Skip to content
2 February 2012 / leggypeggy

Khiva—a highlight in Uzbekistan (11 photos)

Minaret Kalta-Miner

Khiva was our first stop in Uzbekistan and what a treat it was. In fact, everyone on the truck thought Khiva was one of Uzbekistan’s highlights.

In the 1970s and 80s, the Russians did a wholesale rebuild of virtually all of Khiva’s historic heart, making it the best preserved stop on the old Silk Road. Granted the city seems a bit too clean and sterile as a result, but it is a fascinating must-see destination.

Many of the old structures have been turned into individual museums, and there are even museums within museums. You can buy a single ticket that gives you entry to them all. In fact, if I recall correctly, you have to buy the package deal at the tourist centre.

Khiva is split into two parts—the outer town, called Dichan Kala (Dishon-Qala), and the inner town, called Itchan Kala (Ichon-Qala), which covers about one square kilometre. The latter is surrounded by crenellated brick walls, whose foundations are believed to have been laid in the 10th century.

This old, inner town has more than 50 historic buildings and 250 old houses, most dating from the 18th or 19th centuries.

Tile detail

Poor John and I had a good shot at exploring all things old, and I took way too many photos. Again! We managed to get great views of the inner city by climbing the city walls and having a meal on the third-floor of a restaurant near the city walls.

Khiva’s architecture is blessed with an abundance of turquoise tiles. Samarkand’s tiles tend to be blue, while Bukhara’s are brown.

The turquoise is especially evident on the Minaret Kalta-Miner, the large blue tower in the central city square. The structure was supposed to be the largest minaret in Muslim Asia, with a base of 14 metres and a height of 70–80 metres, but the ruling Khan died in 1855 and the succeeding Khan stopped construction. One theory is that he thought the minaret would overlook his harem and the muezzin would be able to look down on his wives. Another theory, which I prefer, is that the Emir of Bukhara also wanted such a minaret and negotiated with the master builder to do a second one in Bukhara. The Khan of Khiva was supposedly outraged by this deal and ordered that the builder be killed when the first minaret was completed. The builder heard of this and skedaddled. Good builder, smart man.

A small corner of the Tash-Hauli Palace Complex

The Tash-Hauli Palace Complex is a stunning example of 19th century Asian secular architecture. Its collection of premises—offices, reception halls, the harem, living areas, courtyards—is lavishly decorated with colourful tiles in a seemingly endless array of patterns. The facade of the palace and the surface of the walls surrounding inner courtyards are trimmed with ornamental majolica, with blue and ultramarine colours being dominant. The ancient masters knew the secret of making coloured ceramic glaze called ishkor, the dyes of which keep their original colors for centuries.

The Pakhlavan Mahmoud Mausoleum and its colourful dome.

We got a bird’s eye view of the Pakhlavan Mahmoud Mausoleum. Built in the early 1800s, it commemorates a personality who died in 1325. Pakhlavan Mahmoud was a Persian Sufi teacher, as well as a gymnast and wrestler known as the Hercules of Asia. He was considered a patron saint of Khiva and made the protector of his descendants, who ruled Khiva as the Kungrad Dynasty of the 19th century.

Another impressive stop was the Juma (Jumma) mosque. Rebuilt at the end of the 18th century, it has a big hall with a flat roof resting on 213 wooden carved columns. It is just these columns, varied in shape and form, that are of special value in this mosque. Scientists believe this mosque reflects the old mosques of Arabia.

I could go on an on about the delights of Khiva, and I might just do that in additional posts, starting with the majolica tiles.

Don’t forget to pick a number.

This slideshow requires JavaScript.


Leave a Comment
  1. Jim / Feb 5 2012 9:42 am

    Interesting – suprised that the USSR did so much in the history area.


    • leggypeggy / Feb 5 2012 10:56 am

      I think Khiva is the only place on the Silk Road where the USSR invested serious time and money. Maybe it was because they could achieve a lot in a small space. The inner city is just a square kilometre and the population is only 40,000.


  2. / Jan 6 2014 12:28 pm

    Peggy, I have never seen a minaret quite like that – truly stunning! What an unusual architectural style. Is this style typical in Uzbekistan? I am now totally intrigued by Khiva and I just put it on The List. Thanks. ~Terri


    • leggypeggy / Jan 6 2014 8:34 pm

      Uzbekistan certainly has its own style and it’s where we saw the round, solid minarets. We didn’t see huge numbers of them, but enough for the shape not to be surprising.



  1. The majolica tiles of Khiva (21 photos) « Where to next?
  2. Khiva—let’s go shopping « Where to next?

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

%d bloggers like this: