Khiva and neighboring cities and towns played an important role in the economy of medieval Uzbekistan, and the caravan roads that connected the countries of the East and West passed across them. The caravan roads contributed to the cultural and diplomatic relations as well. Using these roads the troops moved during the medieval wars and travelers from distant countries came. They served to disseminate the best architectural and artistic ideals to the neighboring regions. In the course of time the Khorezm builders worked out certain principles and methods and created a distinctive school of architecture, the traditions of which were spread beyond the limits of the region to the cities of Povolzhye and northern Caucasus.
What are the peculiarities of the local architectural school? What are the distinctive features that separate the construction of Khorezm from that of other regions? The dwelling houses, mosques, madrasahs and other constructions of Khiva differ considerably from the similar buildings of Bukhara, Kokand and other cities of Uzbekistan. One can see differences in the use of space, the plan of construction, and the use of decorative arts.
The basic plan for the Khorezm house makes extensive use of high aivans to provided ventilation and relief from the heat. It also does not separate the men and women's household yards, as do the houses of other cities in the region. Also, the houses of Khiva did not feature the earth-quake-proof walls of Ferghana, which were erected in a wooden frame in two rows with thickness up to 60-70 cm. and interior niches and shelves. In Khorezm, the low seismic danger permitted the construction of houses with wooden frames of one row, and the thickness of the walls was only 15-20 cm. Shelves were constructed only in the palaces, which, of course also differed from simple dwelling houses in the number of rooms, sizes of yards, and magnificence of decoration.
The quarter-mosques of Khiva's neighborhoods are distinctive. They are something in between the Bukhara mosques and the bulky Ferghana constructions of the same type. In Khiva the cupola halls are combined with summer aivans with flat ceilings.
Unlike the picturesque, freely planned, asymmetric madrasas of the Ferghana Valley, in Khorezm the madrasas were symmetrical in construction, often with a fenced yard in front.
Architectural ornamentation occupied a special place in the Khorezm School of architecture. The huge number of ornamental applications was employed here, including the characteristic restrained blue-white and sky-blue palette of the ceramic insertions and majolica plates'. The favorite motives in the decorations are spiral-shaped plant arrangements full of leaves, flowers, and buds; these have ancient roots in the folk art of Khorezm. These patterns are organically combined with epigraphies and geometrical ornaments, (girikhs).
It is worth to note that the same decoration, done in a different medium, leaves a different impression. For example, there is no depth in the patterns of majolica plates; but the same patterns are animated by the variety of light and shade on the wooden elements. The shafts of the pillars and their bases, doors, shutters, and gates were decorated with excellently carved ornament in the constructions of Khiva. The raised pattern is frequently impressive in its richness and originality of the composition. The architectural decoration preserved in the monuments of Khiva witnesses to the unlimited artistic imagination of the Khiva architects.
Every year, thousands of tourists visit Khiva to see its wonderful monuments of medieval architecture, which have weather time, resisted war, and survived natural disasters to bear to us the encoded wisdom of past generations. One visit to Khiva lifts the veil of the city, but it is difficult to learn everything in one visit. There is a popular belief that if one throws a coin into the water, one is sure to come back again. Throw a coin into any Khivan well, and you are sure to return to Khiva as a guest! Then the city will show you new pages of its centuries-old history.
Khiva is an entire city, which has been preserved — a unique phenomenon in world culture. If architecture, as the ancient people said, is stifled music, Khiva with its amazingly beautiful architecture and art works is a wonderful and elevated symphony of forms and colors, an original anthology of the vivid creative ideas of many generations of architects, masters, and artists.
One of the most ancient specimens of the region's plastic arts is the fragment of the up» per part of the stone column in the form of a bearded man from Sultanuizdag, associated with ancient art, specifically with old Egyptian sphinxes and Akhemenid centaurs. The analogies of the upper part of the Sultanuizdag column in the form of bulls, lions, and griffins in the Akhemenid buildings found by the researchers allow them to date it back fifth — fourth centuries B.C.
One more type of sculpture, small terracotta statues of cult characters appeared in this period. They were produced before and during the fourth century A.D. The incidence of these terracotta statues in Central Asia has its own history. The earliest terracottas with the images of goddesses date back the fourth — second centuries B.C., i.e. to the Cneolit and Bronze ages. Their appearance was connected with the cult of the mother-goddess. With the new millennium came a kind of break in the production of these statues. Various other symbols and amulets seemed to have replaced the statues in the cult of this goddess. The revival of the iconography of the mother-goddess was noted in the period of hellenization of Central Asia, when the terracotta statues appeared at roughly the same time in the different places of the region in Baktria, Marghi-ana, Soghd and Khorezm. As the researchers state: «Their style is rooted in Hellenistic influence; the peculiar features of these small statues are the fluidity of the lines, softness of the drape, the outline of the form of the body, and sometimes the classical pose of well-balanced peace». At the same time, the terracotta’s of each region had local peculiarities, which can be seen in the treatment of figures, faces, clothes, and other attributes.
The appearing of the cult statues in Khorezm approximately coincided with the end of Akhemenid power and an intensive developing of the town life, handicraft, and building of cult centres. The religious and cult ideas of Khorezm people developed during this period, and a local pantheon of deities arose, to the honor of which the temples were built, and a ritual sculpture was created. Probably small terracotta figures were the copies of the big statues of Gods from the temple.
Among the multitude of recovered anthropomorphic terracotta statues, the majority of them belonged to the goddesses. The variety of faces and belongings allow scholars to think that they reproduced the images of the Khorezm goddesses with different functions. A number of researchers connected these statues with the universal image of the Central Asian mother-goddess Anakhita, patroness of water and the life-giving power of the nature from the Avesta religion. But according to Q.A.Pugachenkova: «The iconography of the statues in a majority cases do not coincide with that detailed description in the Hymn of Anakhita and it would be better to use the general term: The Great Goddess».
At the same time statues with specific attributes could reflect the local religious and cult ideas and images. Thus a small female statue with Greek vases in her hand the researchers identify as the local goddess Mona. She was connected with an orgiastic holiday of the Dionysus cult in Khorezm. And a naked figure of a male with bunch grapes in his hand probably belongs to this cult, though it is less certain. The male statues that have been found are not identical. The features, form, and the size of the beard and headwear are different.
Numerous statues associated with the horse cult, which was found throughout Central Asia, especially Khorezm have also been found. The cult was reflected in the place names of one of the Khorezm cities: Khazar-asp, the city of «one thousand horses».
It is worth mentioning that the phenomenon of eastern water bottles with a variety of pictures on them, the fragments of which were found in large numbers in Koi-Kirilgan-kala. These earthen water bottles were very primitive, but the richness of its subjects depicted on them permits them to be referred to as fine art. The figures included human figures, both real and fantastic ones, motifs and symbols that are generally associated with local religious and mythological notions, At the same time a number of the images have an connections with the cults and arts of wider Central Asia and Ancient Greece. For example there are pictures of a fantastic winged horse with a human head, which researchers connect, with the cosmogony ideas of the ancient Khorezm people. An analog to it was found on the ancient astrological map and probably has one and the same mythological origin.
The monumental fine art of ancient Khorezm — sculpture, relieves, and wall paintings — were an integral part of the architectural decorations of its buildings. The plastic modeled forms were usually made of clay and painting was often applied to unstable walls. As a result, this art has come to us in incomplete fragments. Thus it is often difficult to recreate the full work and its arrangement in the interior space.
Sculptural compositions and relieves made of clay with surface paint were found in the palaces of the ancient Khorezm rulers in To-prak-kala (second — fourth centuries). The images were presented in the stylized manner, which added to the plastic expressiveness of the composition. High relief depicted various subjects on walls. The figures of the ruler and his members of the family were presented in huge statues, which were in the special niches. The traditions of Hellenistic art are noticeable in the plastic modeling and composition. But in their interpretation, the Khorezm sculptors digress from the Greek canon. The faces of the Toprak-kala personages are impassive and do not reflect any individual features; this is characteristic of the plastic art of the steppe nomadic people.
For example, in the «Victory Hall» were scenes glorifying the king for his military courage, in which two figures of winged Victoria fly over him. But even here there is a lack of fervor; the images of the king and warriors lack facial expressiveness. This emotional indifference is reinforced by the frontal presentations of torsos and heads on profiled bodies. This style is characteristic of the sculptors of the nomadic people.
In addition to royal and military subjects, the sculptors of Toprak-kala depicted feasting revelers. These reflected the local version of the Dionysus cult. Some other figures, for example dancers with goat-headed creatures — the image of Dionysus — on the «Khorezm Cups» are obviously liked to this Greek cult. Yet, even in these figures archaic local features can be seen.
Many motifs connected with the cult of the local dying and rising deity Siyavush — high relief figures of various animals, birds, pomegranate bushes, and the vines were also found here.
On the walls of Topraq-kala, one can still see fragments of paintings depicting the fashionable life of the palace. There is a traditional romantic scene with a picture of beloved couples and the image of the harp-playing girl, which came to Central from Buddha mythology. There are quite a number of motifs connected with the local fauna and flora. These are lilies, red fish gleaming among the waves, and tigers fiercely bearing their teeth. Detail was not a priority for these artists, but rather the wholeness of the composition and in the harmony of the colors. The purple, white, black and yellow colors prevailed.
The wall painting of ancient Khorezrn demonstrated the existence of a developed and distinctive local school, the masters of which creatively combined the traditions of Hellenistic and Indo-Buddhist arts with their own artistic worldviews.
In the sixth and seventh centuries, the painting traditions of Khorezm appear in the new variations. These included pictures drawn by brush on the surface of the funeral boxes (os-suari) from the necropolises of Topraq-kala and Mizdakkhana. The color pallet included red, black, yellow and light blue. Such funeral vessels, according to the researchers in Khorezm, appeared in the second century B.C. as a compromise between the local variant of Zoroastrianism and the dogmatic Zoroastrianism of Iran. The appearance of the ossuaries, which at first preserved the forms of the ancient urn-statues known in Khorezm but not in other regions of Central Asia and Iran, speaks of the stability of ancient Khorezm traditions.
Ossuary, connected with the ancient traditions of burial in Khorezm that was preserved until the Arabs came to Central Asia, and had two types of ornament — painting and sculpture. The themes in the paintings were mainly devoted to funeral rituals; these included scenes of ritual weeping with professional mourners, priests, and relatives of the deceased. The miniatures paintings were remarkable for the primitiveness of the style, which does not reduce their historic and cultural significance.
The unique sculptures on the ossuaries from Koi-Krilgan-kala were of male and female figures probably associated with gods and goddesses and the beliefs of Khorezm people about the repose of the dead.
The Arab conquest of Central Asia and the triumph of Islam changed the course of development of the arts of the region. The fine art forms unclaimed by new ideology declined. The ancient shrines and palaces were ruined. And so the age of monumental sculpture and wall painting of ancient Khorezm came to an end. The masters of small plastics continued making terracotta figures of horses, bulls and other animals, which were of ritual as well as secular significance. But until the twentieth century, sculpture and painting were eclipsed and the creative potential of the people found its expression in other forms of art.
At the beginning of the twentieth century the new arts of easel painting and machine tool sculpture appeared in the Central Asian region. Distinctive artistic schools have developed, in which the rich cultural heritage of Khiva played an important role. Some artists express this heritage in the portrayal of the famous architectural monuments or in depictions of everyday life in the ancient city; the works by the painter R. Khudaiberganov exemplify this. The canvases of Sh. Babajanov express the philosophic and aesthetic heritage of the people of Central Asia.