Exploring Tourism in Uzbekistan
icon Worldwideicon
Places to Visit Details

Kunya Ark


Kunya-Ark (“Old fortress”) is the inner citadel of Ichan-Qala. It was founded in the 17th century by Muhammad-Erenk Khan (1687-1688). Kunya-Ark had formed a “city inside a city” separated by a high wall, by the end of the 18th century. There were the Khan’s mosque, residence, supreme court, reception (kurinysh-khan), powder mill, arsenal, mint, registry, harem, kitchens, stables, guardhouse and other structures.

The original building of the Khan’s reception (kurinysh-khana), constructed by Muhammad-Erenk, was destroyed in the middle of the 18th century when Iranian troops invaded the Khanate. Today’s structures were built in 1804-1806 by Iltezer-khan (1804-1806).

The throne room, with a two-column aivan, occupies the southern part of the kurinysh-khanas. The yurt, before which the khan sat during receptions, was in the center of this room. The Khan’s throne was set in a niche in the southern wall. His treasury and depository of manuscripts were located in the western part of the kurinysh-khana. The doors of the throne room were decorated with carved ganch, and the ceiling – with polychrome painting. A famous aivan is faced with blue and white majolica of magnificent ornamentation. The stone base of the column bears the lines of the Khorezm historian and poet Ogahi.

The northwestern corner of kurinysh-khana has an exit and corridor leading to the harem on the hill of Ak-Sheikh-bobo. This is the highest point of Kunya-Ark, which served as a lookout tower.

Legends say that a cell of saint Ak-Sheikh-bobo was located here in the 14th century. The Khan’s harem was located under the hill and consisted of a one-column aivan and several two-storied premises. The mint and Khan’s mosque were located between the harem and kurinysh-khana.

The mint was founded by Muhammad-Rahim-khan I (1806-1825) who completed tax reforms, established customs houses and started minting gold coins. The mosque was constructed at Allakuli-khan (1825-1842) to the south of the mint. While the winter hall of the mosque has a very simple decor, its summer section is very exquisite. Its aivan, with two rows of columns, is painted in dark blue, green and red colors. Its walls, mihrab and minbar, as well as small towers on the edges, are entirely faced with majolica of exquisite floral patterns.

Imagine a kind of porch entirely open to the court, thirty feet high, twenty wide, ten deep, and flanked on either side by towers ornamented with blue and green tiles; in the same way as the large tower on the square; a floor raised six feet above the pavement of the court, the roof supported by two carved slender, wooden pillars, the whole resembling much the stage of a theater, and you will have a good idea of the grand hall of state, wherein the Khan of Khiva sits and dispenses justice. J. Macgahan ‘Campaigning on the Oxus and the Fall of Khiva’ 1874

Kunya Ark which is the “old fortress” was founded in 1680′s by Muhammad Arang khan. Kunya Ark Citadel is located in Itchan Kala (inner fortress) and the western side of Itchan Kala city walls. The Kunya Ark citadel presented a complex containing the residence of Khivan Khans and their family. Kunya Ark citadel was evidently military in function, however it was fitted with several buildings in the 19-century and the beginning of the 20-century. They are the official reception hall (kurinishkhana), glittering summer and winter mosques, mint, harem and guest rooms. There are also a supreme court, powder factory, arsenal, divan registry, kitchens, stables, guard room and an arena for ram figts.

Despite Allah Kuli Khan’s construction of the Tash Hauli Palace in the 1830′s which was followed by later residences, the Kunya Ark continued in use until the turn of the twentieth century.
Plan of Kunya Ark in Khiva.

1. Khan’s Court and Aywan (photo below). 2. City Walls. 3. Harem. 4. Main Gate (photo above).

The Kunya Ark foundations are the oldest surviving remains in Khiva dating back to the fifth century. Numerous cunstructions have since been added, such as the walls which were erected in the 1680′s under Arang Khan. Restoration of the building has started in the middle of the 20th century. Khan’s stables, arsenal and reception area have been discovered at the archeological dig. These interesting finds now on display in the winter mosque.
Khan’s Court

Constructed by Arang Khan in the 17th century, this fabulously tiled aywan was the courtroom or ‘Auz Hauli’ (literally ‘Voice Court’, see Kunya Ark plan 1) where the Khan dispensed justice to his subjects. In the 1830′s Allah Kuli Khan embarked on a lavish redecoration of the aywan and his strong inclination for exciting majolica tiles and contrasting ceiling colors also heavily influenced the decor in the Tosh Hauli Palace.

Today the courtroom of Kunya Ark is worth a visit for its ceiling alone which has been described as the most exquisite in Central Asia. This has been accurately restored and its warm shades contrast beautifully with the cold blues and turquoise of the surrounding majolica tiling.

Three doors of differing heights enter onto the aywan. The first was reserved solely for the Khan, the second was for the rich and wealthy and the third, smallest door was the entrance for the poor.

The aywan of the Khan;s Court at the Kunya Ark in Khiva faces north and so provided a cool interior during the summer months while in winter the Khan would sit on the raised platform facing the aywan, ensconced in furs in his royal yurt. It was here that the Hungarian Vambery and the Russian Muraviev were granted an audience with the Khan who held court for four hours each day.

Safely secluded from prying eyes, the Khan’s beauties would while away their days within the glittering cage of the Kunya Ark harem. This was the main residence of the Khan’s female entourage until Allah Kuli Khan built the Tosh Hauli Palace in the 1830′s. However the successor Khan Mohammed Rakhim Khan II (Feruz Khan) preferred the Ark Harem to the Tosh Hauli and in the 1870′s had the Harem renovated and put to use again.

Without the spectacular tiles of the Tosh Hauli, the Ark harem contains a series of aywans with understated and tastefully decorated ceilings. While it’s not officially open to the public, nobody seems to mind the odd tourist wandering around. Ironically, with less attention paid to restoration and more focus on creating a productive garden, this harem seems much more akin to its original state then the manicured perfection of the tourist showpiece in the Tosh Hauli.

Check out more Places to Visit