The Islam Khodja ensemble, consisting of the smallest madrasah and the highest minaret of Khiva, goes back in form to the ancient minarets of the XI and XII centuries, and is located in the south-eastern part of the Ichan-Kala. The builders wanted such a design to surpass the Bukhara minaret Kalyan, using the most ancient tradition of minarets building in the form of narrow towers. The height of the highest minaret in Khiva is 57 m (including the base). The ensemble was built in 1908-1910 by the order of Islam Khodja, the chief vizier of the Khivan khanate under Muhammad Rakhim-khan II (1863-1910) and his son Isfandiyar-khan (1910-1920).
As Khiva slowly emerged blinking into the 20th century, the pressing need for reform became apparent to certain members of the court of Isfandiyar Khan. At the culling edge of these reforms was the Grand Vizier, Islam Khodja, who rapidly earned the love of the people by commissioning a public school and hospital, and the wrath of the clergy by initiating a series of educational reforms. Islom Hoja was liberal by Khivan standards: he founded a European-style school, brought long-distance telegraph to the city and built a hospital.
In 1913 he was assassinated on the orders of his arch enemy Nazar Beg, with the tacit permission of the khan, but not before he had time to commission this madrassah (1908) and minaret (1910). The project was destined to be the last monumental architectural achievement of the Central Asian khanates, not least because its architect was buried alive by Isfandiyar in the wake of the assassination cover-up.
The Islam Khodja minaret light and harmonious silhouette, surrounded with sparkling tapes of mosaic facings, became the most expressive symbol of Ichan-Kala. The minaret's top platform at a height of 45 m is the highest point from which to obtain a panoramic view of Khiva. The trunk of the Islam Khodja minaret, having a diameter at its base of 9.5 m, is reduced as it climbs. The through light at its top has stalactite eaves and ceramic lattices-pandzhara.
The brick decor of the Islam Khodja minaret underlines its monumentality. The minaret is girded by sparkling strips of facings of glazed patterns, mainly of blue, dark blue, white and turquoise colours, the ornaments of which are unique. Regarding beauty and grace, only the Kalyan minaret in Bukhara can be compared to this minaret, which was conceived much earlier than the Islam Khodja minaret.
The best masters of their time - Balta Vaisov, Ishmukhammad Khudaiberdiev, Kalandar Kuchum, Khudaibergen Khodzhi and others - took part in the construction of the minaret and its decorative ornamental preparation.
You can climb the minaret. With bands of turquoise and red tiling, it looks rather like an uncommonly lovely lighthouse. At 57m tall, it’s Uzbekistan’s highest, but is almost 800 years younger than Kalon in Bukhara. Its tapering bands of green glazed tiles lead up to the tallest watchtower in Khiva, essential for spotting roving bands of man-stealing Turkmen, even in 1910. During the 1924 four day assault on the city waged by the basmachi leader Junaid Khan, according to the tinted glass of Soviet myth, the minaret was used as a radio tower to summon from distant Ferghana the first plane ever to be seen in Khiva, which subsequently strafed and bombed the terrified brigand forces. Wooden steps lead up to the height of the original madrassah entrance and another 98 continue up lo the clerestory.
The Islom Hoja Madrasah
The asymmetric Islam Khodja madrasah occupies an important place in the Ichan-Kala ensemble, serving as a background to the well-known Islam Khodja minaret with its adjoining main facade. Its small court yard was built with 42 single-storey khudzhras. The second floor covers only the entrance group and is decorated with a magnificent majolica facade. Dark-blue-white majolica facings, tympanums and glazed pattern strips are used in the decor of the madrasah's main facade. The madrasah's south-eastern part has an enormous low dome.
The Islam Khodja madrasah is a unique architectural construction, which reflects the influence of time and the national masters' spirit of creative inspiration. Masters Bolta Vaisov and Madiminov carried out the madrasah's glaze decoration based on Ishmukham-mad Khudaiberdiev's sketches. The architects' skills can be seen in the architectural forms which contrast the combinations, skilfully used on the limited space. The mikhrob (prayer niche in the mosque wall, facing Mecca) is finished with majolica and carved gunch.
The 42 rooms of the madrassah now hold a museum of applied arts, Khiva's finest, displaying local arts ranging from women's embroidered chetvan robes to the original carved wooden plaque of the Ota Darvoza. Metal-chasing and leatherwork, tile and ganch and marble and wood carvings are all represented. The mosque is crowned with a characteristically Persian-shaped dome.
Opposite the madrassah is the first Russian school built in Khiva (1912), now a small display devoted to Uzbekistan's first photographer Khudaybergon Devanov (1879-1940). For a while Devanov was the official photographer of Muhammed Rakhim Khan, giving him unparalleled access. The wonderful images reveal an uneasy mingling of the ancient and the Soviet, from portraits of khans to political meetings, all developed from enormous glass negatives. The portrait of Khiva's intelligentsia dated from 1930 shows a group of friends blissfully unaware of what Stalin was about to throw at them.
One hundred metres south of the Islam Khodja Minarei lies the Baghbanli District Mosque (1809), whose Corinthian carved columns rank as some of the most beautiful in the city.