The architecture monuments of Khiva such as medreses and mosques, minarets and mausoleums, dwellings and palaces, caravanserais and baths are all systematically connected. These monuments reflected historical building traditions, with their endless variety of heights and depths, massive and light elements, domes and rectangular shapes, darkened and lit spaces. The 19th century saw rapid development in Khiva and the rest of the Khanate. There was intense construction activity in Ichan-Kala and Dishan-Kala.
The work was carried out in Khan’s constructions of Ichan-Kala. In this city bounded by the fortress walls, where each new building faced the existing buildings, such intensive construction was in fact a multi-level reconstruction. In order to complete the architecture complexes of different periods, the architects had to show a high degree of professional sensitivity and skill to transform the city of Khiva into a huge ensemble with a distinct architectural style.
All the enormous variety of architecture constructions of Khiva were harmoniously combined with each other. It should be noted that the high terraces (aiwans) were divided. They opened to the north, where the cool winds prevailed. Behind the Khazarasp gates, a row of minarets, standing like exclamation points, marked the compositional center of the city. And the minarets of Palvan-Qori, Sayid Shelikerbay, Juma, Kalta Minar and Sheikh Qalandar Bobo, different in their sizes and shapes, gave Khiva a unique character.
As a rule, the minarets had three functions: to call the faithful to prayer, as observation points during internal wars, and finally as coordination points of the city. It is difficult to get lost in Khiva when the minaret of Islam Khodja, which has regular dimensions, can be seen from any point of the city. The minarets of Khiva, one of the significant achievements of medieval architecture, have their own place in the panorama of the city.
Densely populated quarters are squeezed between the main streets of the city, which cross Ichan-Kala and run radially through Dishan-Kala. They are connected by narrow alleys, passages and cul-de-sacs. The quarters in Khiva, as in other historical cities of Uzbekistan, were founded by craftsmen of the same profession who formed their own communities. The center of a quarter was a garden, a mosque, a small minaret or a picturesque pond. Tea houses (chaikhana) and outbuildings for the household were also located here. The city core consisted of residential quarters and monumental public buildings: medreses, mosques and minarets stood out against their background.
The main waterways of the city are the Zakash, Palvan-yab and Sirchali canals. They fed Dishan-Kala, where one can see gardens and parks, which is almost non-existent in Ichan-Kala. The monumental walls of the city are a vivid example of the fortifications of Choresm. Their height is almost ten metres and the thickness of the foundation is five to six metres. They are steep on the inside, while the outside is rather gentle. Massive semicircular towers stand on them at intervals of thirty metres. The walls are crowned by a jagged parapet. Narrow loopholes probably protected the citizens of Khiva more than once during the defence of the city. The fortress ditches were built at the foot of the walls. Ancient buildings of Khiva were constructed of large rough bricks and mud. This method of construction was typical of the early Middle Ages.
In the south-eastern corner of Ichan-Kala, one can see the remains of a rectangular tower, which is an example of the earliest fortification traditions of Khorezm. At the foot of the city walls, more than a hundred masonry tomb inscriptions have been preserved. This ancient tradition probably appeared due to the fact that the inhabitants had to bury around the town on a high place.
Four arched gates with adjoining lateral round towers have been preserved: Bagcha-Darvoza to the north, Palvan-Darvoza to the east, Tash-Darvoza to the south and Ata-Darvoza to the west. The gate around Dishan-Kala was built in the 19th century. The most significant surviving building of the group of architecture is the Kosh Darvoza (double gate) of Khiva. There are two vaulted passages between three cylindrical towers. Above them is the traditional gallery with the crenellated parapet. The decorative strips of multi-coloured ceramic tiles add splendour.
The bazaars, caravanserais and bathhouses were usually located near the city gate. To this day, a lively trade was conducted at the gate of Khiva. Ritual facilities were usually built in busy places near bazaars. Such places were mosques, madrasahs and monuments. All of Khiva‘s unique ensembles possess a magnetic power.
The mausoleum of Sayyid Alauddin in the centre of Ichan-Kala is one of the surviving monuments of the city from the ancient times. It is a two-chamber tomb of asymmetrical shape: a mosque for prayers (ziarathana) adjoins the mausoleum (gurkhana) of square shape on the west side. A conventional wooden fence next to the wall separates the ziaratkhana from the gurkhana. The mosque for prayers is almost twice the size of the tomb. The two chambers are covered with domes: octagonal over the gurkhana and round over the ziarathkana.
The luxurious, prismatic tomb, measuring 2×1.2 m and 1.25 m high, stands out against the modestly decorated interior of the Gurkhana. The tomb is situated on a small stepped elevation. Its facing is a classic example of the nineteenth-century Choresm school of art. The edges of the majolica tomb are divided into rectangular panels, the edges painted with small floral patterns in white on a blue background.
The stylised stems, leaves and flowers are painted randomly. The wooden panel bears inscriptions in Arabic and the date of Sheikh Alauddin’s death (702 X, 1302). According to the inscription on the frieze, the mausoleum was built by the Sheikh’s disciple and successor, Emir Kulol (died 1370).
The majolica tomb of this mausoleum is a true masterpiece of decorative art. It is comparable to the tombs of Kusam Abbas in Samarkand and Kubra in Kunya-Urgench, which were closed during reconstruction. There is no doubt that this memorial was created in Khiva during the period of architecture and decorative art of the Golden Horde.
Another memorial built in honour of Pahlavan Mahmud is located to the south of Sayyid Alauddin’s tomb. It was built over the course of six centuries and includes tombs, a medrasa, a gurkhana (a house or hall for reading the Qur’an), a summer mosque and a courtyard with a shady tree and a fountain.
In the eighteenth century, Shah Niyaz Khan built a darwazakhana. In the nineteenth century, the ensemble was considerably rebuilt. Along the longitudinal axis, the darwazakhana, the courtyard and the portal dome hall open on three sides are arranged there. The crypt of Muhammad Rahim Khan is located in a pentagonal niche of the hall along the symmetrical axis. In the northwest corner of this wall are the tombs of Abdulgazi-khan and Anush-khan. Smaller chambers adjoin the great hall on the west side. The middle one, the Ziarathana, is connected to the hall and the tomb of Pahlavan Mahmud by a passageway. The third house is connected to the courtyard. The constructions on the east side are asymmetrical. A corridor is built there, which is connected to a rectangular room crowned with two domes. From this place there is an exit to the cemetery. Inside the two-domed building is a deep niche with a crypt of Allakuli-khan. Thus, buried next to Pahlavan Mahmud, the Khiva-khans of the House of Kungrad found eternal rest.
The façade of the large hall facing the courtyard is designed and decorated in the typical style of the Khiva School of Architecture and Art. Its colours are blue, sky blue and white. The bright turquoise covering of the city’s largest dome with its golden capital is visible from every point. The imagination of the Khiva masters who executed the decoration of the ensemble from the floor to the top of the dome demonstrated the inexhaustible supply of their inventiveness. The beautifully carved doors with elements of gemstone, copper and mosaic inlay deserve special attention. The date of construction -1353 is inscribed on them. The name of the Choresm engraver Nadir Muhammad is preserved in the door of the crypt. From the inscription we learn the names of the masters who created this decoration – Mullah Muhammad, Sufi Muhammad, Abdullah and others.
The Pahlavan Mahmud ensemble is one of the best creations of the architects of Choresm. The travellers of the mid-19th century who visited Khiva counted twenty-two madrasas there. This proves the level of education of the inhabitants of Khorezm. The rulers of the khanate attached great importance to the education of the young. In fact, the madrasahs were designed as Islamic universities where history, geography, astronomy and other subjects were studied in addition to theology.
In 1616, the Arab Muhammad-khan ordered a mosque to be built in honour of the transfer of the capital of Khorezm from Kunya-Urgench to Khiva. At first it was a timber-framed building. Carved wooden columns with the open aiwan (porch) and composite ceilings overlooked the Tash-Khauli courtyard. After 300 years, the building was reconstructed during the reign of Allakuli-Khan. Now it is a two-storey building of symmetrical composition with an inner courtyard. Round towers were erected at its corners. Along the longitudinal axis to the courtyard is a summer mosque. The main façade is plain, without coloured ornaments, while the other façades are also of simple masonry. The madrasah stands out for its compactness, proportions and size.
In the mid-seventeenth century, the Ak Mosque was built in the eastern part of Ichan-Kala. An asymmetrical building with a three-sided aiwan was erected on a high platform. During archaeological investigation, it was discovered that its foundations were laid at a depth of about four metres, which gave the building stability and security under seismic load. The square hall ends with a conical dome. The mihrab (niche), which was located on the south wall of the mosque, directed the praying people towards the Muslim holy city of Mecca. The flat aiwan serves as a support for several wooden structures. Its large shape indicates its public function. The hall is lit by four windows. They are decorated with plaster grilles (panjara). The facades and the interior of the mosque are plastered. In the carved ornament of the door are the names of two masters – Nur Muhammad and Kalandar, and two dates – 1832, 1842, probably the years of reconstruction or installation of the door. The Ak Mosque (White Mosque) is known for its vividness of composition, purity of form and expressiveness of outline.