Within the framework of the initiative launched in 2012 to declare one city of the Turkic world as its cultural capital every year, the President of the Republic of Uzbekistan Shavkat Mirziyoyev who attended the 6th Summit of the Turkic Council held in Cholpan Ata as a guest of honour on September 3rd, 2018 had announced the candidacy of the city of Khiva for the title of the Cultural Capital of the Turkic World in 2020. Hence, this is how the process leading to the declaration of Khiva as the Cultural Capital of the Turkic World for the year 2020 had begun. With its labyrinth-like, narrow streets, the city of Khiva which is the pearl of Uzbekistan takes its visitors onto a journey to an open-air museum where they get lost in time and where history disappears, with no trace of modernism. With its rich historical and cultural heritage, this unique city had long deserved being considered as “world heritage”. Let us embark on a journey to discover Khiva together….
A Short Historical Overview…
The city of Khiva is located on a lowland in the Southeast of the Aral Lake and in the West of the Amu-Darya river. Historically speaking, the city of Khiva is characterized by a cosmopolitan social structure in ethnic terms due to the central position it has had since the Khiva Khanate.
First written records about Khiva date back to the 10th century. Indeed, the Arab traveller Al-Istarkhiy also mentions Khiva among important cities of the Khorezm region. According to legends, the city of Khiva was founded by Shem, Noah’s son while he was digging a well in the middle of the desert.
People say that travellers drank water from this well located in one of the most ancient cities of the Silk Road and shouted: “Khey Vakh!”, meaning “what a great feeling to drink from this sweet water“. As time passed by, this exclamation evolved into Khiva.
Due to the fact that it was often visited by merchants, the city of Khiva is refered to as some kind of a center of caravanserais. According to archeologists, the city of Khiva was established in the 5th or the 4th century BC. Khiva cannot be considered apart from the Khorezm Civilization.
However, with the invasion of the Mongols under the leadership of Genghis Khan, this well developed city fully disappeared.
The 13th and 14th centuries mark the beginning of the Uzbek dynasty in the region of Khiva. In the 15th century, the region was ruled by the Timurid Empire. Later on, the region of Khiva resumed its development during the period of the Shaybanid Empire. Finally in the beginning of the 16th century, the city of Khiva became the capital of the Khanate of Khiva which was one of the Uzbek Khanates at the time, thus, turning into a city with wonderful architectural monuments which eventually became an important political center.
In 1873, Russia besieged Khiva under the leadership of General Kaufman. Although the Soviet Union applied various administrative rules and regulations until 1924, the whole region was converted into the Uzbek Soviet Socialist Republic in 1924 and Khiva became the administrative center of the region of Khorezm in Uzbekistan.
Architectural Monuments and the Cultural Heritage of Khiva as World Heritage
The city of Khiva and its architectural monuments were already placed under protection by the state in 1967. The ancient fortress of Khiva called Ichan Qal’a was restored to its appearance hundreds of years ago and became an open-air museum which is also listed as one of the state Museums of Uzbekistan. In 1997, the 2500th anniversary of the establishment of the antique city of Khiva was celebrated with international events. In addition to this, Khorezm region also received the Jaloliddin Manguberdi Award which is the most prestigious award in Uzbekistan in 2003.
Today, Khiva is refered to as one of the most beautiful ancient cities of the world. In fact, Khiva owes this to its locational and morphological structure. Indeed, the city is composed of two parts being the Inner-city/fortress (Ichan Qal’a) surrounded by a 8-meter-high wall and the Outercity (Dishan Qal’a) which surrounds it. As a result of pressure from Iran an outer-wall was built around the Inner-city to protect it in the 3rd and 4th centuries BC. In the Middle Ages, the inner-city was inhabited by high-level state officials, clergymen and rich merchants. Other, ordinary citizens, small shopkeepers and craftsmen used to live in the outer-city. The Outer-city (Dishan Qal’a) was built in 1842 upon order of Khan Allakulik within 30 days.
Today, there are some more modern settlements surrounding the Outer-city, but the city of Khiva itself is still known for its Inner and Outer-city as well as its historical settlements.
Ichan Qal’a which led to the inclusion of the city of Khiva in the World Heritage List of UNESCO is an impressive settlement both in architectural as well as in visual terms. This city which defeats time and modernism features blue and turquoise tiles, two-storey madrasahs, summer and winter palaces of Khans as well as many mosques and conic minarets such as the Ak Camii mosque, the Madrasah of Allakuli Khan, the Madrasah of the Arap Muhammed Khan, the Juma Camii Mosque, the Islam Khoja Complex, the Kalta Minor Minaret, the Khoja Bardibai Madrasah, the Pehlevan Mahmud Shrine, the Muhammed Amin Khan Madrasah, the Muhammed Rahim Khan Madrasah, the Seyyid Aladdin Shrine and the Shergazi Khan Madrasah etc…
The most important monument of Ichan Qal’a is the Kunya-Arq complex. This complex, which is located on the outskirts of the Western ramparts of the city, took shape with additional structures being added to it throughout history. Then, there is the Madrasah of Muhammed Amin Khan (1851-1852) which is intertwined with the Kunya-Arq complex. This is the biggest Madrasah in Khiva. It contains a madrasah, an auditorium, winter and summer mosques and a library. Its architectural structure is characterized by traditional Uzbek features.
Ayşe Colpan YALDIZ,
Assoc. Prof. Dr., Ankara Yıldırım Beyazıt University Faculy of Political Science and Public Administration