The masjid-i jami or congregational mosque of Khiva is a vast, one-storied mosque with a tall brick minaret. Its simplicity of form and construction, such as the lack of portals, cupolas, galleries and courtyards distinguish it from the typical open-court mosques of Central Asia. The mosque's modest elevation and plain brick walls render its northern facade inconspicuous on the primary east-west street across the Ichan-Kala, or the Inner Fortress. Portions of the mosque are traced back to the tenth century, but Muhammad Amin-Inakh (1763-91) reconstructed most of the current structure and minaret in 1788-89, on the site of the smaller old mosque.
The hypostyle prayer hall has 218 carved wooden columns fenced in with one-story high brick walls, defining a rectangular plan of fifty-five by forty-six meters. The thirty-two meter high minaret is attached to the northern street façade, next to the primary entrance, although worshippers can enter the mosque from all four sides. Inside, the closely spaced wooden columns support beams traveling in the transverse and longitudinal axes. Two unglazed, octagonal light-wells and a double height rectangular space above the mihrab break the roof's extensive horizontal plane. A small, white domed shrine sits between the two octagonal light-wells, along the mosque's dominant east-west axis.
The mosque is noted for the craftsmanship and diverse ornamentation of its antique columns. A typical column is five and half meters high and thirty centimeters in diameter at its widest, with the shaft tapered towards the top. The lower portion of the typical column is shaped like a bulb and sits on a pyramidal, carved stone plinth. The columns vary in proportion and detail, with a variety of marble pedestals, but twenty-four of them are widely recognized as prime specimens of Khorezm craftsmanship. Russian archaeologist V.L Voronina classified the columns into three different periods based on their ornamental patterns. Four columns, displayed at the Tashkent Museum were dated to the late tenth and early eleventh centuries. Seventeen pillars, still at the mosque, are from the twelfth century. The rest of the pillars were all replaced at a later time except for three remaining from the fourteenth century.
The Kufic inscription carved in high relief on the oldest pillars contrast with the simpler painted ornament found on the later pillars. Also celebrated are the bronze plating, decorative nails and carved vegetal motifs of the mosque's primary bi-fold wooden doors. The interior is plastered, while portions of the walls still display paintings, depicting trees, bushes and flowers in black & red. The structure has been extensively restored and has become a popular tourist attraction, since the Ichan-Kala achieved World Heritage status in 1990.
Azizkhodjaayev, Alisher. Khiva: The City of a Thousand Domes, 49, 58. Tashkent: Chief Editorial Office of Publishing and Printing Concern, 1997.
Borodina, Iraida. Central Asia: Gems of 9th-19th Century Architecture, 180. Moscow: Planeta Publishers, 1987.
Knobloch, Edgar. Monuments of Central Asia, 90. London: I. B. Tauris Publishers, 2001.