Imagine a kind of porch entirely open to the court, thirty feet high, twenty wide, ten deep, and flanked on either side by towers ornamented with blue and green tiles; in the same way as the large tower on the square; a floor raised six feet above the pavement of the court, the roof supported by two carved slender, wooden pillars, the whole resembling much the stage of a theater, and you will have a good idea of the grand hall of state, wherein the Khan of Khiva sits and dispenses justice.
J. Macgahan 'Campaigning on the Oxus and the Fall of Khiva' 1874
This fabulously tiled aywan was the courtroom or 'Auz Hauli' (literally 'Voice Court') where the Khan dispensed justice to his subjects. Constructed by Arang Khan in the 17th century and later razed by the Persians, it was rebuilt by Iltuzer Khan in 1810 who met a watery end in the Amu Darya river whilst fleeing from the Bukharan Army. In the 1830's Allah Kuli Khan embarked on a lavish redecoration of the aywan and his penchant for dazzling majolica tiles and contrasting ceiling colours also heavily influenced the decor in the Tosh Hauli Palace.
Today the courtroom is worth a visit for its ceiling alone which has been described as the most exquisite in Central Asia. This has been meticulously restored and its warm shades contrast beautifully with the cold blues and turquoise of the surrounding majolica tiling. Three doors of differing heights enter onto the aywan. The first was reserved solely for the Khan, the second was for the rich and wealthy and the third, smallest door was the entrance for the poor. The aywan itself faces north and so provided a cool interior during the summer months while in winter the Khan would sit on the raised platform facing the aywan, ensconced in furs in his royal yurt. It was here that the Hungarian Vambery and the Russian Muraviev were granted an audience with the Khan who held court for four hours each day.
The Khan's whim was law and many a cowering subject was dragged away after being sentenced to a slow and excruciating death. The Persian proverb engraved on the marble base of the left aywan pillar seems particularly apt: "A just judge is as rare as a pearl found on the sea bed, whilst an unjust judge is as common as the froth upon the waves."
Unfortunately the Khan's silver throne no longer takes pride of place in the courtroom since it was confiscated by the Russians and smuggled to St Petersburg where it is now displayed in a museum. It continues to be a sore point in post-Soviet Uzbekistan and there have been rumours of swapping the throne for the Savitsky Art Collection in Nukus. The Khan's extensive library met a similar fate when the imperialist historian AL Kun visited General Kauffman in the 1870's. Kun plundered the library (the building to the right of the aywan) and absconded with seventeen camel-loads of books and manuscripts about science, culture and Khiva's history. In 1961 over 3500 documents were discovered in St Petersburg and taken to the Soviet library in Tashkent where they remain today.
The courtroom is currently subject to an aggressive bout of Khiva- style restoration or 'remont'. A few years ago all that remained of the courtyard was the aywan. Today a new dais for the royal yurt and walls are being built from scratch and will no doubt be tiled to match the Auz Hauli in the Tosh Hauli Palace. Whilst purists frown at this rather heavy-handed approach to restoration and question its authenticity, most tourists continue to wander around blissfully marvelling at this 'ancient' Khivan court.