According to legend, Khiva was founded about 2,500 years ago when a son of Noah, Shem, discovered a well in the middle of the desert exclaimed “Khi-wa!” (which roughly translates as “sweet water”).   Whether or not the myth is true, Khiva has existed for a very long time.  In the 1600’s it became the capital of the Khanate of Khiva.   It was one of the stops of the Silk Road.   For a large part of its history, it was as a slave trading post sandwiched in between the vast Kyzylkum (= red sand) and Karakum (= black sand) deserts.  In the 1870’s the Russian captured the city and removed all traces of its slave trading past.

The old part of Khiva, or the inner part of the present day city, is enclosed by brick walls whose foundations are believed to have been laid in the 10th century, hence its name Itchan Kala which means ‘within walls’.  Itchan Kala was the site of the khan’s palace and it was where high officials and clergy and rich merchants used to live. This is why the most important buildings like palaces and large mosques and madrassas are in the Itchan Kala. The ordinary people, small merchants, craftsmen and peasants lived in Dishan Kala (outside the wall).

UPDATE: I’ve taken these photos, plus a few more, and made them into a slideshow that you can see on youtube.


local Uzbeks (probably) lining up in front an old brick building with a blue dome to have their picture taken

below: The population of the whole city is about 50,000.  Even though the old part of the city is very touristy, there are residents.

a man walks his bike while a gilr walks beside him carrying her scholl bags, morning, in an alley in khiva

below: Examples of some of the many blue and white tiles used to decorate the buildings.

tiles mosaics in blue and white based in six pointed star and some intricate floral patterns

broken tile mosaics in blues and white, drawing on the wall to show where the missing tiles would go

below: One wall of the old mosque

wall on an old mosque in Khiva, some of the mosaics are still there and some blank spaces on the wall where the tiles were

below: A street vendor sells ceramics and carpets and a few other things.

a woman inspects a plate, many plates for sale, on a mat on the ground, all ceramic, some blue and white and some with pomegranate patterns on them.

below: Off to school, early morning.

a girl comes out of a doorway at the end of a lane, morning, about to go to school. sand coloured houses on either side, laundry hanging at the end of the alley

a brown sweater is hanging over the top of an old white door on a mud and straw house

view through a doorway to a courtyard in front of a mosque, with a group of people standing there

below: A quiet corner in Khiva.

brick buildings with blue dome, and sunflower shaped brick design on the ground, Khiva

below: Painted wooded ceiling of one of the rooms in the harem of the castle in Khiva.

painted wood ceiling in an old building in Khiva, the harem of the castle, in red and green, octagonal pattern, some of the walls are also showing, they are covered in blue and white tile

below: Laundry hanging outside.

a long line of laundry hangs in front of an old brick wall

below: A line of mannequins model the latest in fur hats and scarves.  For some reason, they are all missing their noses.

a row of manneguin busts with all the noses broken, they are all wearing fur hats and scarves

below: A brass knocker on a very old carved wood door.

an old brass knocker on an old wood door

below: Ceramic figurines for sale.

a line of little ceramic figurines that are for sale at an outdoor vendor, old men with white beards and green hats

below: A small but colourful collection of items for sale outside the K.H. Devanov Memorial Cinema.

an old wood double door, with a red velvet covered chair (seat only covered) in front of it, a rack and shelves of things for sale to the right of it. wood sign to the left that says it's a cinema

below: An old tire has been put to use as a planter.  Like most of Uzbekistan, Khiva receives very little rain.

old wood door on a mud and straw building, tire on the ground that has been used as a planter, with a dead plant in it

below: A string of chiles and some salt outside the door to and ward off evil and bring good luck.

a string of chilis and a green pop bottle partly filled with salt, hanging beside a white wood door

below: A pink door.  The residents of Khiva live behind walls.  It could be someone’s house on the other side of the door or it could be a courtyard or it could be the barn.  I encountered more than one cow in the town!

a pale pink door on a building with no windows

below: An old door.  The window has some lovely metal (?) work as decoration and you can just see the floral curtains through the window.

closed white double doors with small windows on either side, a pair of shoes neatly sitting by the window.