March 2013 – Khiva, Uzbekistan

view of Khiva


Khiva is an ancient city, truly ancient if you believe the legend of its founding by Shem, the son of Noah.  Despite this famous perhaps semi-mythical origin, the town has not played a huge role in regional power struggles and politics, though it was previously a key hub of the slave trade.  In the 1500s, khiva was finally appointed as the capital of the Khorezm region.

Its khan later asked the Russians for aid in the form of protection from roaming tribes, but by time the Russians arrived the khan had changed his mind.  He offered the Russian troops board and then slaughtered all but a few, whom he sent back to Russia with the news.  The Russians later sent a proper regiment and Khiva can under tsarist control in the main d 1800s.   The khanate remained in place, the khan serving the tsar, until the Bolsheviks installed a new government in 1920s.

Khiva originally existed as a walled khans palace within a walled city within a walled city.  The very outer wall is mostly gone, but the inner wall of the Ichon Qala and the khans palace – the khuna ark – are still mostly intact, along with the adobe residences, madrassahs and other palaces within the Ichon Qala.

Pahlavon Mahmud Mausoleum

Korezm Art Restaurant
We haven’t discussed much about restaurants, but we arrived in Khiva in the evening, famished after our long shared taxi ride and this place was a bit of godsend.  Located in a front underground room of the Allakuli Khan Madrassah, this place served up tasty soups and dumplings, which was a welcome change from our normal of shashlyk and nan. This was a pleasant surprise in restaurant-starved Uzbekistan.

Kuhna Ark
This is the khan’s former palace, located just inside the west gate of the ichon qala.  It is not nearly as imposing as the Bhukara emir’s ark, but unlike Bhukara’s ark, the interior of the khuna ark remains intact. 

The Zindon, or Khans’ jail, is located in a tiny building just outside the ark entrance gate, inside which were displayed chains used on prisoners and an intimidating thick whip presumably used for punishment.  The large, open area just inside the entrance gate is the same adobe beige of the rest of town and aside from the large protective walls there is no lavishness that might suggest a powerful resident. However, a turn down a side passage reveals the stunning blue-tiled front of thre khan’s summer mosque, a gorgeous facade with a carved columns and a carved and painted ceiling of bold reds, blues and yellows.

Khuna ark juma mosque


Khuna ark ceiling


Adjacent to the summer mosque was the old mint, where silk and paper notes and coins of various metals were on display. The nearby throne room contained the khan’s large silver throne and the a unique flat ceiling with beautifully painted patterns in red and yellow. Generally speaking, the ceilings in the Ark were intricately painted and unique from those we had previously viewed.

Khuna ark ceiling


The watch tower above the khuna ark offers a magnificent view of the ichon qala, particularly in the afternoon light.  We ascended late in the day to ensure the sun shone on the buildings rather than silhouetted them from behind as we suspect the morning light might have.

view from khuna ark watchtower

Sayid Alaruddin Mausoleum
This is an olds mausoleum dating back to the 1300s and is still of large religious importance to the local community and our first high in Khiva we watched a group of men standing outside singing in prayer. We visited the tomb’s interior the following day, which contained the blue tile mosaic-covered grave marker of Sayid Alaruddin.

Kalta Minor Minaret

Kalta minor minnaret


Just inside the west gate of ichon qala and south of the khuna ark is the massive base of the unfinished Kalta Minor Minaret, a blue-tiled hulk of a tapering cylinder perhaps 35m tall.  In 1851 the khan ordered this massive minaret built so high that he could see to Bukhara, but upon his death in 1855 the town halted the chase for this unreachable dream and the base of the minaret sits unfinished still.  The blue tiles do shine quite brightly in the sun and despite its unfinished state the minaret is still a defining feature of the Ichon qala.

Juma Mosque and Minaret

juma mosque


This mosque was truely unique in Uzbekistan, as it abandoned the standard central asian style in favor of a more arabic design.  No large, open, column-supported entrance was to be found here, instead the mosque is entered through a double door, behind which a short stairway leads down to the floor of the mosque a couple meters below street level.  Here is a wide open hall supported by 218 intricately carved wooden columns, some of which date back to the 10th century. Two large skylight-like openings in the roof allow in natural light and young trees planted inside the mosque stretch towards these openings.

A tall,thin monaret is attached to the mosque. We attempted to climb the 47m minaret but both began to feel a bit claustrophobic in the tiny spiral staircase about 1/4 the way up and turned back.

Tosh-Hovli Palace

tosh-hovli palace


The Tosh-hovli palace is tucked away from the main historic center of the ichon qala and we would have completely missed this gem if we hadn’t walked past it by chance on our way back to our hostel.  The entrance was nothing more than a small door in a large brick wall, but it opened into a splendid large courtyard with a number of small juma mosque-like nooks complete with high carved wood column supports and detailed hand painted tiles unrelentingly covering the walls.  A side throne room also had a beautiful yellow and red ceiling with blue tiled walls.

tosh-hovli palace


tosh-hovli palace

Islom-Hoja Madrassah and Minaret

Islom-hoja minaret and mosque


This islom-hoja madrassah and minaret are the newest buildings in the Ichon qala, built in 1910.  The minaret stands at 57m, Uzbekistan’s tallest, though you still can’t see Bukhara from its top.

The madrassah now houses the applied arts museum, Khiva’s most extensive museum. The entire student dorm area had been refurbished to display works around the outer perimeter of the madrassah and carvings, silks, carpets, stones, metal work, ceramics and more are on delay here.

The above mentioned places are merely the highlights of what Khiva has to offer.  In addition to those listed above, we also visited the following: Pahlavon Muhammad Mausoleum, Allakulli Khan Madrassah, Kultimurodinuk Madrassah, Abdulla Khan Madrassah, Ak Mosque, and Mohammed Rakhim Khan Madrassah.

Zafarbek B&B
We stumbled onto this place after finding our first two options not yet open for the season – Meros Guesthouse was not quite completed with renovations and so did not have a room and the Islambek hotel was closed, apparently waiting until higher season.  The only B&B we had passed on our walk past our other options was the Zafarbek. The very polite and eager young women present spoke no english, but ushered us inside and called the English speaking manager for Brett to speak with. We ended up for $30 with a large room with twin beds, TV, and attached bathroom. The beds were softish and very creaky, but we were exhausted and slept well. The water pressure was a trickle, but at least they did have some hot water. Breakfast was the winner for this place and also the quietness of having the entire place to ourselves, though Angie later met the manager whom we had spoken to on the phone and thought him a bit of shady character, much different from the hospitable nature of most Uzbeks including the women at zafarbek.

Click here to see our photos

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