Friday, October 10, 2014

Uzbekistan : Itchan Kala, Khiva


The city of Khiva is near the border with Turkmenistan and has a population of around 50,000 and was the first site in Uzbekistan to be inscribed in the World Heritage List, in 1990.

It is located on the edge of the Khorezm Oasis, flanked by the the Karakum Desert (Black Sands) to the West and the Kyzyl Kum Desert (Red Sands) to the East, not far from the Amu Darya (once called the Oxus River). Khiva was, along with Samarkand and Bukhara, an important historical site on the Great Silk Road lying on the southern part of the Amu Darya delta and was the final halt for caravans before crossing the Karakum desert to Persia.

In the 4th century AD, the town was at the heart of Choresmia known for its irrigation that had transformed the 'black sands' of the region into lush grazing lands, gardens, and orchards.
It was first conquered by the Arabs in 712, and then by the Mongols in 1221. After the death of Ghengiz Khan the Khanate of Khiva became part of the huge Chagatai Khanate. In 1388 Tamerlane the Great (Timur) annexed the city into his realm. In 1505 the Uzbeks under Muhammad Shaybani captured Khwaerzm from the Timurids. After Shaybani's defeat by the Safavids in 1510, Persians captured this region. But in 1511, the Uzbek group the Yadigarid Shaybandis installed themselves as Khans of the region after rebellion against Persian rule. Once Old Urgench was finally abandoned due to a shift in the course of the Amu-Darya in 1576, the centre of the region shifted southward, and, in 1619, the Khan, Arab Muhammad I, chose Khiva as the capital of the Khanate. For a long period of time (until 1917), Khiva was the most important slave markets in Central Asia.

Nowadays, Khiva is split into two parts: the older one, museum-like Ichon-Qala or Itchan Kala (within the wall), and the modern Dichon-Qala (outside the wall). Itchan Kala, which retains more than 50 historic monuments and 250 old houses, majority from the 18th and 19th centuries.
In the 4th century AD, the town was at the heart of Khorezm (Greek Choresmia) known for its irrigation that transformed the 'black sands' of the region into lush grazing lands, gardens, and orchards. It was first conquered by the Arabs in 712, and then by the Mongols in 1221. After the death of Ghengiz Khan the Khanate of Khiva became part of the huge Chagatai Khanate. In 1388 Tamerlane the Great (Timur) annexed the city to his realm. In 1505, Uzbeks under Muhammad Shaybani captured Khwaerzm from the Timurids. After Shaybani's defeat by the Safavids in 1510, Persians captured this region. But in 1511, the Uzbek group the Yadigarid Shaybandis installed themselves as Khans of the region after rebellion against Persian rule. Once Old Urgench was finally abandoned due to a shift in the course of the Amu-Darya in 1576, the centre of the region shifted southward, and, in 1619, the Khan, Arab Muhammad I, chose Khiva as the capital of the Khanate. For a long period of time Khiva was the most important markets of slaves in Central Asia until becoming a protectorate of Imperial Russia in 1873.

Nowadays, Khiva is split into two parts: the older one, museum-like Ichon-Qala or Itchan Kala (within the wall), and the modern Dichon-Qala (outside the wall). Itchan Kala, which retains more than 50 historic monuments and 250 old houses, majority from the 18th and 19th centuries.

The most spectacular features of Itchan Kala are its crenelated brick walls (6 to 8m high, and 6m thick at their base) and four gates at each side of the rectangular fortress: North Gate (Bachtscha Darwase), East Gate (Palwan Darwase), South Gate (Dascht Darwase), and West Gate (Ata Darwase). Although the foundations are believed to have been laid in the tenth century, present-day 10-meters-high walls were erected mostly in the late seventeenth century and later repaired.


Djuma Mosque, for instance, was established in the tenth century and rebuilt from 1788 to 1789, although its celebrated hypostyle hall still retains 112 columns taken from ancient structures. Most of the public buildings are grouped round the main east-west axis, commanded at either end by the successive residences of the Khans of Khiva.

To the north-west, Kunya Ark, the 'ancient fortress', was established in 1686-88 by Arang-Khan; originally a formidable redoubt, it was converted in the early 19th century into a sumptuous palace by Alla-Ulli-Khan. The Tach-Kauli Palace to the north-east, was built in 1830-38, also for Alla-Ulli-Khan. Other exceptional monuments are the Mausoleum of Pahlavan Mahmud (1247-1325) and the Mausoleum of Sayid All-Uddin, which has retained its 14th-century layout intact.

The Madrasah of Alla-Kuli, built in 1835 in an awkward space near the east gate of the inner town, is a celebrated example of harmonious blending into an ancient urban fabric. Other great architecture of this period includes the Mausoleum of Pahlavan Mahmud and the Madrasahs of Muhammad-Amin-Khan and Islam-Khodja (1908-10), with its beautiful elegant  minaret, at 45 m the highest in Khiva.
 
 

A short, yet enormous, minaret stands before the façade of the Muhammad Amin-khan Madrassa. This is my personal favourite known as the kalta-Minor - the "Short minaret". It is difficult to imagine Khiva without this monument of oriental architecture the minaret  has become an iconic symbol of the city mainly because of it’s exquisite blue and green tile work and the fact that it remains unfinished. The minaret and Muhammad Amin-khan Madrassah were intended to finish the plan of the big square near the western gates of Ichan-Qala. 

The minaret should have been the biggest and highest (planned to be 70m high) in Central Asia with its massive base of 14.5 m in diameter.
However after the death of the Khiva ruler Muhammad Amin Khan in 1855 after a battle with the Turkmen and the construction of the magnificent minaret stopped.  Apparently the Bukhara Khan found out about the construction of a grandiose minaret in Khiva and commisioned the architect to construct a taller minaret in Bukhara. The Khiva Khan became angry and ordered the architect to be thrown from the minaret, which stopped construction. In any case, the structure rose to only 29m.

Decoratively speaking, the bright blue minaret of Kalta-Minor has no equal in Central Asia. It is the only minaret whose surface is entirely covered with coloured glazed tiles. The varied pattern of coloured glazed tiles in white, blue, green and a brownish yellow form a perfect harmony. Even over a century later the minaret of Kalta Minor has been amazing with its size. Its unique decoration strikes an imagination: the minaret (resembling a huge glazed barrel) is completely covered with the glazed tile and majolica, which are still bright and vivid as when it was first built.