Nestled in the Khorezm Region of Uzbekistan is the stunning desert town of Khiva, one of the most intact Silk Road cities in the world. Many visitors tend to skip it as it's a bit out of the way, but missing out on Khiva would mean not seeing an integral part of Uzbekistan's history and beauty. In fact, Khiva is one of the most breathtaking places on earth with over 50 historical sites in its tiny Old Town. The city is essentially an open-air museum that also resembles a sandcastle town; think clay-colored houses and ancient minarets enclosed inside gigantic fortress walls. Where else can you find a place like this today? Here are some of the top things to do in Khiva to help you make the most of your time here!
Most of Khiva's attractions are inside the historical Itchan Kala - the area within the city's high fortress walls.
Back in the 19th century, Khiva was divided into two parts: Itchan Kala (inner city) and Dishan Kala (outer city). Itchan Kala stood within 10-meter (32 ft) tall fortress walls, which were destroyed and rebuilt several times in the course of its history. Inside Itchan Kala was where the khans resided, along with the clergies, high officials, and rich merchants. Craftsmen and ordinary people lived in Dishan Kala.
Today, Itchan Kala is very much like an open-air museum. With over 50 historical monuments scattered around, it's a great glimpse into how a typical medieval Oriental town looked like in the past. There are also over 350 houses inside Itchan Kala, as around 2,600 people still live there.
ADMIRE THE STUNNING KALTA MINOR MINARET. Before you even enter Itchan Kala, you’ll see the iconic Kalta Minor Minaret from a distance. This beautiful turquoise-tiled minaret was built between 1851 and 1855 during the Khiva Khanate, under the rule of Mohammed Amin Khan. The khan had a dream: to showcase the power of his Khanate, he wanted to build an 80-meters (262 ft) tall minaret that would surpass the famous Kalyan Minaret in Bukhara. Unfortunately, he was killed in battle before construction was completed, leaving Kalta Minor Minaret unfinished at 29 meters (95 ft) tall. The name ‘Kalta Minor’, as a matter of fact, means ‘short minaret’.
The gorgeous decorations on the minaret were the works of some of the best craftsmen in Khiva. Once it was clear that the minaret would remain unfinished, they wanted to make the structure feel complete. Today, you won’t find any other minaret in Central Asia with decorations as bright or as colorful as the ones on Kalta Minor Minaret — it’s truly a one-of-a-kind architectural beauty.
VISIT THE UNIQUE WOODEN JUMA MOSQUE. Woodworking has long been a tradition in Khiva, and nowhere in the city does this become more evident than at Juma Mosque — the most unique mosque you’ll come across in Uzbekistan. Typically, mosques in Uzbekistan have portals, arched entrances, and domes. Juma Mosque has none of those things; instead, its distinctive features are 218 wooden pillars supporting its roof. In fact, this Friday mosque can totally pass off as a museum of woodcarving, displaying all the different woodcarving styles found in Khiva throughout history!
Many of the wooden pillars are made from almond and elm trees around Khiva and date back to the 10th, 11th, and 14th centuries. Wandering around this quiet mosque, you can see how the carving styles have evolved with time; for example, some pillars from the 16th century have patterns that seem to imitate older techniques. There are also three openings in the ceiling of the mosque that allow the sun to play an enchanting light show between the pillars.