The Tash Hauli was built in the 1830s, as a royal residence by Khivan ruler Ala Kuli Khan (1826-42). Located within Khiva's Ichan-Kala or Inner Fortress, the name of this fortified compound translates to 'stone palace', demonstrating an urban interpretation of the traditional, stronghold-like country houses in Khorezm known as "hauli". Reputedly built over eight years by more than a thousand slaves, the Tash Hauli marked the shift of royal residence and patronage from the ancient Kunya Ark in western Ichan-Kala to its eastern section. The Ala Kuli palace, as it is also known, was separated from neighboring buildings by narrow paved lanes, as the case for many important buildings in the Ichan-Kala. The construction of the palace spurred development in its immediate vicinity and it stands today amidst a dense urban ensemble consisting of the Qutlugh Murad-Inaka and Allah Quli Khan Madrasas, Aq Mosque, Anush Khan Baths and Pahlavan Darvaza.
The palace complex has a rectangular plan with three small courtyards and a large harem court, with varying degrees of privacy and security. The construction of the palace gradually over a decade resulted in independent, often isolated sections with separate entrances. Continued modification and addition until the early twentieth century has generated a labyrinth of corridors connecting the yards and buildings. Today, there are only two operational gates, facing west and south.
The royal harem was first built in 1830-34, and later extended with an inner court to form the Ishrat Hauli, or the private reception chambers. The Arz Hauli, or the receiving yard, was added to the south of the Ishrat Hauli in 1837 and used as a ceremonial court for official receptions. Similar in function to the Kurnish Khana Complex at the Kunya Ark, the Arz Hauli comprises a series of linked inner courts with hierarchical access. The plans of the Ishrat and Arz Hauli are nearly identical, with inner courts flanked on the long side by two-storied structures with deeply recessed, double height iwan bisected by a single column. In the Ishrat Hauli, secondary rooms fronted by five iwans, housed the Khan's harem, facing the much desired north wind. On the opposite side of the court are guestrooms with small loggias on the second floor. A traditional circular tent made of animal hides (yurt) was often installed, in the open court during winter months.
The Tash Hauli's richly decorated interiors stand in stark contrast with its fortified exteriors with their tall, crenellated, solid brick walls, corner turrets and iron gates. A wide variety of materials, including wood, stone, plaster, ceramic tiles and brick are used in a variety of styles. The typical decorative program for the courtyard façades involves alternation between plain brick buttresses and elaborate blue and white majolica panels. Many of the majolica panels are executed in the medallion technique are attributed to master craftsman Abdullah Djinn, and are seen only in Khiva. Large portion of the ornate, painted false wood ceilings, wooden lattice work on railings (panjaras), carved tapering wood columns and wooden doors were acquired from older buildings; they are excellent specimens of the Khorezmian tradition of wood workmanship. White marble pedestals, intricately carved with swastikas and arabesques are adopted as the base of columns in the harem iwans.
The Tash Hauli began to deteriorate in the early twentieth century due to lack of maintenance and improper renovation by impoverished rulers. Extensive restorations were commissioned in 1975, when the then Soviet Republic of Uzbekistan classified Khiva as a historical city. A series of preservation projects were undertaken between 1981 and 1996, accelerating with the declaration of the Ichan-Kala as a World Heritage site by UNESCO in 1990. Today, the Tash Hauli faces damage from the large volume of tourists visiting the site and from the seepage of groundwater.
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