Khiva, also known as Itchan Kala, is a world of caravanserais, palaces, turquoise-tiled mosques, madrasas, and minarets that takes you into the heart of the ancient Silk Road. What you’ll find is a romanticized version: well-restored and maintained adobe buildings, clean alleys without open sewers, and only shadows of the slave market and public executions, but it is well worth a visit nonetheless.
What to See
While the crenelated walls date from the 14th century and the desert town has some outstanding medieval Islamic architecture, most structures date from the 18th and 19th centuries. Exploration is best done on foot. There are dozens of monuments, a number of museums, tons of souvenir stalls with handicrafts, and over 250 flat-roofed buildings.
- Marvel at the turquoise-tiled Kalta Minor Minaret, the 196-foot-high Khoja Minaret, and the adjacent mausoleums and mosques with richly tiled façades. Revisit at night, when the minarets and some of the structures are beautifully illuminated.
- Enjoy the Juma Mosque with 220 carved elmwood columns supporting the roof.
- Tour the Tosh-Hovli Palace, a complex with 150 rooms and nine courtyards with colorfully designed high ceilings, its interior walls a rich blend of blue ceramic tiles.
- The fortress and buildings are made of adobe and glow in dark-orange tinges during late afternoon sunlight. Take a walk on the walls to get a panoramic view in the most beautiful light.
Fees vary from 50,000 soum just to get access to the walled town via the official gates to 100,000 or 150,000 soum depending on which sites are included (50,000 soum is around $4.60). Having said that, you can enter for free using some of the smaller entrances.
How To Get There
For overlanders, Khiva is a logical stop coming from/to West Kazakhstan (Caspian Sea) and from/to Dushanbe (Tajikistan) or Osh (Kyrgyzstan).
If you fly in, car rental is an option, including one-way car rental, but be aware that distances are huge. Uzbekistan has an excellent railway system connecting the capital of Tashkent with the country’s major sites: Samarkand, Bukhara, and Khiva. A third option is to fly to Urgench, some 25 miles from Khiva.
When to Visit
Khiva lies in the desert, so avoid the summer unless you love scorching temps. The top seasons are spring (April/May) and autumn (September/October), when it’s dry and pleasantly warm, and the skies are blue. However, the place may be packed with tourists. We visited in December and found it perfectly doable. Some days were clear, others clouded—but the streets were ours.
Photos: Coen Wubbels
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