The Shir Gazi Khan Madrassah (1726) is the oldest madrassah in Khiva and, in fact, is one of the earliest in Central Asia. Popularly known as the’Maskan-i-fazilan’ (‘residence of the enlightened’), the building was constructed by slaves who were promised their freedom by Shir Gazi Khan upon its completion. However, the years went by and the promises of freedom wore thinner and thinner until the slaves revolted and killed the Khan. Reputedly one of the greatest historians to write in Chaghatay literary Turkic, Shir Gazi’s untimely demise prevented him from finishing his great work, ‘Shajarai Turk’ which was later completed by an anonymous source.
The madrassah itself was not finished until six years after the Khan-s death and was never given a frontal decorative facade. A rather stoic inscription above the entrance states, ‘I accept death at the hand of slaves’. The madrassah went on to become an eminent place of learning with a widespread reputation and included students such as Mahatma Ghandi’s grandfather.
Today the madrassah contains exhibits dedicated to poetry and medicine. Paintings of the poet Makhtum Kuli gather dust whilst the main attraction for jostling groups of schoolchildren is undoubtedly the pickled Siamese twins. Although most of the medicine exhibits have been dismantled the twins, born in Khorezm in the 1970’s, remain a long standing favourite along with photos of similar twins and an unusally large gall stone. Look out for the woman’s cloak in the right-hand-side gallery which is a fine example of the distinctive Karakalpak embroidery.
Like many of Khiva’s monuments, the madrassah is suffering from the rising water table and the high salinity of the water. The first floor of the madrassah was buried in an accumulation of dust until excavated in 1957. Now some lower walls show evidence of salt and damp marks.