Your halls are filled with bliss and your soul rejoices.
But is your terrace not too high?
For even a cloud cannot sail over it”.
In Central Asian architecture great emphasis was placed on maximizing the proximity of a chamber to the ambience of the courtyard and linking it compositionally with the landscape environment. In addressing this task, aivan, or terrace, had become the optimal solution. It functioned as a linking element between chambers and the world outside. Aivan that opened into the courtyard seemed to introduce a living nature into the chamber, or the other way round, carried the space of a chamber outdoor. For instance, the main element of a carved ornament on a decorative panel on one of the walls of the Varakhsh palace dating 5th-7w centuries is a twig with its upper end bifurcated into opposite directions. As a result of imposition of these twigs one over another, along vertical lines there emerged an intricate grid pattern resembling a thick grove.
Aivans were built in Central Asia as early as in the Bronze Age. For example, a house in Altyntepa in Bactria known in academic milieu as No.10 had two courtyards with aivans built on three sides of them (1, p. 59). In Kyzylcha house No.6 that belongs to the fourth construction period the courtyard is surrounded by chambers on all sides, and on one side there is an aivan (2, p. 9). The layout of a courtyard with one row of chambers and aivans built on the four sides of it also characterizes a residential building knows as the Square House in Nisa (2nd c. B.C.) (3, p. 356). A layout in which the composition of a rectangular residential building incorporates an avian can also be found in Khalchayan palace dating 1st century B.C. (3, p. 359). The aivan of this palace surrounds the main hall and other chambers built on three sides of the courtyard; thus, as regards this architectural monument, this crucial element of residential architecture serves all quarters equally, being their linking element. In Afrasiab palace in Samarqand, an aivan supported by pillars is connected to the central part of the building in the shape of a portal. In both buildings the aivan enhanced the grandeur of the structures and ensured their compositional link with residential ensemble of the ancient city.
In monumental murals dating early Middle Ages one can find pictures of buildings with little aivans resembling balconies on the first floor. Castle facade typical for Central Asian architecture is pictured on a 6th-7th century copper platter discovered in Annikovo village of Perm province; at the level of two upper floors one can see two aivan-balconies on each floor slightly protruding from the wall. Pyanjikent murals also feature little balconies that can also be seen in the 15th-16th century miniatures.
From of old, aivan was also used in shrines and public buildings. There are monuments built entirely in the shape of deep aivans. To give example of such structures one may refer to Chorsustun mosque in Termez (9th-11th cc.) and Mokh mosque in Bukhara. The Chorsustun was left open on two sides. The same composition we also find in the 11th-12th suburban residence of the Termez shakhs. A narrower passage-aivan of a gallery type was constructed in Daya-khatun caravanserai built in the 11th century. Courtyard in monumental 14th-15th cc. cathedral mosques is surrounded on all sides by a deep gallery-like aivan supported by a row of pillars. The same design can also be found in Bibi-khanym cathedral mosque in Samarqand and Kalyan mosque in Bukhara. To build community mosques and smaller cathedral mosques in the 18th-19th cc. architects widely used a layout in which khanaka ended with an aivan on one, two, or three sides. The four sides of madrassah courtyards featured aivans positioned in front of each other on the central axis. Aivans in Ulugbek madrassah in Samarqand as well as in many 16th-17th cc. madrassahs are positioned this way. In Tash-khauli palace built in Khiva in the first half of the 19th century each section was given a deep and tall aivan.
Aivans were also widely used in medieval residential structures later on too. We find layouts where aivans can be seen between two, three, or four chambers, occupying the entire frontal section of the structure (peshaivan), be positioned in front of or at the sides of the residential structure in the form of a gallery (dalon), have a shape of small balconies protruding from the wall surface, or occupy the open section of the first floor (shiypan), as well as take shape of an isolated structure open at four or three sides.
The structure of aivans in residential architecture and their positioning in the layout of the building depended on climatic conditions in a particular area and the order in which living quarters were positioned. For example, Khiva is a very hot place in summer time, therefore aivans here were supposed to serve as air conditioners for the rooms and the courtyard. Two types of aivans were used in this area. The first one (ulu aivan) occupied the frontal section of living quarters and was noticeably higher than the house. An aivan facing it was smaller. The ulu aivan had one central column and outwardly resembled a minaret. It was built to match the direction of the wind and guide it into the courtyard. Here the two aivans functioned as roofing for the small courtyard.
In Bukhara, an aivan with numerous columns was connected with summer chambers longitudinally in most instances. Residential architecture of the city widely employed semi-aivans, or nim aivan, which were positioned on the first floor and were narrower compared to the ordinary aivan, occupying one side of the house entirely. The nim aivan was a place where the family rested in summer time.
In the residential architecture of Samarqand aivans were built athwart corners of living quarters, while in Fergana an aivan usually occupied the courtyard side of the house; that is why such aivan was called peshaivan.
Another type of aivans is the shiypan mainly positioned on the first floor. Shiypan is found most frequently in a traditional house of Tashkent, Qarshi and Shakhrisabz. Shiypan had an important function in a house being a linking element between first floor chambers and a courtyard. It allowed maximal proximity of the first floor chambers to the outdoors and local landscape, creating a kind of a covered yard between them.
In traditional architecture small courtyards were sometimes covered similarly to aivans. This is exemplified by a courtyard of a house built in Margilan in the middle of the 19th century (4, p. 43). The aivan-courtyard was lit from an opening in the ceiling and through a movable grid-like jalousie called kashkarcha.
Looking at the materials pertaining to residential and monumental architecture on the territory of Uzbekistan, we observe that since olden times, in terms of compositional structure, several types of aivans were used. Specifically, the usual deep aivans were most commonly used in houses and monumental structures. (Picture: Nurata. A home with a deep aivan in Sintab mountain village.) Gallery-type aivans were often used in mosques, caravanserais, etc. Another type of aivans, shiypan, was most common in residential architecture. Also common in both housing and keshka of early Middle Ages were small balcony-aivans. Besides, in compositional structure of medieval cult buildings one can find single-standing aivans. Open on three or four sides, the single-standing shiypan were quite common in suburban dachas and country houses.
Apart from their primary utilitarian function, aivans enriched artistic composition and layout of a building. For example, the ulu-aivan in the Tash-khauli palace courtyard and residential buildings in Khiva has vertical and compact composition and resembles a minaret; and its single column positioned at the centre adorns not only the aivan, but also the entire courtyard with its carved ornamentation. Almost in all regions of Uzbekistan, typically in mosques (in Fergana Valley also in residential buildings) the central part of an aivan, the kaivan, is slightly raised, which also gives the building a peculiar flavour.
Aivan was also quite suitable for creating a compositional link between a building and urban environment. Specifically, in villages, particularly in mountain areas, a mosque was built on a natural elevation, and aivans facing streets were built on two or three sides of it. In such instances the aivan, apart from its main function, emphasized the real essence of the building and provided a connection between the mosque building and residential panorama of the entire village. In the cities the aivan also stressed the dominant position of a mosque in the residential ensemble. In urban areas neither platforms, nor elevations were used when mosques were constructed.
A traveller walking down a narrow street of a neighbourhood suddenly found himself in front of a tall aivan of a mosque. In such instances the aivan, first, demonstrated the openness of the mosque for everyone; second, it ensured the dominant position of the mosque building; and, third, it compositionally linked the mosque with the residential ensemble of the neighbourhood. It seems appropriate to recall I. I. Notkin saying that at the basis of providing all closed quarters with open or semi-open recreations lies the idea of interiorization of the open environment. Generally, it provides for a possibility to move freely in all sections of a multifunctional environment, establish necessary relationships between all the inhabitants of the closed quarters and the outside environment in each separate short section of the building compound, get aesthetic pleasure from every activity in this micro-environment, and be able to see the psychological content of these activities (5, p. 23).
Thus, aivans and their varieties facilitated the interaction between closed quarters and nature, helped to ventilate the rooms and keep them dry, and created a link between chambers of a covered courtyard. They also enhanced the magnificence and compositional integrity of a building; they were an important decorative element, and, finally, connected the structure with the courtyard, street, neighbourhood square and the world outside.
1. Сарианиди В.И. Древние земледельцы Афганистана. М., 1977.
2. Сагдуллаев В.С. Архитектура древнебактрийских усадеб // САУ, 1981, №6.
3. Всеобщая история архитектуры. (ВИА). Т.1. М., 1970.
4. Воронина В.Л. Народные традиции архитектуры Узбекистана. М., 1951.
5. Ноткин И.И. Структурно-генетическая концепция архитектурного пространства //САУ,1981, №10.