such as Samarkand and Bukhara, there is only one blue tiled dome in Khiva belonging to the Pahlavan Mahmud Mausoleum. This mausoleum is one of the most beautiful as well as most important pilgrimage sites in Khiva. Pahlavan Mahmud was a furrier, wrestler, poet, and Khiva’s patron saint. He received the title “Pahlavan” from the people which means brave and handsome hero. There are many local legends attesting to his bravery and strength. One of them tells the story of Pahlavan Mahmud conquering an Indian ruler and requesting that he release his countrymen from prison. He told the ruler that he should release all those who would fit into the skin of a cow. The ruler agreed and Pahlavan Mahmud then cut the cow’s skin into thin strips and tied them together into a long belt surrounding all the prisoners hence rescuing all of them from slavery. His tomb was first built over his furrier shop in 1326 and the complex we see now was built in 1701 to include prayer rooms and a mosque. The mausoleum was again rebuilt and enlarged in the 19th century when it became the royal necropolis of the Khans of Khiva. Pahlavan Mahmud’s tomb no doubt has some of the most beautiful tilings on its interior walls and sarcophagus.
There is only one blue tiled dome in Khiva belonging to the Pahlavan Mahmud Mausoleum.
Pahlavan Mahmud Mausoleum on the left and Isalm Khoja Minaret on the right
Pahlavan Mahmud Mausoleum
Pahlavan Mahmud Mausoleum.
Courtyard of Pahlavan Mahmud Mausoleum
Pahlavan Mahmud Mausoleum
Pahlavan Mahmud’s tomb no doubt has some of the most beautiful tilings on its interior walls. In the niche is the tomb of Muhammed Rakhim Khan.
Tomb of Pahlavan Mahmud
Tomb of Allah Kuli Khan
Tomb of Asfandiyar Khan
Tomb of Asfandiyar Khan
Across from Pahlavan Mahmud Mausoleum is the Shirgiz Khan Madrasa built in 1719. The madrasa is the oldest Quran school in Khiva also known as Maskani Phasilan which means “the abode of knowledge. In 1714, Shirgiz Khan succeeded Yadigar Khan to become the ruler of the Khiva Khanate and was considered to be the last powerful ruler here. The building was said to be constructed by slave labor who were captured by Shirgiz Khan during his military exploits. He promised to release the slaves after the madrasa was completed. However, as the madrasa was almost finished, he delayed the completion by inventing new tasks. And legend has it that the slaves, frustrated with the perpetual delays, killed him when he came for an inspection. The madrasa was simply built with 55 cells and a lecture hall surrounding a courtyard. It was believed that the building was of poor quality probably because the slaves wanted to quickly finish the project and be released back to their homelands. It is no longer operational today.
Shirgiz Khan Madrasa is the oldest Quran school in Khiva but no longer operational today.
Islam Khoja Minaret and Mosque was built in the early 20th century and is one of the newest structures in Itchan Kala. Islam Khoja was named after the prime minister of Isfandiar Khan who undertook many modern reforms such as opening the first hospital, first secular school, and introducing railways and mail to Khiva. The minaret is 57 meters high and 10 meters wide at its base and is the tallest structure in Khiva and the tallest minaret in Uzbekistan. It can be seen miles away. The minaret is decorated with alternating blue and white tiles and ochre bricks and topped by a golden crown.
Islam Khoja Minaret
A bit of a climb up to the top of the Islam Khoja Minaret
Minaret of the Juma Mosque
Beautiful views from the top of the Islam Khoja Minaret
There is a small Museum of Applied Arts inside the Islam Khoja Madrasa next to the minaret
Near the eastern gates of Itchan Kala is Ak Mosque founded in 1657 with the present building dating from the 19th century. Ak Mosque means “white mosque”. It has a domed hall with three galleries with wooden columns linked to it. It is rather a small mosque and relatively simply decorated as it is a quarter mosque used for daily prayers. Also near the eastern gates are the Allah Kuli Khan Madrasa, the Kutleg-Murad-inak Madrasa, and the Tosh-Hovli Palace.
The best preserved gate of Ichan Kala is the East Gate (Palwan Darwase). There are niches on both side of the 60 meter long passage and was used as a prison during the 17th and 18th centuries. This gate was also called the “gate of the hangman” where public executions took place.
East Gate (Palwan Darwase)
Allah Kuli Khan Madrasa
Tosh-Hovli Palace which means “Stone House” was built by Allah Kuli Khan between 1832 and 1841. There are three yards within the complex, one for receiving guests (Arz-Khovli), one for entertainment (Ishrat-Khovli), and one for the harem all joined by labyrinths of corridors. The courtyards have beautiful aiwans and walls decorated with a carpet patterned majolica. Tosh-Hovli is said to have more than 150 rooms in the different courtyards all decorated with blue ceramic tiles.
Royal yurt inside the courtyart of Arz-Khovli in the Tosh-Hovli Palace
The courtyard for receiving guests (Arz-Khovli) is very similar to the one for entertainment (Ishrat-Khovli)
The large harem of Tosh-Hovli Palace
The Khan’s chamber at Tosh-Hovli Palace
These book stands are for the reading of the Quaran when seated on the floor in the mosques or at home because the Quaran is never supposed to touch the ground.
These are not wigs. They are traditional hats worn in the winter.
Local boy at his father’s hat shop
These little girls are staging their own puppet show outside their grandmother’s shop in Khiva.
What do you think these tools are for? They are used to stamp patterns onto rolled-out dough that is then baked into very chewy bread.
Khiva is definitely one of my favorite ancient cities not just in Central Asia but in the world. It reminds me of another ancient city in China called Pingyao not because of the architecture per se but of how you can stay inside the city and wander around and visit all the monuments, mosques, etc by swiping the QR code of your 24-hour ticket at the turnstile of each place. Although I didn’t have much free time, I managed a short but extremely enjoyable photo walk in the late afternoon when most of the tour groups have left.
In the next post, I will talk about two ancient ruins outside of Khiva. Stay tuned!
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