We walked past a series of small stalls selling souvenirs - a huge mud-brick wall to our right and an impressive madrassah to our left. Next to this was a large, squat tower layered with beautifully glazed bricks in shifting shades of green, turquoise and brown. This complex, built by Mohammed Amin Khan after a particularly lucrative pillaging of Bukhara, was on such an opulent scale that parts of the city walls were removed for its accommodation. Rivalry between the Khiva Khanate and the neighbouring Emirate of Bukhara was a reccurring theme in both Khiva's history and its modern-day attitudes. Mohammed Amin Khan planned a minaret taller than any other, dwarfing the one in Bukhara, but never completed it. Some claimed that this was because the Khan realised that those calling the faithful to prayer would gain a tempting bird's-eye view of his harem. Others believed that the Khan had plans to assassinate the architect on completion of the minaret - ensuring that the Bukharan Emir could not commission him to build an even larger one. The luckless architect, fearing for his life, jumped from the minaret, turned into a bird and flew away."
Christopher Aslan Alexander "A Carpet Ride to Khiva" 2010
Pass through the Ota Darvoza and back in time. The double facade of celled shops to the right belong to the Mohammed Amin Khan Madrassah (1852-1855), the largest of its kind not only in the city but also in the whole of Central Asia with a capacity of 250 Islamic students, or rather 137 romantic tourists, as the madrassah today houses the Hotel Orient Star Khiva. The seminary was so large that parts of the city wall had to be demolished to make way for it. The impressive, restored portal leads to a left hand mosque/hotel bar and a classic courtyard layout that in times past held sessions of the city's supreme Muslim court. Access to the twisting corridors is largely unfettered, to reveal unique double roomed cells that look uncharacteristically outwards and also a series of rooms in the northeast corner of the madrassah that allow reluctant access to the Kalta Minaret. To the side of the madrassah sits a brooding statue of al-Khorezmi.
Debate rages over the future of the madrassah. UNESCO would like to see the cannibalized seminary restored to an original purity, but local chiefs say that the hotel echoes its original purpose well enough and that it may well set a precedent for oilier similar cultural transformations.
This architectural monument is placed opposite the Kunya-Ark at the Ata-Darvaza gate. The architecture of the madrasah building is amazing. The comfortable two-room khudzhras and the loggias were arranged on the front part of the building on the second floor, with the distinctive madrasah's line - open arch niches on all external perimeters of the building. The madrasah portal is topped by five domes and has a square court yard surrounded with khudzhras. On the portal is inscribed: "This fine construction will stand eternally for the pleasure of the descendants". The turrets, characteristic for Khiva, with their apertures above, are adorned with belts of green glazed brick and domes, and facings with the same brick, are located in the corners of the facades.
The office of the Higher Muslim Court was located here, except for the spiritual school. There is a wide building adorned with turquoise tiles outside -the Kalta-minor minaret, which was constructed at the same time.
The madrassah's patron, Mohammed Amin Khan or Medamin (r. 1843-1855), was one of Khiva's most illustrious khans. He restored the khanate's former territories, captured Merv, pacified the Saryk clan and then shifted his murderous gaze to the Tekke Turkmen in several epic battles fought in the wastes of the Kara Kum. Then, in a curious show of trust, he left the subjugated Tekke in the bloody hands of the Yomul and Uzbek tribes. Soon the Yomut were fighting the Tekke, the Tekke were fighting the Uzbeks and the Uzbeks were fighting the Yomut, until the exasperated Medamin finally hurled the Yomut leader off a Khivan Minaret. He succeeded briefly in uniting the squabbling tribes, but only against himself and, shortly afterwards, on the eve of an attack on Serakhs (on the current Iranian border), he was decapitated by a rogue Tekke horseman and Khiva was left vulnerable to regular Turkmen ravage for the next 70 years. The death of Medamin overshadows the nearby Kalta Minor or Short Minaret, commissioned by the khan in 1852 to stand (at over 70 metres) as the biggest in the Islamic world, but abandoned in the wake of his death at a frustrated 26 metres. Others say that the architect had secretly agreed to build an even larger minaret for the emir of Bukhara and that he was thrown off the minaret for his treachery. The Kalta Minor is girdled in a typically Khivan shade of jade green so rich that it seems to have sucked all the decoration out of the exhausted city into one glorious reservoir of colour. Sixty four corkscrew steps lead up the truncated tower to reveal the structure in cross section and a fine view of the city.