Travels in Uzbekistan

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<Originally posted by Carl Kasten, who is studying Central Asian Studies in Kyrgystan.  Visit his blog page at http://prokastenator.tumblr.com&gt;

The old city of Khiva. So many excellent stories from this place, so much fascinating history, I honestly didn’t know where to begin.

Khiva is located in southern Uzbekistan. So far south, the horizon there is probably in Turkmenistan. The city is old. It’s dated to between two to three thousand years ago, and has served as the seat of government of the Khiva Khanate, an important stop on the Silk Road and one of the many kingdoms left behind by the breakup of the Mongol Empire.

We had the privilege to tour the Old City, which is contained within walls that range up to thirty feet high and an easy twenty feet thick at the base.

Within the Old City are numerous madrasahs (a sort of school common in the Arabic world) minarets, and palaces. Visible in this shot is the city’s main madrasah, which now works as a hotel, and the incomplete minaret.

The large blue tower is the incomplete minaret. Had it been completed, the minaret would have stood somewhere around eighty meters high based on the size of its base. Unfortunately, the Khan who originally commissioned it was killed before it was completed. His successor/probable murderer allegedly walked up to the top of the incomplete structure, surveyed the city below, and, immediately recognizing that the tower would have a direct view into his bedroom across the street, ordered construction to halt.

The main madrasah has similarly interesting stories surrounding it. The school was home to up to one hundred fifty students at a time. The students were required to study the Quran and Arabic language, but most every other subject was theirs to choose. However, at the end of their three year studies they were required to stand before their lecturers and answer any question on the subjects they had studied. The final question was always the same; “What can you teach us?” Should the student fail to produce a noteworthy advancement in their field they were made to repeat their studies until they could.

Our guide for this area was a local, his family had lived in the city for generations. As we entered the courtyard of the madrasah he took a long look at the rows of doors that lined the second floor and explained– “It used to be that every room was used by two students. Then the Bolsheviks came and every room was used by two prisoners.” A man on the second floor yelled something in Uzbek while desperately trying to install an external air conditioner above the crumbling brick doorway. Our guide just nodded and finished: “And now every room is used by two tourists.”