The historic heart of Khiva (Xiva) has been so well preserved that it’s sometimes criticized as lifeless – a ‘museum city’. But walk through the city gates and wander the fabled Ichon-Qala (inner walled city) in all its monotone, mud-walled glory and it’s hard not to feel like you are stepping into another era. The old town is at its best at dawn, sunset and by night, when the moonlit silhouettes of the tilting minarets and madrassas, viewed from twisting alleyways, work their real magic.
Most of the city of Khiva is similar to the open-air museum. And the nucleus of this museum – castle Itchan-Kala. It is inside this fortress concentrated all the architectural masterpieces of Khiva. Everyone who enters the fortress, are among the marvelous minarets, stone-paved alleys curves, leading to a madrassa with lacy rough mosaic of the ancient walls.
This oriental tale! In 1990 the city was included in the UNESCO World Heritage List.
Top Tourist Places in Khiva
Tosh-Hovli Palace: This palace, which means ‘Stone House’, contains Khiva’s most sumptuous interior decoration, dense with blue ceramic tiles, carved wooden pillars and elaborate ghanch. Built by Allakuli Khan between 1832 and 1841 as a more splendid alternative to the Kuhna Ark, it’s said to have more than 150 rooms off nine courtyards, with high ceilings designed to catch the slightest desert breeze.
Pahlavon Mahmud Mausoleum: This revered mausoleum, with its sublime courtyard and stately tile work, is one of the town’s most beautiful spots. Pahlavon Mahmud was a poet, philosopher and legendary wrestler who became Khiva’s patron saint. The beautiful Persian-style chamber under the turquoise dome at the northern end of the courtyard holds the tomb of Mohammed Rakhim Khan.
Kalta Minor Minaret: This fat, turquoise-tiled minaret was begun in 1851 by Mohammed Amin Khan, who according to legend wanted to build a minaret so high he could see all the way to Bukhara.
East of the minaret, beside the medressa, is the small, plain Sayid Alauddin Mausoleum, dating to 1310 when Khiva was under the Golden Horde of the Mongol empire. You might find people praying in front of the 19th-century tiled sarcophagus.
Ichon-Qala: It is one of the great highlights of Uzbekistan. The perfectly preserved medieval walled town is home to dozens of mosques, madrassas and mausolea, most of which are home to small museums. You need a whole day to see the sights, but try also to wander the streets during the cool of dawn or dusk when the town is at its most magical.
City Walls: One highlight for which no ticket is needed is the walk along the northwestern section of the Ichon-Qala wall. The stairs can be accessed at the North Gate and are a great place to be at sunset. The 2.5km-long mud walls date from the 18th century, and were rebuilt after being destroyed by the Persians.
Allakuli Khan Bazaar & Caravanserai: North of the Allakuli Khan Medressa is the Allakuli Khan Bazaar & Caravanserai. The entrance to both is through tall wooden gates beside the medressa. The bazaar is a domed market arcade, catering to both traders and tourists, which opens onto Khiva’s modern Dekon Bazaar at its eastern end.
Isfandiyar Palace: The Isfandiyar Palace (also called the Palace of Nurullabay) was built between 1906 and 1912, and like the Emir’s Summer Palace in Bukhara displays some fascinatingly overwrought decorations that straddle the messy collision of East and West. The rooms are largely empty, allowing one to fully appreciate the gold-embroidered ceilings, ceramic chimneys and lavish 4m-high mirrors and chandeliers.