Day 98: Juma Mosque

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The 212 hand-carved wooden columns of the Juma Mosque in Khiva reflect the natural light in an unforgettable way.

One of the most special places in all of Uzbekistan has to be the 18th century Juma Mosque, located within the ancient Ichan Kala,  the walled inner old-town of the city of Khiva.  Inside this amazing architectural wonder you will find 212 hand-carved wooden columns supporting the mosque’s roof, some dating from the original 10th century structure that predate the existing building by 800 years.

Sunlight filters in through three openings in the roof open to the sky within the single storey structure providing an erie ambiance illuminating the columns.  The way the light diffuses throughout the room with no windows and reflects off the wooden columns and ceiling provide a unique burnt sienna glow to the main prayer hall.

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each column is supported by stone and rests on a mat of camel hair, supposedly to protect from insects and earthquakes

The wood columns will be familiar to anyone who’s spent any time among the traditional architecture of Uzbekistan, which are typically used to support porticos and roof overhangs throughout the country.  Hand carved with geometric and floral motifs, the columns are of Elm, a tree native to Central Asia, used for this purpose for thousands of years.

The columns in the Juma Mosque, some original to the capital of ancient Khorezm, were not carved for the mosque itself, but have been harvested from older buildings in Khiva.  When construction was ordered in the 18th century the mosque provided a place for these ancient carvings serve a practical purpose, while at the same time being preserved for future generations to admire.

Much more than a temple dedicated to ancient carved elmwood tree trunks, the Juma Mosque is also home to the Juma Minaret which soars 45 meters above the city providing spectacular views in all directions.  82 narrow steps lead to the top, where along the way you are likely to encounter young local couples taking advantage of the privacy.

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view from the top of the Juma Minaret looking over Khiva toward the taller Islam-Khodja Minaret

The top of the minaret provides much better views than the taller and much more popular Islam-Khodja Minaret, proving that taller is not always better.  The view from the Juma Minaret also provides an excellent vantage point for viewing the even more famous unfinished Kalta-Minor, which should have become the tallest minaret in Central Asia had construction not been interrupted by the death of the Khan in 1855.

Descending the 82 narrow steps back into the prayer hall provides a new perspective over the 212 wooden columns, and forces the visitor to linger and appreciate the unique atmosphere that constantly changes depending on the angle of the sun.

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