The Khan's palace is a large building, ornamented with pillars and domes, which, covered with bright coloured tiles, flash in the sun, and attract the attention of the stranger approaching Khiva. A guard of thirty or forty men armed with scimitars stood at the palace gates. We next passed into a small courtyard. the Khan's guards were all attired in long flowing robes of various patterns, bright coloured sashes being girt around their waists, and tall fur hats surmounting their bronze countenances. The courtyard was surrounded by a low pile of buildings, which are the offices of the palace, and was filled with attendants and menials of the court. Good looking boys of effeminate appearance, with long hair streaming down their shoulders, and dressed a little like women, lounged about, and seemed to have nothing in particular to do.
Captain Fredrick Burnaby "A Ride to Khiva" 1876
The Tosh Hauli Palace is one of the most fascinating places within the old city where it's easy to imagine what life was like in the days of the Khans. The palace was commissioned by Allah Kuli Khan as part of an ambitious building project which included a caravanserai, tim and madrassah. Plans for the extravagant new mansion were laid in 1831 which incorporated a tight two year building schedule. When the architect, Usta Nur Mohammed Tajikistan, timidly pointed out that this timescale would be impossible he was promptly impaled - a death which could take up to eight hours. A more acquiescent architect was procured but, despite the efforts of a thousand Persian slaves, the palace still took a staggering eight years to complete. It remained a residence of the Khans until the 1880's when Mohammed Rakhim Khan II returned to the Kunya Ark.
Tosh Hauli means 'Stone Court' and was so-called not because the building was made of stone but because it was made from stone-hard bricks, rather than the usual clay. Its stark, windowless walls conceal an amazing array of 163 rooms within three spectacular tiled courts. Protruding sticks were placed around the corner turrets in order to render the palace imperfect, thus warding off the 'evil eye'. Were the palace to appear too beautiful, the 'evil eye' would be roused to jealousy and all manner of ill luck would follow.
There were two gates into the palace. The main gate was for visitors, such as official guests and local citizens intending to petition the Khan. They would enter through the gate into the main corridor and from here go into the 'Ishrat Hauli' where the Khan received company or the 'Auz Hauli' (literally 'Voice Court') where he dispensed justice. This gate was also used by male relatives of the Khan's harem who were able to meet their veiled daughters or sisters under supervision only at the gate itself. The other gate was for servants and trademen and was situated on the south wall of the palace. A narrow passage runs along outside the palace which is paved with the original uneven stone slabs showing worn grooves of carriage wheels. Today both gates are closed and access to the palace is through a specially built entrance to the harem.