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Main / / / Khorezm Region – Land Of The Sun

One of the largest centers of world civilization and one of the most important trading centers on the Great Silk Road – Khorezm occupies an important place in Uzbekistan's history. Khorezm (Horasmis, Hvarezm) had been the large state situated in the west of Central Asia, south of the Aral Sea. Khorezm civilization arose in the middle of the 3rd millennium BC in a fertile oasis, rich in fish and fowl in the lower reaches of the Amu Darya (Greek "Oxus") between the Karakum and Kyzyl Kum deserts. It was located on the territory of modern Uzbekistan and Karakalpakstan, northern Turkmenistan and part of southern Kazakhstan. This land is the cradle of a unique culture, leaving behind grandiose monuments - lost cities and gigantic fortresses. Greek scholar and historian Herodotus called these lands Country of a thousand castles. Khorezm is first mentioned in the famous Behistun inscription in 519 BC as a state, captured by the Persian ruler Darius I. According to scientific research Khorezm is considered the birthplace of Zoroastrianism, where unique monument of writing "Avesta" - the holy book of the Zoroastrians was created. In that book Khorezm was called "land of the sun." Many scholars identify with Khorezm the first Zoroastrian country Aryanam-voychakh.

The name "Khorezm" dates back to the Iranian "hour" - the sun, and an ending to "zm" – land;  and treated as a "Land of the Sun” ,” “Low-lying land", "Fertile land", "Country of people of Hvar."

The history of this amazing region goes back to antiquity, which can match the civilization of ancient Egypt and Babylon. The oldest archaeological sites of Khoresm belong to Neolithic period.  Archaeologist discovered the moorages of hunters and fishermen related to Kelteminar culture (4-3 millennium BC).


The capital of the Khorezm region of modern Uzbekistan is Urgench - administrative and cultural center located on the left bank of the Amu Darya. Its origin dates from the middle of the XVII century, when the Khan of Khiva Abdulgazi relocated residents of deserted Kunya Urgench (Gurganzh) - the medieval capital of a rich and powerful Khorezm state, to a new location in the Khorezm oasis. The Amu Darya River, changing its course, often caused the death of many settlements. The final turn of the Amu Darya in the XVI century destroyed Old Urgench. The city was mentioned in the holy book of the Zoroastrians - Avesta under the names "Urva", "Urga". In Kangyui period the city was known as "Hangird", "Hadzhird." The ruins of Kunya Urgench with several well-preserved mausoleums, palaces and madrassahs are located 150 km north-west of the modern Urgench adjacent to Turkmenistan part of Sarykaminsk delta of the Amu Darya. A small fortress was built at the new place; it was called New Urgench, a trading settlement in the Khanate of Khiva.

The long history of another town, Khiva, is inextricably linked to the fate of Khorezm. Boom periods, when Khorezm became the head of powerful state formations, interspersed with periods of decline, when its cities and villages died from the devastating hostile invasions.

According to archaeological data, Khiva was founded more than 2500 years ago, in ancient times it was known as the "Kheivak." According to some scholars, the name of the town that grew up in the middle of first millennium BC on the banks of the canal Palvanyab, was derived from Heykanik (or Keykanik), meaning: "The city, situated on the bank of the canal." According to another version the name Khiva is formed from old-Alanic "hiauv" - fortress.

There are many legends associated with this mysterious town, one of them tells us that the settlement grew up around the well Kheivak, the water of which had amazing flavour, and the well was dug by order of Shem, the son of the biblical Noah. In Ichan-Kala (inner city of Khiva) even today you can see the well which, according to Khiva residents, is the same age as the city.

The word "Khiva" is known from Arabic geographical works of the tenth century as the name of one of the settlements on the caravan route between Gurganch (now Kunya Urgench) and Merv (now Mary), the earlier information about the city is unknown.

In the ancient state in the VII-VI centuries BC there formed a common culture based on Saks-Massagetan population. Khorezm headed confederation of eastern Iranian tribes (so-called Big Khorezm). In the middle of the VI BC it was conquered by the ancient Iranian Achaemenid state. Under Achaemenid Artaxerx II (404 - 358) Khorezm became a separate satrapy. The center of the state was a big fortress Kalaly-gyr.

Khorezm retained its autonomy during eastern campaign of Alexander the Great and the Greco-Macedonian kings in Central Asia in the II BC.

In the III century BC Khorezm experienced unprecedented economic growth, with development of crafts, trade, building new cities (Kala Bazar, Janbas Kala) and worship centers (Coy Krylgan-Kala). Much attention is paid to the development of medicine, astronomy, architecture.

From the middle of first century AD until the end of the second century AD, during the period when Khorezm was part of the Kushan Empire, there were erected huge defensive outposts occupied by the regular army (Kyzyl-Kala), and walled cities. The climax of the artistic culture of the era is the famous settlement Toprak-Kala - a real fusion of architecture, sculpture and painting. Unlike the Egyptian pyramids and palaces of Babylon, Khorezm towns and fortresses were built without the use of stone and wood; the walls of fortresses were built of huge blocks of adobe brick, and small stones reinforced masonry. At the core of the building was used river sand, which retained moisture, and during the earthquakes it extinguished the disaster.

Time of Kongyui rule left a significant mark in the economic and cultural life of the peoples of Central Asia. The appearance of Greek merchants, artists and artisans led to the synthesis of Greek and Oriental culture - to the eastern Hellenism.

Since 305 to 995 Khorezm, encompassing Khiva, was ruled by Afrighid dynasty.

In 712 the Khiva was conquered by Arab troops led by commander Kuteyba ibn Muslim. Khiva became a part of the Muslim world. Despite the dependence on the Arabs, Afrighids retained power until the end of the tenth century.

The X-XI centuries are the periods of heyday of the Khorezm feudal state, it was then when new cities appeared, crafts and trade were developing, channels were built for several hundred kilometers. During this period Urgench, the capital of Khorezm, was a well-organized city with high culture and science. Khorezmshakh Abul Abbas ibn Mamun patronized scientists and creative people. He gathered at the palace of Khorezmshakhs great thinkers, scientists, and encyclopaedists of the East - the physician Ibn Sina (Avicenna), mathematician Abu Rayhan Biruni, historian Ibn Miskavayha, and philosopher Abu Sahl Masihi in the first scientific academy in Muslim East - "Baital-Hikam." It was headed by a distinguished mathematician al-Khwarizmi (783-850). In Urgench it was organized by "The House of experts" - "Academy", in which research in the field of astronomy, philosophy, mathematics and medicine was held. However, this atmosphere in Urgench survived not for long - up to 1017, before the conquest of Khorezm by Mahmud Ghaznavi.

In the period of the Great Khorezmshakhs at the turn of the XII-XIII centuries, was created a huge state, extending from the northern shores of the Caspian Sea to the Persian Gulf and,  from the Caucasus to the Hindu Kush. This was period of high rise of art and culture. Power and glory of that era was reflected in the construction of secular and religious buildings.

In 1220 the city was destroyed by the armies of Genghis Khan. The city was razed to the ground. After the Mongol conquest in the XIII century Khorezm became part of the Golden Horde; it has had a significant impact on the culture. Capital of Khorezm Kunya- Urgench, lying at the crossroads of caravan routes that linked it to the cities of the Lower Volga region and Central Asia, was one of the largest craft centers in Central Asia.

In 1388 the Khorezm became a part of huge empire of Amir Temur. For nearly a century the struggle continued between the Temurid dynasty and the Golden Horde khans for the right to possession of Khorezm.

In 1505 Khorezm was ruled by Sheybanikhan. In 1512 new Uzbek dynasty came to power in Khorezm, it held the throne until the end of XVII century.

Khiva became the capital of the state in 1556. In 1598 Khiva became the main city of Khiva Khanate.

It is the architectural ensembles of Khiva which clearly convey color decorative - monumental art of the late feudal Khorezm. In a short period Khiva has become one of the spiritual centers of Maverannakhr. In the first half of the XVII century during the reign of Abdulgazi, Khorezm was a strong independent state that became known as the Khanate of Khiva.

However, in the XVIII century feudal disunity, dynastic turmoil, enmity with neighboring tribes and states have weakened the country. It was only at the beginning of the XIX century, after the approval of Kungrat dynasty that Khiva became a major cultural center and it was actively built with monumental civic and religious structures.

In the 70-s of the nineteenth century in Khiva Khanate was established a protectorate of the Russian Empire.

The term "Khanate of Khiva" was used mainly in Russian and West European literature. A local official terminology still called Khorezm as Khorezm state, which explains the name formed in 1920, the Khorezm People's Soviet Republic. In 1925 the land of the Khiva Khanate became part of the Uzbek and Turkmen SSR, and Khiva became part of Uzbekistan.

This ancient city today is one of the main tourist centers of the Republic of Uzbekistan, which attracts the attention of numerous monuments with its unique architecture, great products of arts and crafts, hospitality and cheerfulness of the inhabitants.

Museum city under the open sky - Khiva, as the precious sapphire with diamond cut, astonishes tourists by its magnificent architecture. Once in the city, one is struck by the magnificent panorama of this fantastic city with a maze of narrow streets, with monumental buildings, khan palaces, madrassahs, mosques, minarets, commercial buildings and fortifications, as if frozen in feudal form. In 1990 the city was included in the UNESCO World Cultural Heritage Site; in 1997 by the world cultural community celebrated the 2500th anniversary of Khiva. Ruins of buildings showing ancient age of the city are buried under a thickness of multimeter cultural layers. This is Ichan-Kala - the central part of Khiva. Among the most ancient materials found in the subsurface of excavations and pits are fragments of pottery dating from the VI-V centuries BC. For many thousands of years the art and architecture of the region have undergone many changes, socio-economic, ideological and ethno genetic factors. Many features of the Khorezm culture have been preserved to this day, and appeared in the applied arts, folk architecture of the Uzbeks, Karakalpaks and Turkmens living in the area for centuries.

Most of the buildings in Khiva, Khorezm museum of architecture, preserved from the period of the Khiva Khanate of the late XVIII-early XX centuries. It was a period of relative rise of culture, expansion of construction and handicrafts. The city was actually rebuilt anew; it was built in the image of the ancient cities of Central Asia, while maintaining the verified in millennia appropriateness of their structure.

In the construction for centuries people had been working out the principles, methods and techniques, which created a distinctive school of architecture, traditions which have proliferated far beyond the region. A special place was occupied by architectural decoration of buildings. The blue-white- palette of ceramic inserts and majolica plates embodies a myriad of ornamental compositions. The artistic wood carving in the buildings of Khiva is worth special mention - trunks of columns, their base, doors, shutters and gates are decorated with superb carvings, causing genuine admiration.

Unlike other cities of Uzbekistan, Khiva has its unique layout. Old Town consists of two parts - the inner city Ichan-Kala - the oldest fortified part of the city, behind which there is located outside town - Dishan-Kala, also surrounded by a wall with 10 gates and residential buildings. It housed the bazaars and khans' gardens.

Ensemble Ichan Kala includes about 60 valuable architectural monuments and about 400 traditional houses and other residential buildings. Since 1969, the Ichan Kala has the status of historical and architectural reserve.

Town within a town, Ichan-Kala is an irregular rectangle shape, stretched from north to south (650x400 m.). The fortress occupies 26 hectares and is surrounded by a fortress wall with the length of over 2,200 meters and a height of 8-10 meters. Fortress with four gates (Ata-Darwaza, Bakhcha-Darwaza, Palvan Darwaza, and Tash Darwaza) surrounds the city with palaces, mosques, madrassahs, minarets, dome-vaulted baths, underground reservoirs, bazaar, caravanserai, residential buildings, the earliest of which were erected in the X century. They embody the best traditions of folk art of Khorezmians.

The original core of the city was a stronghold of Kunya Ark (Old Fortress) of the XVII century, the area of one hectare, located at the city wall near the west gate. According to the power of cultural layers it can be concluded that the area was settled long ago. We also know that during the reign of Arangkhan (1686-1688) there was built a new kurinishhana – reception hall. The Ark preserved Reception of Khan, a summer mosque, mint and later building of a harem. Walls and avian with wooden columns of the mosque and the reception of Khan (1825-1842) are covered with magnificent majolica cladding.

The earliest surviving monuments of Khiva are mausoleums of Said Allautdin (died in 1308) and Pakhlavan Makhmud in the center of Ichan-Kala. They were established in the fourteenth century, during the heyday of the brilliant architectural art of Khorezm school. The beauty of designs of tombstones, composition and tone painting introduce this ceramic decoration as one of the best examples of art majolica cladding of the XIV century.

The main object of Khiva is Memorial complex of Pakhlavan Makhmud (1247-1326) - the patron saint of the city. The mausoleum was built over his grave in the XIX century and has the largest dome in Khiva. The complex was built in the memory of Khiva revered poet and craftsman, canonized after his death, as the patron saint of the city. At the beginning of the XIX century around the burial of Pakhlavan-Makhmud Khan was formed the cemetery of representatives of genus and originated ensemble of buildings, including winter and summer mosques, commemoration room and the room for the Koran reading.

In addition to the mausoleum the complex includes the famous Juma Mosque (1778-1782), with multi-columned, covered with flat roof huge rectangular hall (45x55 m), with 210 amazing carved pillars of the period of the X-XVI centuries. Each of the columns is a separate chapter in the history of architectural shapes, unique ornamentation and carving techniques.

Another outstanding religious structure is Ak-Mosque (White Mosque), built in 1838-1842. It is a typical example of neighborhood mosques decorated with a white wall facing. Its central dome area (635x635 m) from three sides is surrounded by high wooden multicolumn terraces, their slender stems and small caps are covered with inlaid exquisite carvings.

During the seventeenth and eighteenth centuries in Khiva there were built many spiritual establishments - Arabmuhammed Madrassah (XVII c.), Madrassah Hurdzhum (XVII c.), Shergazikhan Madrassah (XVIII c.).

Shergazikhan Madrassah (1719-1726) is the oldest and most famous madrassah, raising in its walls prominent poets and scholars of the region - Pakhlavankuli Ravnak (born in 1725) and the Turkmen classic poet - Makhtumkuli (1733-1793). The people called this madrassah "Maskan-i fazilan" (Abode of the educated).

One of the busiest places in Khiva was the area at the eastern gate Palvan Darwaza. Here in the XVII century were built the famous bathhouses of Anush-khan and one-storeyed madrassah of Khodzhamberdybiy (1688).

In the XIX century, in the capital of the khanate were constructed many institutions of higher education, the largest of which were - Amin Khan madrassah and madrassah of Sayyid Mukhammad Rahim Khan II, which were the centers of two architectural ensembles.

Alpakulikhan Madrassah (1834-1835) was one of the most popular religious educational institutions in town. The main facade of it goes into the yard of a partially demolished mosque of Hodzhamberdibiy (1688). As a result of the interfering of the new madrassah in the existing building, a portal of the madrassah divided the mosque into two parts; hence the people called it "hurdzhum" that is, "saddlebag".

Each ancient city of Uzbekistan possesses the majestic and varied in architectural form minarets important in spatial panorama. Khiva minarets, built in the mosques, creating a single ensemble cause particular interest of visitors. Among the minarets the highest (57 meters) and perfect for its architecture is considered Islamhodja minaret (1908), built near the eponymous small in size madrassah. Diameter at the base of the minaret is 9.5 meters. Islam-Khodja was the chief vizier of Khiva during the reign of Muhammad Rahim Khan II (1863-1910) and his son Asfendiyar Khan (1910-1920).

Second highest minaret in the Juma Mosque was built in the late eighteenth century. Unlike other Khiva minarets it is barely decorated.

Another famous minaret - Kalta Minar (short minaret) (1855), remained unfinished at the height of 26 m (diameter at the base of 14.2 m). It was expected to be the tallest minaret not only in Khiva, but in the whole Central Asia. However, in connection with the death of the governor, works on the construction of Kalta Minor were stopped.

In Khiva, famous for its bazaars and shopping malls in the first half of the XIX century, at the gate Palvan Darwaza was built caravanserai, the main facade was added to the porch - passage (Tim). Thus, trade, storage products and a hotel for merchants focused at one point.

The best achievements of residential architecture reflected in the construction of palace complexes of Khiva, craftsmen showed great skill in building palaces for the rulers - Kukhna-ark, Tash-Hawley and the palace of Asfandiyarkhan. Significant place occupies the main palace of Khiva khans - Tash-Hawley (Stone Court), built in the XIX century. Surrounded by high crenellated walls, it is divided into three parts: a receiving yard, yard of pleasures and family entertainment courtyard - harem. Palace Tash Hawley embodies the characteristics of Khiva architecture with the unique architecture of the numerous apartments and decoration. Now some halls of the palace are housing museum exhibition launched on the history, culture and decorative arts of Khorezm.

Many architectural monuments of the old Khiva place museum exhibitions. Kazi Kalyan madrassah (early XX c.) houses a small museum of applied art of Khorezm, Abdullah Khan Madrassah (1855) - Museum of Natural History of Khorezm oasis, Allakuli Khan madrassah (1835) - Museum of the History of Medicine of the ancient Khorezm named after Ibn Sina (Avicenna), etc.

In the outer part of the city - Dishan-Kala, there are many ancient monuments as well.

Building structure of Khorezm masters is certainly a part of world culture. Ancient castles, medieval fortresses, later cities of this ancient oasis are known around the world and demonstrate the centuries-old experience and talent of its architects.

These monuments do not constitute a full list of all the wonderful facilities of a city-museum. Numerous facilities are refracted design and artistic and constructive principles of Khiva. Great value is wood carving and majolica cladding carried out in folk tradition decoration.

The beauty and grandeur of the city, the charm of its landmarks will impress even the most discerning traveler. Everyone will find something interesting: beautiful little streets, cozy tea-house, known trading center, an interesting museum or monument.