Tash-Khauli Palace Complex of Khiva’s khans is one of the best examples of Asian secular architecture of the 19th century. The building activities on the site started in 1831 and it took the architects Tajiddin and Kalandar 10 years to complete the construction.
Tash-Hauli (‘Stone Yard’) is situated at Palvan-Darvoza Gate and is a huge complex incorporating splendid ceremonial and living structures enclosed by a continuous castellated brick wall. At each corner of the complex there is a medium-size guldasta turret with lantern tops. The total number of rooms in the complex is 163.
First there was built the traditional arzkhona reception yard and ishrat-hauli entertainment yard. Both of the yards have tallayvan structures and the main hall standing in the southern part. The other three sides of the yards are enclosed by chambers for the court members. Above them, on the second floor, there are deep loggias; their ceilings lie on elegant pillars with carvings. Here the khan would consider complaints and render justice. Through a special exit the convicts were escorted for public execution.
In the later period the palace complex was expanded by 5 more little yards enclosed with utility structures, and a large yard of the harem. One of the little yards still has the yurt nomadic dwelling-structure, where the last Khiva’s khans lived in summer, whereas another small yard still has a well.
The harem occupied about half of the complex area. Five tall ayvan terraces face the yard of the harem; behind them there were the chambers for the khan and his wives. On the opposite side of the yard there were the rooms for the khan’s concubines. The structures for harem women attendants and eunuch guards completed the layout of the yard. The facades and walls that faced the inner yards were decorated with majolica carpet-like patterns made in Khiva’s traditional blue, ultramarine and white colours. It is known that this refined ornament was made by craftsman Abdullah. Among the decorations of the harem buildings the intricate carvings on the wooden ayvan pillars are especially impressive.
In one of the halls of the harem stands a 19th-century carriage in almost perfect condition. An interesting story is connected with this carriage. When the khan visited Russian Emperor, he noticed that despite the severe winter it was warm in the Russian Winter Palace, and he asked the emperor for a master craftsman who could build fireplaces in the khan’s living chambers. The fireplace-maker arrived to the khan’s court in a carriage. The khans’ wives liked the carriage so much that on completion of his work the craftsman had to give it to them as a present. The craftsman traveled back home in public carriages (commuting between official post stations), while the wives had fun in riding in the carriage about their yard.
In the khans’ times even the courtiers could not enter the harem, let alone ordinary people. Today any tourist can easily visit this “prohibited area”.