The architecture of Djuma Mosque (cathedral mosque) of Khiva, located in the centre of Ichan-Kala, is unusual to say the least. A deep, monastic calm pervades this s centrally placed Friday Mosque, providing a cool, dim, almost subterranean retreat from the bright desert heat. Two puddles of light echo around a petrified forest of pillars in deepening shades of gloom.
According to the Arabian geographer al-Mukaddasy, the Djuma Mosque was constructed in the X century. According to the historian Munis data, the mosque was reconstructed with funds donated by the khan, under the guidance of one of the top officials of his khanate -Abdurakhman Mekhtar at the end of XVIII century.
The building's construction dating can be seen on its entrance doors: 1778-1782. This original one-storeyed building, without portals, arches, domes and any ornaments, represents a huge hall with an area 55x46 m with a flat roof, with three light wells and 212 carved wooden columns for support. Of these, 25 of them are ancient (X-XVI centuries). Four columns dating back to the X and XI centuries are among them and are especially valuable. They were delivered here from other ancient constructions. A unique carving decorates their trunks and capitals. They vary in sizes, form and decoration and are depictive of the high art value of the mosque. Scientists consider that all these features make it comparable to ancient mosques of Arabia.
The vertical formation of 212 karagacha (black elm) pillars, each 3.15 metres apart, exhibits a millennium long spread of Khivan history. The four oldest pillars, as mentioned above, were rescued from the dying Khorezmian capital of Kath in the tenth century and were joined 100 years later by a further 17 pillars that still stand. The most recent mosque was completed at the end of the 18th century. For once, the focus of a mosque, the mihrab, seems strangely incidental.
The mosque's composition is original: blank walls and a flat ceiling create a large, but low volume of the building. The archaic construction of the mosque adjoins the high trunk of the minaret (XVIII century), contrasting it with one of the earliest in Khiva. Its diameter at its base is 6.2 m, and its height - 32.5 m. The top is finished by an eight-arch lantern with stalactite eaves and dome, the narrowed brick trunk has seven narrow cross-section corbels of turquoise bricks. It is sparsely ornamented unlike other minarets of Khiva. 81 stairs lead to the top of the minaret, and a magnificent view of the city opens in front of you.
For an extra fee of around US$2 you can climb the 81 steps and 47 metres of the very dark stairway up to the pigeon-poop-splattered gallery of the 47m Juma Minaret to provide a panorama of deeply-etched streets.
Opposite the Friday Mosque lies the small Matpana Baya Madrassah (1905), whose Soviet-era Museum of Atheism has been replaced by an odd collection devoted to the Avesta, the Zoroastrian religious text. The northern side of the chaikhana square is faced by the Mohammed Amin Inak Madrassah (1785) which, in its modern role as the local marriage registration office, provides the source for many a marzipan tour of the old town. Inak is best known as the first of the Kungrad dynasty of khans, which came to dominate centuries of Khivan history.
According to available data, the majority of the columns were cut from wood trunks in the XVIII and XIX centuries. Others were collected from destroyed medieval constructions. Hearsay has it, that the most ancient of these columns could have been taken from the medieval capital of Khoresm -the city of Kyata, - which was swept away by the Amu Darya River water.
Four of the most valuable columns of the X and XI centuries were installed, as the Kufik letters testify, on Fakih Abul Fadl al-Muhammad Lyaisy's order. Judging by the letters, it was a generous charitable gift for the mosque.
Four further columns are similar to the Bogbonly mosque, with "naskhi" handwritten inscriptions. The later columns are well recognised by their flower-plant Khivan patterns. The Mikhrab niche (the niche, focusing people towards Mecca) of the Djuma Mosque is overlapped with a gunch semi-dome, paintings in iris and dog rose colours are on both its sides.