After a quick layover in the capital Tashkent, Khiva was our first stop in Uzbekistan. We have flown to the nearby Urgench and then the owner of a guesthouse where we stayed picked us up at the airport. We arrived in the evening, so it was dark and we didn’t really see anything. In the morning, after a delicious breakfast, we went exploring this unique oriental city. And immediately fell in love. In Khiva you feel like you have stepped back in history and you are living a life of a merchant in a city on the Silk Road. The fact that Khiva is an oasis in the desert also helps with keeping up with your imagination.
In one of my first Instagram posts about Khiva I wrote that it is a city of stop and stare moments. You are just left speechless with its beauty on every step. It is full of amazing architecture, buildings are decorated with architectural ceramics of Uzbekistan, full of blue, green and turquoise details. No wonder that the whole old town, known as the Itchan-Kala, was declared an UNESCO World Heritage site already in 1990. It is small and enchanting and definitely my favourite place in Uzbekistan.
Basic information about Khiva
Khiva’s historical old town Itchan-Kala is surrounded with majestic city walls that are around 10 meter high. You can enter into this museum city through four gates, with the Western Gate being the official entrance. Here you can buy a ticket with which you can visit the majority of tourist sites in the city, except Yar Mohammed Divan Mosque, and it is valid for two days. With the ticket you also get entrance to many small museums that are placed in old madrasahs – a school of Koran, where students studied Astronomy, Mathematics, Arabic and religious subjects – around the city. They are not that interesting and majority of them only have signs in Uzbek and/or Russian, which are written in Cyrillic. However, they are worth visiting just to see the amazing architecture of buildings.
All the tourist sites in Khiva are located in walkable distance one from another. As Khiva is much smaller as other famous cities in Uzbekistan, like Bukhara and Samarkand, you can see all the sites in one day. We stayed here for a day and a half and it was perfect length of time to take in all the incredible historical sites.
What to see in Khiva
Kalta Minor Minaret
In 1851 the ruler of Khiva named Mohammed Amin Khan commissioned this majestic minaret, which was meant to be more than 70 meters high. However, before the minaret was finished, Khan died, so minaret only reached 26 meters. Nonetheless, it is an incredible architectural jewel, covered with Khiva’s signature blue-green tiles and various geometric patterns.
Mohammed Amin Khan Madrasah
This gorgeous madrasah, that is connected with Kalta Minor Minaret with a small wooden bridge, was also built in the middle of the 19th century. It is richly decorated with blue majolica and it is one of the largest madrasahs in Central Asia. It’s 125 cells for students that spread over two floors were later converted into a boutique hotel. So this is an unique opportunity to stay in a madrasah. However, even if you are not a guest, you can still admire its impressive portal and visit its beautiful inner courtyard.
This fortified citadel, that is situated in the heart of Khiva, was first build in the 12th century and later expanded. It was home of the city’s rulers and their families, including harem. The building includes a few areas, the most beautiful are the Summer Mosque with blue and white tiling and the Reception Courtyard with the throne room.
Kuhna Ark’s Watchtower
From Kuhna Ark you can access the city walls and also the watchtower. It is a popular spot for watching the sunset and for a good reason. From up there you get an unique overview of the city.
Muhammad Rakhim Khan Madrasah
Khiva is definitely a city of madrasahs, it has many small and cute ones and a few big and majestic ones. One of them is Muhammad Rakhim Khan Madrasah, which was built in 1876 and it became one of the largest in Central Asia at the time. It firstly amazes you with a high entrance portal, then you enter into its beautiful courtyard with 76 dormitories for students, which are organized in two floors. It was one of the first madrasahs we saw in Uzbekistan and it took our breath away.
Juma Mosque, also known as Friday Mosque, was firstly built in the 10th century, however the site we see today was rebuilt in the 18th century. Although today it does not operate anymore, it is still a mosque like you have never seen before. In the main hall more than 200 columns made of black elm wood hold up the ceiling. Each of them has beautiful ornaments that were carved by hand. A few of the pillars date back to the 10th and 11th century. Outside the mosque includes beautiful 33 meters tall minaret.
Allakuli Khan Madrasah
Built in 1835, Allakuli Khan Madrasah amazes you with elegantly decorated blue, black and while tiles on its portal. Beside school of Koran this madrasah also hosted the city’s library in the 19th century. Today you can find a small bazaar inside, that is full of souvenir shops.
I would call Tosh Hovli an “all shades of magical blue” palace, but its name actually means stone court, as the palace was built from stone hard brick not usual clay stones. It is a summer residence of the kings of Khiva and it has 163 rooms, many bright blue tiles, ornamented pillars and domes. It was built in the early 19th century and it is one of my favourite places in the city.
Islam Khoja Minaret
The tallest minaret in all of Uzbekistan is 56.5 meters high and it is definitely worth climbing the narrow and steep steps to its top. At the observation deck you get an amazing view over all of Khiva, its 60 architectural monuments and the desert in the distance. The minaret itself is an architectural masterpiece, built in the beginning of the 20th century, it beauty comes from the unique decorative pattern, that is formed of many layers of azure, dark blue, white and turquoise majolica.
Yar Mohammed Divan Mosque & Pakhlavan Makhmud Mausoleum
You can spot the majestic turquoise roof with gilt top of Yar Mohammed Divan Mosque from many streets of Khiva. This beautiful mosque is actually a mausoleum dedicated to Pakhlavan Makhmud, a famous poet and warrior from the 14th century, who is known as Khiva’s hero. The room with his tomb is decorated with beautiful glittery blue tiling. The complex also includes graves of other city’s khans. It is the only place in the city with separate entrance fee, but it is definitely worth visiting.
To get away from Khiva’s busy streets you can enter one of many small madrasahs, which are home to different museum. In them you can learn about local flora and fauna, medical history, traditional instruments, Uzbekistan’s history etc. As I wrote in the beginning, they are not that interesting and majority of them only has signs in Uzbek and/or Russian. However, they are placed in cute little madrasahs worth visiting to see their interesting architecture.
Shopping in Khiva and exploring city’s back streets
Khiva’s streets are full of street vendors, selling everything from beautiful china to fur hats, traditional clothes, typical textile suzani and souvenirs. Take time to also go inside many small shops, where you can for example see how a traditional textile is made. And although the old town is full of historical monuments, in the back street Khiva’s habitants live. I also liked wandering less known streets to see the other site of the city.
Khiva at night
Don’t forget to visit Khiva at night, to see its most prominent sites beautifully illuminated.
Eating in Khiva
In the city center there are a few restaurant you will find yourself returning to. They have delicious traditional food – like manty, plov, shis kebab and Khiva’s local specialty Shivit Oshi. In the streets behind Kalta Minor Minaret you can also find an outside bakery, where you can see how the traditional Uzbek bread is made. Click here for a detailed blog post about all amazing food of Uzbekistan.
Visited: September 2019