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Kunya Ark in 360°
The term „Kunya Ark” means „Original Citadel” reminding us of the fact, that the first residence of the khans of Khiva was also used for military functions. In fact it is a fortress within the fortified walls of Itchan Kala, but the khans have rebuilt it into a magnificent palace throughout the centuries. Despite the construction of Tosh Hauli Palace in the 1830's which was followed by another residence outside the walls, Kunya Ark remained in use till the 20th century.
1. What to see
Restoration of the buildings began in the 1950's and now you can visit the summer mosque, a mint, the iwan and the throne room of the khan inside the walls. There is also a prison not to be missed directly at the entrance of the fortress.
Extensive tile-work is to be seen on the walls of the summer mosque decorated by Allah Kuli Khan in the 1830's. These infinitive patterned lavish majolica tiles and the vivid colors of the ceiling influenced the decoration of Tosh Hauli Palace, the large harem of the khans. The infinitive patterns were painted in three colors. Blue is the color of indigo leaves, turquoise is the color of oxide copper and white is the color of a type of a mineral.
Inside the summer mosque, the beautifully decorated Mihrab indicates the direction of prayer. Above the Mihrab is an inscription with the names of four caliphs: Abu Bakr, Omar, Osman and Ali. Another typical element of any mosque is the Mimbar, a sort of a pulpit consisting of a few steps used by the imam to deliver his public preaching or sermon (khutbah in Arabic). Each column consist of a marble base, a wooden pillar and a tiny layer of wool between them. The latter is very important because it isolates the wooden both pillar both from salty water and protects it against insects. Furthermore it stabilizes the entire column in case of earthquakes which are frequent in the entire area.
The summer mosque faces north to catch the cool winds and circulate them within the structure. During harsh winters prayers were held inside the winter mosque right behind the summer one. According to some guidebooks there is an archaeological collection housed in the, but it was closed on our visit.
Facing the summer mosque is the mint of the khan. Nobody was allowed to wear a beard if working there and they were putting large hats on their heads instead. The reason for getting everyone shaved was that they could have hidden gold dust in their beards. Each week they had been working for three days with gold coins, two days long with silver coins and one day with copper coins. Again this rule was to prevent smuggling of precious metals. Very unique silk coins are also to be seen in the exhibition of the mint.
There are a couple of similarities between the summer mosque and the iwan of the khan. Its present majolica decoration was also commissioned by Allah Kuli Khan in the 1830's. Another similarity is that both structures face north to catch the cool winds. During the harsh winters the khan preferred to stay in his royal yurt put up right in the middle of the courtyard of the iwan. In case of spring and autumn, the khan received visitors in the throne room behind the iwan. The original door contains a swastika shape, a Zoroastrian symbol of the four elements arranged around the sun. Sadly enough not much has remained from the original throne room and the famous library since both of them were plundered in the 1870's. What is now to be seen inside the throne room is mostly a reconstruction.
At the audience visitors had to put their hands to the feet of the khan, bow three times and speak very slowly, politely and of course had to praise the ruler. The khan was flanked by eight bodyguards. He never answered any question directly but signaled when the visitor had to leave and return next day for the answer to the question. The answer was always short and was not discussed or argued anymore.
Similarly to the aforementioned archaeological collection in the winter mosque, we've also missed the unrestored harem within Kunya Ark because Tosh Hauli harem palace is much more interesting. If being lucky enough to get to the top of the watchtower of the ark, it is sure that you'll be able to enjoy incredible views of the inner town. Another option would be to climb one of the minarets, this exactly what we've preferred.