Khiva is an amazing city in the Khorezm region and an important point on the Great Silk Road. There are several legends about the origin of Khiva, one of which says that Khiva appeared on the site of an oasis where merchants often stayed during their travels from East to West and back. The merchants set up camps, rested, and drank the water from the oasis, saying “Hey, Wai.” This is how the young settlement around the Heivay oasis was nicknamed, which served as a refuge for all travelers in the unfriendly steppe. Another legend says that Khiva was built around the sacred well Kheivak, dug by Shem, the son of Noah, and the father of the Semitic peoples. Some beliefs connect Khiva with Solomon, others with the ancient Aryans. Modern researchers only know that the city is more than 2500 years old, along with other ancient cities of Uzbekistan.
Khiva has historically been a part of the Khorezm state and has been its capital in modern history. The Khorezm state, in its turn, was conquered by the Persian troops of Cyrus II, but by the time of the conquest campaigns of Alexander the Great, the Khorezmians had already gained independence from the Persians. It is known for certain that after the arrival of Alexander the Great in Central Asia, the reign of the Persian dynasties ended, and the Greco-Bactrian culture and religion became widespread. However, Khiva preached Zoroastrianism before the arrival of the Arab conquerors, as evidenced by the ancient burials found in the city.
The Arabs have repeatedly tried to conquer Khiva since the 7th century AD., but the fortified city did not surrender. Only at the beginning of the VIII century, the Arab troops led by Kuteiba ibn Muslim took the city and showed cruelty towards the aristocracy and scientists. All those who owned the Khorezm script, cultural bearers, priests were destroyed for the sake of the dominance of the Islamic religion and Arab culture in the region. In connection with the destruction of the entire intelligentsia, the descendants lost historical information about the life of Khiva during the period of Arab domination in the region.
After being devastated by the Arabs, the city began to revive and began to play a huge role in the development of world sciences. The name of Muhammad al Khorezmi, the scientist who founded algebra, higher mathematics and gave the concept of an algorithm, is associated with Khiva. All scientists of that time used al Khorezmi’s works, and without him, modern mathematics and computer science would be completely different. In the X-XI centuries, in addition to Islamic educational institutions, centers for the study of medicine, astronomy, and mathematics were built. This continued until the 13th century when the Mongol troops destroyed the city in their devastating campaign.
After the Mongols, Khiva was rebuilt, thick fortress walls and fortifications were built. At that time Amir Timur ruled on the territory of Transoxiana. Amir Timur made several attempts before the city was taken and annexed to the Timurid empire. After this, the ruling dynasties were repeatedly replaced, but the city lived, was built and destroyed again. Khiva was a stronghold of Zoroastrianism, a city on the Great Silk Road, a center of science and culture, and a witness to many events from antiquity to modern history.
Khiva is a city especially interesting for tourists, as the whole city is a museum. Historically, Khiva was divided into two cities: the fortified inner citadel city of Ichan-Kala and the outer residential city of Dishan-Kala. Unfortunately, Dishan-Kala has hardly survived to this day, only the walls and a few preserved gates can give us an idea of how it looked in the Middle Ages. Ishan-Kala, thanks to the status of a fortress, has been preserved to us in an almost unchanged form and, looking at it, one can assume how all Central Asian cities looked hundreds of years ago. Inner Khiva officially has the unique status of a reserve city, a huge open-air museum, and is protected as a UNESCO World Heritage Site. It is also worth mentioning that the city is growing and developing with a special attitude to the preservation of traditions, just like two thousand years ago. Ishan-Kala occupies 26 hectares, has dimensions of 650 meters by 400 meters, and is rectangular in shape, elongated from north to south. Fortress walls were erected around, the height of which is 10 meters at the highest point. There are four gates leading to the inner city. Inside, there are 51 ancient monumental structures and 250 residential buildings.
On the territory of Ichan-Kala, in the western part, there is the Kalta-Minor minaret, which means “Short minaret”. It received this name for its massive base with a diameter of fifteen meters and a height of only twenty-six meters. According to the project, Kalta-Minor was supposed to surpass the Kalyan minaret in Bukhara and rise to eighty meters, but the plans did not come true. Muhammad Amin Khan, who initiated the construction, died in the war with the Turkmens, and later, the ongoing war postponed the construction of the highest minaret. Indeed, the imperfection of Kalta-Minor has become one of the most recognizable tourist attractions in Uzbekistan.
Near the Kalta-Minor, there is the Muhammad Amin-khan madrasah, named after the khan, who ordered the construction of the highest minaret and madrasah. According to some reports, Muhammad Amin Khan madrasah is considered the largest in Uzbekistan, but there is no evidence of this. Bukhara and Tashkent are still arguing for the right to own the largest madrasah, but there is still no consensus. The Khiva madrasah of Amin Khan, in its turn, if not the largest in Uzbekistan, then certainly the largest in Khiva. In addition, it is very spacious, as it contained 125 student rooms and a large courtyard. The madrasah is decorated with arabesques, the words for which were written by the famous poet Agakhi, and the prevailing colors in the glaze are blue and white. Now the madrasah does not function and it is currently a part of the Khiva tourist complex, where the hotel is located.
In the very center of Ichan-Kala, there is the Juma Mosque – the most original building in Khiva. The fact is that Juma is almost not decorated with glazed bricks, there is no pompous Arabic script on it. In addition, the building is one-story, without a portal and domes, as expected in the earliest period of the spread of Islam in Central Asia. The mosque has no courtyard or gallery, only one large room supported by two hundred and thirteen columns. All columns date back to different times, the oldest is over a thousand years old and were brought from the forgotten city of Kyat – the capital of the Khorezm state. Each of the columns is individually hand-carved along the entire surface of the trunk: there are ornaments and floral motifs, as well as inscriptions in Arabic. The Khorezm region, including Khiva, has always been distinguished by its wood craftsmen, and every wooden detail of the interior is a work of art.
It is worth mentioning more than a dozen madrasahs and mausoleums; a tour of ancient Khiva for a tourist who came to Uzbekistan will take a lot of time. Hundreds of places to visit, restaurants with national cuisine, museums, and exhibitions.