KHIVA is a “fortified oasis in the desert”.  It is a city of approximately 50,000 people located in the XIRAZM REGION, UZBEKISTAN.  According to archaeological data, the city was established in the beginning of the current era.  It is the former capital of KHWAREZMIA and the KHANATE of KHIVA.  ITCHAN-KALA in KHIVA, was the 1st site in Uzbekistan to be inscribed in the World Heritage List.

Khiva dunes

The origin of the name of KHIVA is unknown, but many contradictory stories have been told to explain it.  A traditional story attributes the name to one of the sons of Noah : “It is said that SHEM (from whence the word “Semitic” is derived), after the flood, found himself wandering in the desert alone.  Having fallen asleep, he dreamt of 300 torches.  On waking up, he was pleased with this omen, and he founded the city with outlines in the form of a ship mapped out according to the placement of the torches about which he had dreamt.”  Then Shem dug the KHEYVAK WELL, the water from which had a surprising taste.  It is possible to see this well in ITCHAN-KALA (an internal town of KHIVA city) even today.

Another story relates that travellers passing through the city, upon drinking the excellent water, would exclaim : KHEY VAKH ! (What a pleasure), and hence the city became known as KHEYVAKH, whence KHIVA.   
A third proposal is that the name comes from the word KHWAREZM altered  by borrowing in TURKIC as KHIVAREZEM, then shortened to KHIVA.

Khiva night

In the early part of its history, the inhabitants of the area were from Iranian stock and spoke an Eastern-Iranian language called KHWAREZMAN.  Subsequently, the Iranian ruling class was replaced by Turks in the 10th century AD, and the region gradually turned into an area with a majority of TURKIC speakers.

The city of KHIVA was first recorded by Muslim travellers in the 10th century, although archaeologists assert that the city has existed since the 6th century.  By the early 17th century, KHIVA had become the capital of the KHANATE of KHIVA, ruled by a branch of the ASTRAKHANS, a GENGHISID DYNASTY.
In 1873, Russian General Von Kaufman launched an attack on the city, which fell on the 28th of May, 1873.  Although the Russian Empire now controlled the KHANATE, it nominally allowed KHIVA to remain as a Quasi-independent protectorate.


Following the Bolshevik seizure of power after the October Revolution, a short-lived KHOREZM PEOPLE’S SOVIET REPUBLIC was created out of the territory of the old KHANATE of KHIVA before its incorporation into the USSR in 1924 with the city of KHIVA becoming part of the UZBEK SOVIET SOCIALIST REPUBLIC.

KHIVA is split into 2 parts.  The “outer town”, called DICHAN KALA, was formerly protected by a wall with 11 gates.  The “inner town”, or ITCHAN KALA is encircled by brick walls, whose foundations are believed to have been laid in the 10th century.  Present-day CRENELLATED walls date back to the late 17th century and attain a height of 10 metres.

Khiva Uzbek

The ISLAM KHWAJA madrasah and minaret is 45m high and is the tallest structure in KHIVA.  One of KHIVA’s most “iconic” buildings is the short and  KALTA MINOR MINARET, which is covered in glazed, patterned tiles and whose beauty hits you as soon as you enter through the West Gate.  According to legend, it was built by Mohammed Amin Khan, the illustrious Ruler of KHIVA, who wanted to build a minaret so high he could see the city of BUKHARA which was 400km to the southeast.  Work started on the tower in 1851, but came to an abrupt halt after his death in 1855, leaving the 14m-wide and 26m-high tower as is.


More intricate tile work can be found on the spectacularly ornate SUMMER MOSQUE, located inside the KUHNA ARK, the fortress residence of KHIVA Rulers.  The Mosque is completely covered in locally-made tiles believed to date back to 1838.  Exquisite tile work can be found in many of the buildings around KHIVA,  It is worth exploring the nooks and crannies of the city to see what treasure you can discover.

Khiva mosque

Central Asia was a world centre of learning for centuries and KHIVA was no exception.  Abu Abdallah Muhammad ibn Musa Al-Khwarizm, a Persian scholar born around 780, is sometimes called the “grandfather of computer science”, and is believed to have invented ALGEBRA and the DECIMAL POINT.  The famous terms ALGORITHM & ALGEBRA come from his works.  Algorithm is a modified spelling of KHWARIZMI and Algebra derives from his famous work HISAB AL-JABR WA’L-MUQABALA.

Khiva Djuma Mosque

The old town retains more than 50 historic monuments and 250 old houses, mostly dating from the 18th and 19th centuries.  DJUMA MOSQUE, for instance, was established in the 10th century and re-built in 1788-89, although its celebrated HYPOSTYLE HALL still retains 112 columns taken from ancient structures.

————- Inputs from Phillipa Stewart.  

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