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 Unforgettabletripto Khiva

Khiva is once largest city of Khorezm khanate, which was founded in the 7-6 centuries B.C. in the territories of modern Karakalpakstan and Turkmenistan. The city is located to south-west from Urgench, near borders with Turkmenistan. The city was one of main centers of the Great Silk Road. In the 16th century, after direction of Amurdarya river changed and destroyed previous capital of Khorezm, Gyrandj (now Urgench), it became the capital of Khiva Khanate and the Timurids dynasty. Khiva is divided into two parts – Ichan Kala (inner city) and Dishan Kala (external city). Majority of architectural sites are located in Ichan Kala, which is included to the UNESCO World Heritage List.

The city itself is more than 2,500 years old, and was once one of the most important cities on the Silk Road, near the Khorezm Oasis. Today, Khiva is an open-air museum with winding streets, intricate tile decorations, and bustling city life. In a beautiful trip from ICAT company, you will get to know this charming little city and its history, explore its monuments, and get a taste for life on the Silk Road. Explore Ichan-Kala, the central fortress in Khiva, which holds the majority of the main sights and is a strikingly intact.

Historical monuments of Khiva:

Ichan Kala

Ichan-kala means “internal defensive circle”. Ancient complex is fully preserved city within Khiva.

It demonstrates how medieval eastern cities were built. The city has over 400 habitations in traditional style and about 60 architectural monuments, used for various purposes. They still look like century ago and they have their own legends.

There was a legend that it is forbidden to bring in dead people. Therefore, people died outside Ichan-kala and they were buried near city walls. As underground water was close to the surface, people tried to place graves as high as possible. This is one of reasons for high foundations of the buildings in the city.

Construction of Ichan-kala was started in 1598. Then Amudarya river suddenly changed its direction. It forced to move capital of Khorezm from Gurgandj (now Urgench) to Khiva.

The medieval city has an area of just one square kilometers. It is protected with strong unassailable wall with the height from 8 to 10 meters and the width from 5 to 6 meters. Its length on outer perimeter makes up 2,250 km. The walls were built from sun-dried clay bricks. Cogged railings with small loopholes were put on top of the walls. There are defensive towers, located 30 meters to each other.

The city had gates with viewing galleries on each side. The defensive towers also protected them.

Moat also surrounded Ichan-Kala, which also served as defensive line. Moat was one of important defensive elements in ancient and medieval times. At the same time, moat served as sewage and drainage systems. Currently, it is fully covered with earth, however its relief can be seen from southern part of Ichan-kala.

Medieval city was destroyed several times, but local people rebuilt it each time. Ichan Kala was the first historic monument, which was included to UNESCO World Heritage List.


Khiva unites two cities: internal defensive circle Ichan-kala and external – Dishan Kala. Each stands apart from each other.

If Ichan-kala was preserved fully, only three gates – Kosh-Darvoza, Gandimyan-darvoza and Hazarasp-Darvoza from the Dishan-Kala reached our times.

Dishan-kala was constructed within three years in line with the order of Allakuli-khan in the middle of the 19th century. During that time, Turkmen tribes regularly attacked the city.

Each of 200,000 people of khan each year should work at construction site for free within 12 days. Three years were spent to construct of the walls with the length of 6,000 meters, height of 8 meters and thickness of 6 meters. It was record for those times.

Saman (adobe) was main construction material. Bricks were produced from clay and they were dried in the sun. Almost all habitations were built from such material. Over the time, bricks dilapidated and became worthless. People dismantled them and produced new bricks from them and dried them in the sun. You could say it was a panacea for urban development.

Cogged railings with small loopholes were installed on top of the walls as on the walls of Ichan-kala. Loopholes were used to shoot from arrows and other weapons. Massive defensive towers were installed in equal distance. Moat provided additional defense. The city gates were locked at nightfall.

As the gates carried out important defensive function, the viewing galleries are located over them. Shock towers were on both sides of arch-shape passage. Security squads were always in state of combat readiness.

Dishan-Kala had ten gates in total. Frequently, they were named in honour of location or mahalla near the gates. For example, eastern gate Pishkanik received named of local village. Western gate Shahimardan was named after the cemetery.

Despite that open-air museum Ichan-kala attracts attention of tourists, there are ancient architectural monuments in the territory of Dishan-kala.

Arab Muhammad-khan Madrasah

There are epics about heroes with the brave heart and strong power in folklore of all nations. People of Central Asia call such people as pakhlavans. One of such famous people is Pakhlavan Makhmud from Khorezm.

He worked as furrier or master on fur processing. He was great wrestler in his soul. That’s why he became famous far beyond his native city. He lost only once to save his opponent from death penalty. Still Iranian wrestlers ask for victory from Pakhlavan Makhmud before the bouts.

There is also one beautiful legend related to him. When Pakhlavan Makhmud won in foreign state, the ruler asked what to gift him as a prize.

Pakhlavan Makhmud said he will take home all those, who would fit into a cow skin. He cut the skin into thin strips, tied them into one large belt and wrapped all the prisoners from Khorezm with the belt and took them home with himself. Besides, he was excellent poet and wise philosopher.

According to legend, Pakhlavan Makhmud died in 1322 or in 1325. He was buried in the yard of his shop.

Khiva residents esteem Pakhlavan Makhmud as their protector and they construct the mausoleum over his tomb in 1701. Tombstone and the building were decorated with traditional blue and white majolica, which is typical for Khan’s mausoleums.

Large number of pilgrims began to come here. Eastern gallery was constructed here in the first half of the 19th century. The mausoleum also became burial place for Khiva khans as the rulers were buried here.

In the end of the 19 century, the mosque, madrasah and four charity establishments (karihona), where the blind people lived, were built here. People of Khorezm suffered from blindness due frequent sandy storms.

Hudjra (living rooms) and oshhona (kitchen) were also constructed for pilgrims. Two-storey building was built in front of the mausoleum, where beautifully decorated burial-vault of Isfandiyar-khan is located.

Old block mosque for daily prayers Ak Masjid is located near architectural ensemble Pakhlavan Makhmud.

Djuma Mosque

There is a Djuma (Friday) mosque in the center of Ichan-kala. It was erected at the end of the eighteenth century over the ruins of previous construction. This is an original building without portals and cupolas, without galleries and yards. It is 55×46 m. One can enter the mosque from four sides. From the northern facade, facing the one of the main streets of the city the mosque faces a minaret, 52 m. high.The building is fenced with brick walls. The interior space is a single hall, the flat ceiling of which is supported by 215 wooden pillars. This type of single-hall mosque is found throughout the world and throughout the ages; witness the magnificent mosque in Afrasiab (tenth century), an Iranian mosque in Plain (tenth century), the Morocco mosque of Khas-an in Rabat (twelfth century) and others.

But the constructive plan and decor of the Khiva Djuma mosque express originally. Small openings were made in the ceiling for light and ventilation of the hall.

The finish of fagade is open brick. The interior is simply plastered. Spaces between the windows are painted in black and red colors; trees, bushes, and irises are realistically represented, symbolizing the wish of peace and tranquil in the monumental and decorative art of Central Asia. Irises were also used in the painting of the Ferghana mosques, in the Mamangan Khodja Amin Kabri, and other memorials. The carved doors and mosque pillars are of special interest. They were built in different periods.

Kalta Minor Minaret

In the middle of the 19th century Muhammad Amin-khan decided to build the most grandiose architectural complex in the Muslim world. He wanted to show the greatness and power of the Khiva Khanate. After all, Khiva Khanate was remained independent and true to its traditions for a long time.

But his vanity was punished. Construction of Madrasah of Muhammad Amin Khan was completed. However, the builders did not finish construction of the minaret.

The spiritual education establishment was one of the most famous in Central Asia. Tourists admire its beauty. However, Kalta Minor Minaret attracts the most tourists. Kalta Minor means short minaret.

According to the plan, the minaret should be the highest in the world – 80 meters. This is almost twice higher than Kalyan Minaret in Bukhara (46 meters) and a little bit higher that Kutub Minar in Delhi (78 meters). However, the ruler was murdered during campaign to Khorasan at the hands of Turkmen. Afterwards, number of khans ruled Khiva Khanate and the most of financial resources were directed to internal wars.

However, new legends appeared over time, which differently explain situation with the minaret. Some say that architect was thrown minaret, when it became known that gifted master will construct a higher minaret in Bukhara. By the way, often architects faced such fate. Other architects were afraid to continue construction works.

According to other version, the ruler went to top of the building and saw that khan’s harem will be visible if to continue construction. Therefore, he urgently stopped construction works.

In the result, the height of the minaret is just 26 meters. However, it became one of the most popular sites of Khiva. The surface of the minaret is decorated with traditional fully glazed tiles, which shimmer in the sun with azure, blue and white colors.

Kalta Minor Minaret differs from similar buildings of Khiva and Central Asia. It silently recalls might and collapse of Khiva Khanate.

Tosh-Hovli Palace  

The Palace of Khiva khans Tash-hauli is an example of secular architecture of the 19th century. Its construction, based on design of local architects Tadjiddin and Qalandar, was started in 1831 and lasted whole 10 years.

Name of the palace is translated as Stone Palace. Large complex with 163 rooms stands near Palvan-Darvoza gate. It is surrounded with brick walls with traditional cogs on top. Small guldasta towers stand on both sides.

Along with living rooms, the residence of the Khan also included arzhona, a yard, where khan received his guests, as well as ishrat-khauli, which usually hosted various festive and entertainment events.

Along with the family of Khan and servants, the court circle also lived in the palace. The palace also included special rooms, where khan reviewed appeals and issued his decisions. Convicted person was led to public execution via special exit.

Majolica mosaic, ceramic tiles and ornaments in traditional Khiva colors – blue, ultramarine and white – were widely used in the decoration of the palace. The courtyard is decorated with carved wooden columns. The beautiful columns can be seen in the courtyard of the khan’s harem.

It occupied almost half of Tash-hauli palace. It was one large family courtyard. The entry was closed for court circle as well. Now, tourists calmly walk in “forbidden place”. In one of many rooms of the palace, there is a coach of the 19th century.

Interesting story is connected with it. Once, khan of Khiva visited the Russian Tsar in winter. The palace was warm for his amusement. Tsar explained that fireplaces are heating the rooms. Khan asked to send him a master. Stove-maker arrived in Khiva in road coach. Spouses of Khan never saw the coach and were in joy. After all works were completed, the Russian master understood that it would be better to leave coach to the Khan family. The master returned to Russia on the chaise, but the wives of the khan remembered him with gratitude and rode the coach with pleasure over the yard.

Islam Khoja madrasah and minaret

Islam Khoja ensemble is real pearl of Khiva despite its young age. The ensemble was constructed in the beginning of the 20th century, although its appearance reminds the architecture of the 11-12th centuries.

Islam Khoja minaret is a central building of the ensemble. Main vizier (Prime Minister) Islam Khoja constructed the minaret for his own money. Islam Khoja served as the minister at the court of Isfandiyarkhan II, who had progressive views and wanted to develop strong relations with Russia. He brought new and fresh ideas from Saint Petersburg for development of Khiva Khanate. He initiated construction of the first secular school.

However, some citizens of Khiva did want changes and therefore they tried to incite the Khan against his vizier. As a result, Khodja was murdered on his way to countryside residence.

Today madrasah and minaret of Islam Khodja are visiting cards of Ichan Kala. The ensemble is based on contrasts. In line with the project of architect, the highest minaret stands near small madrasah. Thanks to it, the tower looks more impressive and can be seen from far. In the beginning of 20thcentury, it served as lighthouse and helped caravans not to go astray.

With its beauty in tradition of the 14th century and height of 56.6 meters, it eclipsed even the famous Kalyan Minaret in Bukhara. Its horizontal majolica patterns of blue, azure, white and turquoise tiles shimmer against the clear sky of Khiva. At the height of 45 meters, there is an observation deck, from where all the sights of Khiva can be viewed.

It is noteworthy that the madrasah and minaret of Islam Khodja stood very close to each other. Inside of the madrasah, there are a spacious hall and 42 hudjras (living room), where students and teachers lived. A dome mosque is located in the south-eastern part of the madrasah. Patterns from ganch and colorful majolica were used to decorate its interior.

Islam Khoja ensemble is one of the most beautiful architectural complex of Khiva.