Along with Samarkand and Bukhara, Khiva is an important and often-overlooked historical site on what was once the Great Silk Road. Famous for its long and brutal history as a slave trading post sandwiched in between the vast Kyzylkum and Karakum deserts, Khiva is now a quiet, sleepy oasis that awaits busloads of tourists instead of caravans of captives.
It's difficult to imagine what exactly ancient Khiva was like, considering the historical areas were restored to a scrubbed and squeaky-clean look in the 1970s. However, the clustered array of mosques, madrassahs and tiled minarets within an area of less than 3 km give you a sense of how crowded and bustling this town must have been throughout its history.
Khiva is divided into two distinct sections; one being the older, museum-like Ichon-Qala or Itchan Kala (literally: within the wall) where striking examples of Islamic architecture were built over the span of 600 years; and the modern Dichon-Qala (literally: outside the wall) where both the majority of the population live and where all of the modern buildings exist, but glimpses of Khiva's greatness as a center of Islamic power still linger.
Things to do in Khiva
Itchan Kala has over 20 thousand centuries history. The inner town has 26 hectares and was built according to the ancient traditions of Central Asian town building, as a regular rectangle (650 by 400 meters) elongated from south to north and closed by brick fortification walls that are up to ten meters high
Visit Muhammad Amin-khan Madrasah - The madrasa Muhammad Amin Khan is an ancient madrasa of Khiva in Uzbekistan. It is located in the fortified district of Itchan Kala in the east and belongs to the UNESCO World Heritage. It is also located east of the Arab Mohammed Khan madrasa.
It was built between 1851 and 1854 under the reign of Muhammad Amin Khan. It was then the largest madrasa in Central Asia, because it could accommodate 260 students in a 72-meter-60-meter building and a 38-meter-wide court. The old student cells are mostly designed with two bedrooms. They give each façade a balcony with a loggia. The madrasa also housed the High Court of Justice of the Khiva Khanate.
The madrasa was de-confessionalized in 1924; He then hosted a prison in 1930. For more than fifteen years it has become a luxury hotel (Khiva hotel), able to accommodate a hundred tourists and also hosts a travel agency.
Visit Muhammad Rahim-khan Madrasah - The Muhammad Rahim Khan madrasa is located east of the Kunya-Ark citadel. He bears the name of the Khan who built it, Muhammad Rahim Khan II (1845-1910), his full name was Saeed Mohammed Rahim Khan Bahadur, his people called him Madraïm Khan. He rose to power after his father's death in 1864.
He himself wrote poems under the pseudonym of Feruz or Feruz Shah. The building was completed in 1876, three years after the signing of the Treaty of the Khiva khanate protectorate by the Russian Empire. The madrasa then becomes one of the largest in Central Asia with its seventy-six cells for students of Qur'anic sciences.
Visit Kalta-Minor Minaret - The Kalta-Minor minaret was built on the orders of the ruler of Khiva Khanate, Mohammed Amin Khan, who intended to make the minaret the tallest of the East. Its diameter at the base is 14.2 meters. It had to rise between 70 and 80 meters in height, with a tapered shape with decreasing diameter. However, the work had to stop, while the minaret reached 29 meters in height. The Kalta-Minor minaret is located on the east side of the madrasa Muhammad Amin Khan (today Khiva Orient Star hotel).
It is richly covered in turquoise enamel with bricks and majolica from top to bottom, making it a unique example.
Visit Kunya-Ark Citadel - Kunya Ark is a fortress inside the fortified citadel of Itchan Kala in Khiva.
The fortress was the residence of the kings of Khiva and was erected in the twelfth century by Ok Shihbobo, later expanded in 1686 by Arang-khan. Being a royal office, it was equipped with everything needed: the harem, the mint, the stables, the arsenal, the mosque and the prison (Zindon). Today the building is a museum in which the ancient environments are shown.
The summer mosque is from the 19th century is decorated with white and blue floral-patterned tiles, with a red, orange and gold roof. The outdoor throne room built in 1816 maintains a space that according to tradition is dedicated to the yurt.
Visit Djuma Mosque - It is located east of the Sayid Alauddin mausoleum. Inside there are as many as 218 wooden columns supporting the roof whose bases carved with Kufic inscriptions date back to the X-XI century. The mosque dates back to 1788 but there was already an ancient mosque in the 8th century, of which there are still some standing columns that were erected on a pre-existent, even older building. The mosque measures 55x46 m and is built with a single large room, following the example of a few mosques in the world such as Rabat and Afrasiab. The decorations with vegetal motifs are very interesting.
Between 1996 and 1997 the mosque was restored and some columns replaced. Opposite the mosque there is also the 47 meter high Juma minaret.
Visit Tash-Khovli Palace - The palace Tash-Khovli was built in the eastern part of the inner city in the first half of the nineteenth century. Tash-Khovli Palace consists of three yards has rectangular plan, in the southern part are the receiving yard, Arz-Khovli, and a yard for entertainment, Ishrat-Khovli.
The northern part is occupied by a harem. Labyrinths of corridors join the yards and buildings. The brothers and relatives of the khan lived in the palace. The two gates face the west and south. All the constructions were built from the high quality bricks. The fencing walls of the palace end up with figured cogs. From the flatness of the wall, the high well-portioned towers stand out.
Visit Islam Khoja Complex - It is located behind the Islam Khodja minaret which, like the madrasa, takes its name from the one who built it. Islam Khodja was the Grand Vizier (and the stepfather) of the last khan, Asfandiar, who reigned from 1910 to 1918. They are the master craftsmen of the village of Madir Bolt, Vaïzov and Madaminov who created the glazed tiles with sketches of Ish-Muhammad Khoudaïberdiev.
The madrasa Islam Khodja, built in 1908, is a very specific architectural complex that reflects the influence of the time and the spirit of the master craftsman of Khiva. It consists of forty-two cells, a large hall under a dome and a high 45-meter minaret. The control of the architects is revealed by the combination of shapes made in a small space. The mihrab niche is decorated with finely chiseled tiles and gantches.
Visit Mausoleum of Makhmud Pakhlavan - The mausoleum is in honor of the hero Pahlavon Mahmud, poet, philosopher and fighter who has become a patron saint of Khiva. Legend has it that he helped the Indian ruler and to reward him he asked what he wanted as a gift. He asked to release his fellow nationals in prison as many as could contain a cow's skin. This was accepted, but he cut it into thin pieces so as to obtain a very long belt that saved a large number.
The mausoleum dates back to 1362 but was later rebuilt in the nineteenth and in 1913 to be transformed into the khan family mausoleum. The room is Persian style with a turquoise dome that holds the tomb of the khan Mohammed Rakhim. In another room there is the tomb of Pahlavon Mahmud decorated with tiling. Outside there are graves of other khans.
The mausoleum also includes a madrasa and a minaret with elegant tiling.
Visit Allakuli Khan Madrasah - Allakuli Khan Madrasah was built in 1834 on the own funds of Khiva khanate khan, Alla Kuli. It is located between the covered bazaar (Tim Alla Kuli Khan) and the East Gate (Palvan Darvoza). Its main facade overlooks the courtyard of the Khodjamberdy Bey madrasa.
The municipal library was organized in several cells (houdjra) on the ground floor. It was also founded by Alla Kuli and served to all students of different madrasas in the city. It was financed on the account of the caravanserai of Alla Kuli and Tim Alla Kuli.