Khiva (Uzbek: Xiva, Хива; Russian: Хива) is a town in the western province of Khorezm in the Republic of Uzbekistan.
Along with Samarkand and Bukhara, Khiva is an important and often overlooked historical site on what was once the Great Silk Road (Uzbek: Buyuk Ipak Yol’i). 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 by the Soviets in the 1970s. However, the clustered array of mosques, madrassahs and tiled minarets within a area of less than 3km 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. Today, the entire city is home to about 40,000 people. It’s a quick 35km from the regional capital of Urgench and a mere 5km from the border of Turkmenistan.
According to legend, Khiva was founded about 2 500 years ago when a son of Noah, Shem, discovered a well in the middle of the desert exclaimed “Khi-wa!” (which locals will take delight in roughly translating as “sweet water”). For the next 1 000 years or so, the area was inhabited by settlements that used the nearby Amu-Darya river to irrigate agriculture. According to the archaeologists Khiva was founded in the 5th or 6th century. As Islam spread to the area, the first major structures were built near Shem’s well, and it became known as a small trading post on the Silk Road. First written sources date from the 10th century. The Arab traveller Al Istachri mentions Khiva in his enumeration of the most important settlements in Chorezm. The Arab geographer Ibn Battuta visited Khiva in the 14th century. He praised the emir who was untiringly taking care of law and order and reported that the city was so full of people that it was almost impossible to find one’s way in the crowd. It wasn’t until the 16th century when Khiva was made capital of an Islamic Khanate (starting a bitter rivalry with another Khan 460 km down the Silk Road in Bukhara), that the majority of Khiva’s immense architectural projects began and the town established itself as a center of power in the region. Locals will say (sometimes in hushed tones) that if Khiva didn’t have a rivalry with nearby Bukhara, it would not be the significant site that it is today. In the 19th century a strong central power was created and taxes and money were introduced. For a long period of time Khiva was one of the most important markets of slaves in Central Asia. Slavery was only formally abolished during the October Revolution of 1917. Khiva with its 94 mosques and 63 madrassahs is considered an important center of Islam. Because of this significance, Khiva was recognized as a World Heritage Site by UNESCO in 1990.
Places to visit
- Kutli Murad Inak Medressa. The medressah was built in the beginning of the 18th cent. It has 81 pupils’ cells. It was one of the wealthiest schools in Khiva and possessed a lot of lands. It corresponds the traditional type of medressahs of the 17th and 18th cent. The galleries with arcades, the round towers at the corners and the economical use of glazed tiles remember the traditions of architecture in Khorezm. It has a beautiful carved wooden door with floral and geometric ornaments. The cells are vaulted, have a fire place and are lighted by a window in or above the door.
- Khan Anush Mohammed’s Bath, (beside Ak Mosque). The building with a dome beside Ak Mosque is called Khan Anush Mohammed’s Bath. The main part of it is subterranean in order th keep the walls steadily warm. It has all the comforts of an oriental bath: vestibule, dressing room, lavatory, basin, well with cold water and floor heating. It is considered as one of the most interesting secular buildings of the 17th cent. in Central Asia.
- Uc Avlija Mausoleum, (east of Itchan Kala, beside Tash Chauli). Uc Avlija is called the mausoleum of the three holy menor mausoleum of three great dervishs. Portal and dome provide a rather medieval impression. The masuoleum is thought to date to the 16th cent.
- Tash Chauli. This is the new palace of the rulers of Khiva. Tash Chauli means “palace of stones”. It was built in the first half of the 19th cent. during the reign of Khan Allakuli. The palace has more than 160 rooms, 5 courtyards and a strong wall with many round towers. The Harem’s Courtyardis also surrounded by high brick walls with towers. It is the oldest part of the building and is rectangular in plan. It is paved and has a well. The door to the palace and the entrance are very narrow. It is easy to get lost in the labyrinth of corridors. Today it accomodates a permanent exhibition of the museum of Khiva. The khan’s wives lived in the southern part of the harem, whereas his relatives on his mother’s side lived in the less favourable parts of the harem. The courtyard is ornamented by 5 high Aiwans. Carved wooden columns on marble bases carry the ceiling whichn is decorated with paintings and the walls are masked with blue tiles. Even the righful wives of the khan lived like slaves. They weaved carpets, made embroideries and sewed. They could leaved the palace at rare occasions only and then they went in a car covered by felt and their companions with their white sticks removed everybody who came into their way. Ishrat Chauli or Mikhman Chauli means “courtyard of guests” and was the place where receptions were held. The throne room was in the first floor and the guets’ rooms in the ground and in the first floor. The building is ornamented with a frieze of blue tiles with verses of the poet Agekhi. In the center of the courtyard are two brick fundations, about 20 cm high, for the khan’s winter yurts. Ars Chauli. the courtyard of justice is similar to Ishrat Chauli, but its square base has twice its size. The towers at the corners and the aiwans are rather high. The Ars Chauli has tweo doors, the main entrance and the door of the condemned through which the prisoners sentenced to death went to their execution. Acoording to the traditions of Khiva every nobleman, governour and also the khan himself had to devote at least 4 hours per day to the administration of justice. He had to deal with all kinds of cases from theft of chicken to capital crimes. The khan usually went to the court of justice after the prayer at noontime.
- Khan Allakuli Medressah, (between the bazaar and Palwan Darvasa). The Hungarian traveller Vambery reports thatit was the second biggest medressah in the city. It had 99 cells and the pupils were well taken care of. It has the biggest and most beautiful facade and the biggest and most beautiful portal of Khiva. The high Pishtak with deep portal niche is decorated with finely ornamented blue tiles and decorative white inscriptions. The lecture rooms (dershane), the mosque and the library (kitab khana) are situated in the first floor. The courtyard ist surrounded by pupils’ cells in two stories.
- Tim, (near Palwan Darvase). Bukhara, Persia and Russia were Khiva’s most important trade partners. The Arab chronicler Mervasi reports that a caravan from Urgench came to Russia in the 11th cent, that they discussed the islam with prince Vladimir and that they bough furs, leather and swords from the Russians. In the time of tsar Peter the Greatenvoys of Khiva visited Petersburg every 4 or 5 years. They brought silk, cotton, spices, leather, copper table-ware, linnen and melons from Turkestan to Russia. The caravans were made up of up to two thousand camels and bought cloth, sugar, iron tea kettles and rifles in Russia. The trade recahed its apex around 1830. Khan Allakuli decided to build a new caravanseray and a new tim. Parts of the city walls had to be pulled down for the new caravanseray. Like in a medressah the rooms of the merchants are arranged around a square courtyard. Soon the caravanseray became too small and the tim, a new open market was built. It is one of the most beautiful buildings of the end of the khanat. It consisted of a long covered corridor with 14 domes in the vicinity of the ancient slave market.
Ichon-Qala (Itchan Kala)
The old town Ichon-Qala (Itchan Kala) covers an area of about 26 hectares. It is rectangular in plan.The tourist office inside the West Gate will most likely ask you to buy a ticket that covers entry for all of the museums and buildings inside the city (excluding the Islom-Khoja minaret and a few madrassas) for about 28,000 sums, with possibly an additional 7,000 sums charged for photography (Sep 14). If you don’t plan to enter any of the buildings (where tickets are checked) and just want to walk inside the old town and eat there, you can avoid paying the ticket by entering through a different gate.
Itchan Kala was the site of the khan’s palace. High officials and clergy and rich merchants used to live here. This is why we find the most important buildings in the Itchan Kala. The ordinary people, small merchants, craftsmen and peasants lived in Dishan Kala. There were wells in Itchan Kala, whereas people had to draw drinking water from the irrigation channels in Dishan Kala. In the north western part of Itchan Kala is the well, where according to the legend the city was founded by Sem.
- City walls.The surrounding walls are 6 to 8 m high and 6 m thick at their base. A great part of the city walls has been destroyed, but a part 2,2 km long has been preserved. As in other cities in Central Asia the city walls were built of sun-dried bricks. The city walls were destroyed several times, but they were always rebuilt. According to the archaeologists the oldest parts of the city wall date from the 5th to 6th cent.AD
- City Gates.The main sights lie within the massive Ichon-Qala, which contains almost all of the ancient buildings of Khiva. There are four gates on each side of the wall; * North Gate (Bachtscha Darwase) is closest to the trolleybus and taxi stand; it is also called Urgench Gate * East Gate (Palwan Darwase) is the entry and exit to the caravanserai (a large building to house caravans); It is the best preserved gate in Khiva, its passage passage is 60 m long with deep niches on both sides. In the 17th and 18th cent. it was the prison of the khanate, the niches serving as cells. The prisoners had to solicit alms of the passers-by in order not to die of starvation. Slaves who escaped and were captured again were nailed with their ears to the gate. The Palwan Darwase was also called the “gate of the hangman”: public executions took place in front of the gate. On the right hand side of Palwan Darwase near the walls of Itshan Kala wasthe place of the slave market. Bukhara and Khiva were famous for their slave trade. The nomadic tribes moving through the desert and earning their living by robbery were reliable suppliers of slaves. * South Gate (Dascht Darwase) is probably the least used, except by locals who live inside the Ichon-Qala, or for those staying at the Khiva Asia Hotel; * West Gate (Ata Darwase), which is the main exit and entry point for almost all of the visitors.”
- Kuhna Ark, (in the western part of the old city, directly across Orient Star Khiva Hotel). Khivan rulers commanded from this fortress-residence from as early as the 12th century up to the 17th century when the khans expanded the structure to include a mosque, a harem, and a jail. After you see the see the gorgeous open-air, blue-tiled mosque, check out the throne room where the khans dispensed swift and brutal punishments against any transgressors. The three doors across from the throne decided your fate: the left door meant freedom, the center door meant imprisonment, and the right door meant death. Above the throne room is a lookout tower where you can capture a great view of entire Ark structure. Be sure to pay a visit to the jail, located just outside the entrance to the Ark, where you’ll see gruesome paintings that depict the various ways the khans meted out punishment. Most of the buildings date from the 17th cent. The fortress covers an area of 130 x 90 m and was enclosed by a fortification wall 9 m high. Have a close look at the well preserved Summer Mosque. The glazed blue and white tiles are peculiar for the decoration used in Khiva. The ornaments in the form of stars and the floral and vegetable patterns clearly differ from those used in Buchara. The mihrab in the southern wall with quotations from the Quran is especially beautiful. Its tiles date from the 19th cent. In the corner on the left hand stood the minbar on top of which quotations from the Quran in Kuft script can still be seen. The tiles in the Reception Hall in green and white and with flower motives on a blue background were executed under Alla-Kuli Khan in the 19th cent. The Reception Hall is surrounded by a small courtyard with stone pavement which is separated from the other parts by a high wall. In the courtyard is a round elevation characterizing the place pf the khan’s winter yurt. On the left of the Reception Room is an Aiwan with two beautiful carved wooden columns. Aiwan and Reception Hall are decorated with painted ceilings. Behind the Aiwan was the Throne Room with the khan’s throne in a niche.
- Mohammed Rakhim Khan Medrassah and Square, (across the square from the Kukhna Ark). If you were to be executed during the khan’s rule, it was probably going to happen in the center of this once-busy square. The medrassah is mostly dedicated to it’s namesake, the Khan Mohammed Rakhim who managed to keep Khiva independent from infiltration by British and Russian forces until the late 19th century. On the south side of the square is a tiny, but interesting museum dedicated to traditional music.
- Kalta Minor, (next to the Orient Star Hotel). This squat minaret is an iconic symbol of Khiva, mainly because of it’s exquisite blue and green tile work and the fact that it remains unfinished. It was originally supposed to rival the Kalon Minaret in Bukhara, however the architect fled before seeing it finished, fearing he would be put to death by the khan. Technically, you aren’t allow to climb to the top of this minaret, but guards have been known to give visitors “unofficial” tours of the interior structure, for a fee. Kalta Minor dates from the 19th cent. Apparently it has never been completed. It is 14 m in diamater at its base and 26 m high. According to the legend Amir Khan intended to build a a minaret from the top of which he could see to Buchara, 400 km away. After his death in 1855 the construction works came to a halt. The varied pattern of coloured glazed tiles in white, blue, green and a brownishes yellow form a perfect harmony.
- Juma Mosque. The old mosque was already mentioned by the Arab traveller Mohammed al-Magisi in the 10th cent. According to the inscriptions above the entrance the actual mosque was built in the 18th cent. It covers an area of 55 x 46 m. The interior is square in plan. It has two octogonal openings in the ceiling. Apart from wooden beams and columns it has no decoration. It contains 212 ornately carved columns that support the roof, dating back to the 12th to 15th century. The wooden columns were removed from other buildings which have been destroyed. The columns are masterpieces of wood carving. The whole surface is covered by leaves, flowers and tendrils. If you watch cloisels you can see pomegrenates blossoms and acanthus leaves. The columns are peculiar in form: they are spherical at their base, get a little bit narrower and end with a part similar to an oblong drinking glass. In some columns the base is a square marble or a round piece of wood only. Similar carved columns were not only used in palaces and mosques, but also in farmers’ houses where they carry the roof of the verandah. It is reported that these wooden columns are the oldest in Central Asia. Tradition says that they come from the Great Mosque of Kat, the former capital of old Choresmia. Research has proved that 15 of the deta to the 10th to 14th cent. Be sure to bring some sort of light if you plan to climb the 81 steps up to the top of the Juma minaret, which you can access from inside. Even if you buy the all-access 10000 sum pass, you’ll have to pay an extra fee if you want to enter this mosque.
- Pahlawan Mahmud Mausoleum, (south of Juma Mosque). The mausoleum is one of the most popular places of pilgrimage in Uzbekistan. Pahlawan Mahmud (“the strong man”) was famous for his extraordinary bravery, physical strength as well as his good nature. He was a furrier, but also a wrestler, doctor, poet and saint. The people gave him the title “Pahlavan”, meaning brave and handsome hero, as he defended the poor and is said to have had mystical powers. Pahlavan Mahmud is also revered in Persia and India. His grave became an important shrine for pilgrims and became the burial place of the Khans of Khiva. Tradition says that the firts building was erected over Pahlavan Mahmud furrier’s shop. The present building was erected in the 18th cent. It covers an area 100 x 50 m wide, on which the saint’s grave, prayer rooms, a pilgrims’ lodge, a summer and a winter mosque have been built. According to an inscription the building was erected by architect Abdullah Djin. It is considered as one of the most important buildings of Islamic Central Asia due to its interior totally covered with glazed tiles and due to its artfully facade. In the 19th cent. the mausoleum became a necopolis of the princes of the Kungrat dynasty. It is considered as the last great mausoleum building in Central Asia. The southern entrance is the oldest part of the present building. It has an inscription on the wooden door indicating the date 1701. The mausoleum has an oval turquoise dome with white ornaments on the lower edges. Within the mausoleum are the richly decorated sarcophagus of Khan Mohammed Rahim and two sarcophagi of black marble of the historian Khan Abu Al Gazi who died in 1663 and of Khan Anush who died in 1681. Beside the prayer room is the crypt with the grave of Pahlavan Mahmud. The walls are covered with ornaments all over, depicting interlacing stalks of flowers, leaves and zig-zag or crossing lines. The wooden door with ivory work, the wooden columns and the glazed tiles make Pahlawan Mahmud Mausoleum to the best museum of applied arts in Khiva.
- Islam Khoja Minaret. The minaret is 45 m high and 10 m wide atb its base. It was built in 1908, however using the same methods as the much older minarets at Bukhara, Wabkent and Konye Urgench. You can see the minaret from every place in Khiva and even from far away in the desert. It is probable that the minaret served military purposes as well. Islam Khoja was great vizier of Khan Asfendijar. He undertook moderate reforms, opened the first secular school and the first hospital and introduced mail and railways. Khan Asfendijar ruled from 1910 to 1920. He mistrusted everyone. He stayed in a mirror hall, observed all persons arriving through the mirrors and called the palace guards on the most trifling occasions. But to the greatest extent he feared his own vizier. Thus, he ordered that nobody was allowed to leave his house in order to pray for the health and the spiritual welfare of the khan. He called for Islam Khoja, kept him in his palace until dark and on his way home Islam Khoja was killed by bandits.
- Shirgiz Khan Medressa, (in the center of Ichan-Kala, near Pahlawan Mahmud Mausoleum). This is the oldest Quran school in Khiva. It was bilit in 1718/19. Tradition says that it was constructed by slaves captured by Shigaziz Khan during his expion to Meshed from which he returned with five thousand slaves. He promised them to be released when the medressa was completed, but he delayed the completion again and again, asking new services from the hungry slaves again and again. In 1726 the slaves killed him in the unfinished medressa.
- Medressa Muhammed Amin Khan, (opposite Kunja Ark). This medressa is the largest in Khiva. Its facade is made of coloured brick and mosaics. The main characteristics of the buliding are the hujiras (students’ cells). Khan Muhammed Alim was one of the most important khans of Khiva. The medressa was built in 1851/52 and the khan died 1855 in a battle against the Turkmen. The Hungarian traveller Vambery reported that the medressa had 250 pupils.
- Ak Mosque, (near the eastern gates of Ichan Kala). The mosque was founded in 1657, but the present building dates from the 19th cent. Tradition tells that it was founded in honour of Khan Anush Mohammed after he had saved his father ABu al Ghazi’s life. It consists of a monumental hall with a dome above it and wooden aiwans on three sides. It is rather small with a base of 6,5 x 6,5 m. The cubiform substructure and the dome are painted white. Ak Mosque meaning “white mosque”. Beside the mosque is a small minaret with beautiful carved wooden doors.
- Bogbonli Mosque, (south east of Shirgaziz Khan Mosque). The mosque was built in the 19th cent.l, but wooden columns of the 15th cent. were used for it’s aiwan.
- Seid Allaudin Mausoleum, (between Muhammad Amin Khan and Matniyaz Divan Begi medressas). Seid Allaudin Mausoleum is considered one of the oldest buildings at Khiva, dating from the period of the rule of the Mongols. It was erected by Emir Kuljall to honour his teacher Seid Allaudin (Said Ala ad Din) who was a leader of the Naqshbandi order. Emir Kuljall died in 1380, Seid Allaudin in 1303. The door of the mausoleum has fine wood carvings. Seid Allaudin’s tomb is richly decorated with glazed tiles with floral motives in white against a dark or light blue background.
The Dichon-Qala and surrounding areas contain only a handful of historical sights, but still have some interesting attractions including Friendship Park, Independence Square, as well as a long stretch of ancient secondary wall that snakes it’s way around the outskirts of the city.