September 8, 2012, Day 29 – Khiva, Uzbekistan

Our third group arrived today, Brad and Bea Cmolik; Barbie and Ken Ross; plus Terry and Bob McGregor. They all arrived at different times during the morning, so we waited for them before going on our walking tour in the old town of Khiva.


Khiva’s old town was 1 square kilometer (approximately 30 hectares) located inside a walled fortress called Ichan Qala (Itchan Kala). The Uzbeks celebrated Khiva’s 2,500th anniversary in 1997.  Our hotel was in the perfect spot, right outside the Fortress, which was originally built in the 5th  and 4th Centuries BC.  Khiva’a old town and the Ichan Qala fortress had since been reconstructed several times, because of their many invasions by Mongols, Arabs, Persians, Russians etc. The latest reconstruction of the fortress and buildings inside the walls was during the late 18th and early 19th Centuries.


In 1598, when the Amudarya river changed its course, leaving no water in Gurgani, the ancient capital of Khorezm and the capital of Khorezm was moved Khiva. Today, Khiva’s old town was really an open-air museum with historical mosques, madrasahs, minarets, mausoleums, palaces and karavansarais! A must see to be added to your bucket list if you are interested in history.


The old town inside the fortress walls had managed to retain more than 50 historic monuments and 250 old houses, dating primarily from the eighteenth or nineteenth centuries. Djuma Mosque, for instance, was established in the tenth century and rebuilt from 1788 to 1789, although its celebrated hypostyle (roof supported by columns) hall still retained 112 columns taken from ancient structures. All this history and architecture was a treasure, located in one spot inside the interior walls of Khiva with people living and selling their wares on the streets as we walked past.  Wonderful!


The walls of the fortress plus many of the homes and buildings inside these walls were made of mud bricks, rather than fired clay. The clay used to build the mud bricks for the construction of the city was mined two kilometers north of the city. This territory was now called Ghovuk Kul and today there was a big lake in the spot Khiva’s clay came from.  This lake was considered sacred because legend said that when the Prophet Muhammad built his town of Medina (the Muslim Holy City), he used clay from this area and the lake appeared after he took the clay; therefore, it was sacred water.


According to our Khiva guide today there were 3 – 4,000 people who lived in the whole city of Khiva. We learned that originally there were two walls surrounding Khiva. The inside wall, Ichan Qala, which was still in good condition (due to the reconstruction) and circled Old Town plus an outside wall, Dishan Qala (Kala), which was no longer standing. Dishan Qala circled the much larger settlement of Khiva and only remnants of this outside wall remained standing today.

The Ichan Qala fortress surrounding Old Town was 2250 meters long, 10 meters high and 8 meters wide. The walls had to be wide enough for a chariot to drive on as they brought supplies to the guards in the watchtowers. It was a very impressive sight made up of red-coloured clay. Previously, there were over 175 watchtowers on the fortress, constructed every 30 meters.


Khiva was one of the central cities on the Silk Road where traders brought their goods to trade. The Silk Road went as far west as Spain and Italy and as far east as China. There were many routes of the Silk Road not just one, some went south through Persia, Greece, Egypt even Africa, India and Japan traded on the Silk Road. Other routes went north through Russian territory. The Silk Road was important because this was how news of the world exchanged hands as well as goods. China traded silk for horses. India shared spices, tea and arithmetic with Arabia, etc.


Inside the fortress was a statue of a man named, Al-Khorezmi, (Al-Khwarizmi), who was a Muslim mathematician and astronomer.  He lived in the 9th Century, was born in Khiva in the late 700’s and died in 847AD. He attended the “House of Wisdom” established in Baghdad and introduced Indian/Arabic numbers plus the concepts of algebra to the world. According to the internet, two of his books live on today “Algebra” and “Algorithm”. The locals in Khiva called him Mr. Zero. This region in Uzbekistan called “Khorezm”, was named after him.


Many minarets have survived throughout the centuries and were standing in Old Town. The most famous of them all was the Kalta-minor Minaret, standing outside the façade of the Muhammad Amin-Khan Madrasah. This famous minaret was called miniature or short minaret because it was never finished. It was a beautiful minaret completely decorated in glazed tiles of blue, white and turquoise colours. The base was 14.2 meters and if it were completed it would have been 70 to 80 meters high making it the highest minaret in Central Asia.  There were several legends why this minaret was never finished. One said that the Khan of Khiva wanted it to be the largest minaret in Central Asia and the master who was building the minaret had been asked by the Emir of Bukhara to build him a taller minaret in Bukhara when he had finished building the one in Khiva. The master agreed with the Emir but the Khan of Khiva heard about their agreement and ordered the master to be killed when the Khiva minaret was completed. The master heard about this plan and ran away leaving the minaret incomplete. Another legend said the Khan died in 1855 and there was no funding to complete the minaret. It didn’t matter what story was true, this minaret was beautiful and famous because of its uniqueness.


Ark meant the residence of the Khan. I found this interesting because of the story of Noah building his Ark.  Maybe it wasn’t a ship after all? Maybe Noah’s Ark was a residence high up in the mountains? That would make more sense to me that way he could collect two of every animal if they lived on land high up in the mountains to avoid the flood when it rained for 40 days and nights. Also the number 40 was important in Central Asia. When a bride got married she wore a different outfit, makeup and a special hat for 40 days afterwards to announce her marriage and to introduce herself to her new family, the grooms family.  The famous Muslim annual Ramadan fast was for 40 days. Interesting how the number 40 kept popping up.


Khiva’s craftsmen were famous for their woodcarving, fur hats, ceramics, silk carpets, suzani (decorative embroidery), papier-mâché dolls and puppets. One of the shops was called Allah Babba and the 40 Thieves. There was Number 40 again. All these products were being sold in the streets. It was like a mini bazaar and all us women loved it.


We noticed families living inside the walls of Khiva, cooking bread, samosa and kabobs in their tandoor ovens. The ovens were either secured straight up and down or tilted at an angle outside their houses.  Our guide said the tilted ovens were for the shorter ladies. When the ovens were cool, the inside was black but when the fire heated up inside and the oven was ready to cook bread, the sides turned white. They sprayed a little water on the inside walls and attached the bread dough to the sides of the oven with a huge round oven mitt. When the dough was cooked the bread was scraped off the sides of the tandoor oven with a can attached to a stick. The side of the bread was scraped with the edge of the can and the bread fell into the can. The stick with the bread in the can was then taken out of the oven and the bread flipped onto a table to cool.  Yummy!!! So much for my diet! When the ovens were not in use the opening was covered by a cloth to keep it clean from dust, etc.


Water supply was important here in Khiva.  They had water carriers that collected water from the canals and delivered it to peoples homes. Another legend was about a well named Kjeyvak, had cool crystal clear water with an amazing taste and was dig by Sim, the son of biblical Noah. This well was still in the courtyard of the Khan’s ancient house today but the water was no longer used for drinking because it was salty (another result of the Aral Sea Situation). Russ drew some water up from the well and it was cold and crystal clear, too bad it was now salty. The name of Khiva (pronounced Hiva) came from this well. When merchants travelling along the Silk Road came to the ancient city they were very appreciative to receive a drink of water from this well and shouted admiringly “Hei-vakh” because it tasted so good. This Hei-vakh shout morphed into Khiva.


Another amazing thing about the Khan’s residence was his smaller courtyard. The construction made a natural air conditioning situation.  One wall decorated in blue ceramic tiles was built higher than the other three walls. The highest wall had a stage where the Khan sat to relax and meet with his people. This high wall would move the air around the courtyard because the hot air would rise and the lower cooler air would circulate inside the courtyard. The higher wall also shaded the courtyard. Brilliant! Inside the courtyard was a round brick platform base where they would erect a yurt for the Khan to sit inside during the winter. The yurt would be warmer to sit in during their cold weather. The last Khan lived here until the end of the 19th Century.


All the walls of the mosques, madrasahs, minarets and palaces were decorated with mosaic and majolica tiles in deep blue, turquoise and white colours. According to our guide, the blue colours were the colours of the Islamic Religion. But when I searched the Internet it said green was the Islamic colour and blue was their protective colour. Only things certain in life are change & death. Maybe blue was previously their religious colour and it had changed to green? The ceramic tiles were glued to the walls but they also had holes in them to make it easier to nail the tiles into their walls to ensure they stayed on the walls.


All the wooden doors, roofs and pillars were beautifully carved. Windows had decorative wooden lattice covers that fit together like puzzles. Gunch was another decorating technique used in their rooms. It was carved plaster making three-dimensional designs sometimes over mirrors or paint colours. Other times the whole room would be all in white with white gunch decorating the walls. The decorated designs were of flowers, stars or geometric patterns. This technique was used in Iran as well and I really liked it.


There was a mint inside the walls from the 16th Century until 1920, where all the workers in the mint had to be clean-shaven. The custom during that time was for men to have long beards and to wear a turban on their head. The turban was worn over short hair and a skullcap. The reason for the turban was that it could be used as the covering for their burial when they died.  Because every Muslim (even today) was buried not in a coffin but wrapped in a long cloth. (I guess the women were buried in their cloaks or dresses)? The reason the laborers in the mint had to be clean-shaven was that the Khan did not trust his workers and thought they would steal the coins in their beards.


After 1920 this mint was no longer used because they switched to paper money. But for 2 years from 1923 to 1925 for some reason they had no paper supply and had to print their money on silk material. There were displays of this silk money inside the mint. Also after 1920 when the Soviets occupied Central Asia the men stopped wearing turbans but they did still wear their skullcaps much like our Canadian men wore ball caps. The government supplies the material for burial and men no longer had to carry this fabric on their heads.


There was a tradition of family acrobats who performed in circuses throughout Central Asia and former Soviet countries. Khiva had such a family who was doing private performances inside a courtyard in Old Town. They usually performed in a circus in Tashkent but had finished for their season and came home to practice. We watched a private performance with two men who were brothers. They balanced on a tight rope blindfolded and did one-arm handstands on each other’s heads while walking across the high wire. Then a little girl around 3 or 4 years old climbed up the ladder. She wasn’t nervous at all, she climbed onto a man’s head, who was on top of the other man and holds out her little arms waving, while chewing gum.  It was very cute to watch. Then the men with their father played musical instruments for us.  One man blew on this very long horn, which was very loud and looked extremely hard to play.  We got our monies worth watching this family’s performance.


We had our final dinner with Randy and Sue Wall; Terry and Gillian Johnston during dinner and were entertained by Uzbek dancers and singers. Dressed in their traditional clothing. It was really cute because they had two little boys dancing and each wore the traditional herder’s hat. This hat was made up of sheepskin with long wool on the outside. It was a very large hat and the sheep’s wool covered the person’s eyes while wearing it. One little boy was very musical and talented. He sang, played castanets and made popping sounds with his mouth. He did this while shaking his head with the large sheep wool hat bouncing around on his head. Somehow this hat bopping around his head, stayed on while we watched, ready to catch the hat when it fell off! We had lots of fun watching their performance.


We also had to perform and sing our songs! The boys sang to the tune of Gilligan’s Island and did a great job.  It was very funny and a hard tune to boot.  But they pulled it off and we girls were laughing so hard listening to their words it was hard to collect ourselves to sing our song. The girls sang to the tune of Old Suzanna and we also did a great job, if I do say so myself.

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