Along with Samarkand and Bukhara, Khiva is an important and often overlooked historical site on what was once the Great Silk Road. Famous for it's long and brutal history as a slave trading post sandwiched in between the vast Kyzylkum and Karakum deserts, Khiva is now a quiet, sleepy oasis that awaits busloads of tourists instead of caravans of captives. It's difficult to imagine what exactly ancient Khiva was like, considering the historical areas were restored to a scrubbed and squeaky-clean look by the Soviets in the 1970s. However, the clustered array of mosques, madrassahs and tiled minarets within a area of less than 3km give you a sense of how crowded and bustling this town must have been throughout it's history. According to the archaeologists Khiva was founded in the 5th or 6th century. First written sources date from the 10th century. The Arab traveller Al Istachri mentions Khiva in his enumeration of the most important settlements in Chorezm. The Arab geographer Ibn Battuta visited Khiva in the 14th century. He praised the emir who was untiringly taking care of law and order and reported that the city was so full of people that it was almost impossible to find one's way in the crowd. It wasn't until the 16th century when Khiva was made capital of an Islamic Khanate (starting a bitter rivalry with another Khan 460 km down the Silk Road in Bukhara), that the majority of Khiva's immense architectural projects began and the town established itself as a center of power in the region. In the 19th century only a strong central power was created and taxes and money were introduced. For a long period of time Khiva was one of the most important markets of slaves in Central Asia. Khiva with its 94 mosques and 63 mederssahs is considered as an important center of Islam. Because of this significance, Khiva was recognized as a World Heritage Site by UNESCO in 1990.
The written sources confirm the considerable age of Khiva. The historical information on Khorezm is given in "Avesta". The "father of history" Herodot made a mention of Khorezm and the Khorezmian people. Beruni wrote about the ancient agriculture of Khorezm. Archaeological excavations also prove the age of Khiva to be 2500 years old. All these facts have enabled UNESCO to proclaim Khiva a city-reserve, and its inner part Ichan-Kala has been recognized as a historical monument of the world significance. Khiva is one of the few cities in the world, where the historical building up has actually been preserved; as a matter of fact it is a whole city in the open air. Monumental architecture of Khiva of the end of the 18th - mid-19th centuries formed this newly built city and the energy with which the city grew up in the course of only two-three generations of masters fascinates us until now. What could be ruinous for the urban settlement in different circumstances, namely casual constructions on little spots of land alongside with rather high congestion of population, became a source of unusual diversity of architectural forms. Ichan-Kala in particular, this most densely populated part of Khiva, became as the fate willed an architectural museum whose buildings represent the best masterpieces of ancient architects.
Traditionally, the spiritual centre was a congregational or Friday mosque. Juma mosque in the Ichan-Kala was also rebuilt at the end of the 18th century; however it preserved the features of classical buildings of the East. This peculiar one-storied building without portals arches and domes has a big hall with a flat roof resting on 213 wooden carved columns. It is just these columns, varied in shape and form that are of special value in this mosque. The scientists believe that all these particulars bring it closer to the old mosques of Arabia. The biggest madrassah is Mukhammad Amin-khan madrassah. Its double khujras are just fantastic. The facades are trimmed with coloured bricks designs and majolica tiled bands of vegetable ornament. The doors and pandjara are decorated with a wonderful carving. It is difficult to imagine a medieval city without external walls and towers, without a citadel inside. Khiva is not an exception. Since olden times Ichah-Kala was surrounded with the massive outer walls. And in the middle of the 19th century a new wall with ten gates was built around Khiva. Since that time the big ring of the city started to be called Dishan-Kala or the "external fortress".
In the spiritual life of Khiva a special attention was given to the holy places - mazars and mausoleums. Thus one of the most respected places is a memorial complex of Pakhlavan Makhmud, a furrier by profession, a hero, a philosopher and a poet. After his death his was canonized as pir - a holy patron of Khiva. Gradually, around the burial place of Pakhlavan Makhmud there grew up a cemetery of the representatives of khan family, while in later period there came into existence the ensemble of the adjoining buildings including winter and summer mosques, commemoration premises and a room for Koran reading. In the Middle Ages Khiva was also a city of scientists. There existed big scientific centres - astronomy, mathematics, and medicine. There lived and worked great scientists such as Abu Al Khorezmi, Abu Raikhan Beruni, Abu Ali Ibn Sina. At the court of Abbul Ibn Mammun thee got together the eminent medieval scientists who formed the "Academy of Mamuna". The great scientists of the East were Shermukhammad Munis and Agakhi. Not without reason the city got the name "The Pearl of Khorezm Oasis".
At the times of its prosperity Khorezm was the biggest center of international trade, the key point on the Great Silk Road. The merchants from Volga region, India, Iran came here; from here the trading caravans started their way to Middle East, Eastern Turkestan and China. From Khiva, the roads led to Mongolia and via the Polovetscky steppes to Saksin, a trade place in the mouth of the Volga and further to Russia and Europe. Archaeologists found new routes of the ancient caravan roads and in particular from Khorezm to Mangishlak and from there by sea to Nizhni Povolzhe proving that Khiva merchants controlled considerable part of trade of Central Asian states with Eastern Europe.
Khiva - famous city of Khorezm, one of the countries of an ancient civilization, has survived several climatic and historical disasters. The source of life in Khorezm is the river of Amudarya. Unlike the historical cities of Samarkand and Bukhara, Khiva has rich and magnificent historical values. The difference of Khiva is that all architectural monuments are preserved in their original condition.
PLACES YOU SHOULD VISIT:
Madrasah of Mukhammad Aminkhan
Madrasah of Muhammad-Rakhimkhan
The mausoleum of Said Alauddin
Djuma (Friday) Mosque
Architectural complex of Pahlavan Makhmud
Minaret of Islamkhoja
Ak-Mosque (White Mosque)
Baths of Anushakhan
Architectural monument at Palvan-darvaza
Caravanserai of Allakulikhan
Madrasah of Allakulikhan