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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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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