The right side of the harem is dominated by five north-facing aywans which accommodated the Khan and his four official wives. They are decorated with majolica tiling and splendid ganch ceilings of dazzling colours, each decorated, assembled and then attached with hooks. Unfortunately the ceiling restoration clashed with the millennium anniversary of Al Khorezmi in 1983 when 'ustas' (craftsmen) were in short supply. Consequently the third, fourth and fifth ceilings were restored by ustas from Kokand with garish and unauthentic results
Each aywan boasts an exquisitely carved wooden pillar on a marble base which was brought from Samarkand. During construction a small circle of felt was placed between the marble plinth and the wooden column to make the pillar more flexible in case of earthquakes. One pillar displays an inverted Zoroastrian emblem which was appropriated by Hitler as a swastika. If rotated to the right it signifies wealth and eternal life, but if inverted it symbolises evil. The fifth aywan contains a storage vessel which was filled with water, vinegar or food and stored underground during winter.
During the tourist season there is usually an ensemble of Khiva musicians and dancers waiting to perform. Khorezm is renowned throughout Uzbekistan for its distinctive music and dancing style but, be warned, this particular group can be very pushy and demand exorbitant sums for a five minute concert. Bargain before you sit down and listen. The best place to see Khorezm dancing is at an Uzbek wedding, to which you may be invited by a friendly local.
Next to the fifth aywan lies the site of the former kitchens which is now a museum of crafts. Dingy mock-ups demonstrate Khiva's various crafts of silk weaving, ceramics, wood carving, metal work, fur hat making and block printing. There is also an example of Khiva's principle pre-Soviet method of transport, an 'arabah' or cart.
The Turkistan arabah is a unique type of vehicle. It has two great wheels the height of a man, which never cease from squealing. Between them a massive frame is fixed, the front of which acts as the shafts for the horse. ...The rim of the wooden wheels have no iron tyres and consequently soon wear out, but the size of the wheels is of great advantage in the sort of country over which they have to travel. Any other type of cart would certainly sink in and remain embedded to the axle in the deep mud of a Turkistan town. In fording rivers and streams - which, bridges being usually non-existent, is often the only means of crossing - the tall wheels are also invaluable.
Gustav Krist 'Journey through a Forbidden Land' 1933
Most tourists have a look at the harem and kitchens and then proceed with their tour. However the most interesting parts of the palace are still off-limits to tourists. A few kind words and the purchase of a couple of knitted socks may unlock the door to the 'dolum' or secret passage, once used only by the Khan to enter his harem.....