One of the main attractions of Kokand is its citadel – Urda, more known as Khudoyar-khan’s palace. According to historical chronicles, 29 khans reigned in Kokand within 150 years, but the most famous among them was the last khan, Khudoyar-khan. He succeeded to the throne in 1845, when he was a 12-year-old boy, and became the brother-in-law of powerful military leader Mingboshi Musulmonkul. During his 30-year reign Khudoyar-khan lost his throne four times, and each time he reinstated his sovereignty.
Khudoyar-khan palace, built in 1871, was the ruler’s seventh mansion and was intended to surpass all the previous constructions in terms of its dimensions and splendour of decoration, thus symbolizing the might of Kokand ruler. The palace building, indeed, occupied 4 hectares, was 138 metres in length and 65 metres in width. The palace was constructed on a three-metre-high platform with a ramp leading to the main entrance; at the bottom of the ramp there once were cast-iron and copper cannons. On the portal, between two guldasta-towers, above the huge fretted entrance gates, there is an Arabic inscription made of majolica tiles, which states “Seyid Mukhammad Khudoyar-khan – the great ruler”. The palace was surrounded by an impressive carved stone fence. On the right flank of the palace there was constructed a faceted minaret faced with ceramic tiles whose colours imitate Ferghana abr silk.
The construction of this magnificent palace, consisting of 7 small inner courtyards surrounded by buildings, was carried out under the guidance of architect Mir Ubaydullo. The best craftsmen from all over the valley were involved in decoration works; the ceramic tiles for façade decoration were manufactured by the craftsmen from Rishtan – the ancient ceramic centre. The palace featured 119 rooms which were decorated with lace-like carving on ganch, ornamental tempera paintings, gold-plated alabaster cornices. The most ornate premises were the throne room and waiting room. Adjoining them were the treasury, depository and arsenal. There was also a special hall where khan administered justice to his subjects. The rooms for his four sons and two daughters were also beautifully decorated. One of the courtyards housed the harem for 40 concubines. Smaller rooms were for numerous servants.
In 1865 Russia annexed Tashkent – the former possession of Kokand khanate. However, by that time the relations between the khan and his Ferghana subjects were far from being satisfactory. The khan stopped paying remuneration to his military leaders and soldiers, and cruel treatment of peasants and townsfolk caused civil unrest and numerous rebels which were suppressed with ruthless severity. The year of 1875 became the last year of Khudoyar-khan’s reign. He had to flee the country and to seek asylum in Russia. Soon after that, meeting no strong resistance on the part of the local people, the Russian troops took Kokand, and in 1876 Russia annexed the Kokand khanate.
Escorted by Ural Cossacks, Khudoyar-khan, together with his courtiers, wives and harem, left for Tashkent. Besides, they were accompanied with packhorses loaded with boxes full of gold and jewelry from the khan’s treasury. However, by the time the caravan reached the residence of Russian general-governor of Turkestan and the khan handed him over the seal of Kokand khanate, little had been left of the treasure. Rumour had it that either Cossacks plundered Khudoyr-khan’s gold, or the khan himself secretly transported his riches to Afganistan where after long wandering in other countries he finally settled down in a small village, dissipated his fortune and died in poverty. Anyway, today several big museums feature unique exhibits from Kokand Urda. For instance, in the Hermitage in St.Petersburg one can see Khudoyar-khan’s throne decorated with precious stones.
Over the years, the interior layout of the khan’s palace underwent considerable changes. Only two courtyards and 19 rooms, which today accommodate the City Local lore museum, have survived to the present day. The collection of the Museum features many exhibits which tell the visitors about Kokand’s historical past. As for the palace itself, the amazing ornaments decorating the palace façade impress with their variety and finesse of colour combinations, and testify to the unfading glory of Ferghana Valley ceramists.