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Central Asia has played a very significant role in the history of the Great Silk Road, a trading route connecting China and India with Europe. Chinese ceramics and silk, India spices and diamonds, fur and leather from the wildernesses of river Amu Darya and Syr Darya were all transferred along the route to Europe. Not only goods, but also technologies, ideas, philosophies and religions were exchanged. Khiva used to be the capital of the region of Khorezm and the city grew rich on the Silk Road trade. It was a cultural, educational and economical center at that time. Glorious days came to an end during the 16th century because just about 100 years after the death of Amir Timur his relatives began to fight against each other. The Timurid empire collapsed and Silk Road began to decline since trading was not safe anymore. At that time Europeans discovered Americas and the sea routes to Asia and began to transfer goods by ships. As a result, Khiva also lost its importance.
Khiva is the most remote and most authentic of all historic cities of Uzbekistan. Although much of the present monuments date only back to the 18th and 19th centuries, architectural styles haven't changed much since the Middle Ages. Itchan Kala, the Unesco World Heritage walled inner town of Khiva is a breathtaking open-air museum with its lots of madrasas and other historic monuments.
Hungarian traveler Ármin Vámbery was the first European - of course disguised as a pilgrim from Mecca – to discover this remote city in 1863. Today there is no need to disguise yourself anymore and there are several options to get to Khiva including a direct flight from Paris every other week and of course daily flights from Tashkent, capital of Uzbekistan.
An emblem of Khiva, the unfinished Kalta Minor Minaret stands next to the Mohammed Amin Khan Medressa. The khan of Khiva decided to build the tallest minaret in entire Central Asia and construction was started in 1851. However the minaret never got completed because Mohammed Amin Khan died abruptly in a battle in 1855.
The term „Kunya Ark” means „Original Citadel” reminding us of the fact, that the first residence of the khans of Khiva was also used for military functions. In fact it is a fortress within the fortified walls of Itchan Kala, but the khans have rebuilt it into a magnificent palace throughout the centuries. Despite the construction of Tosh Hauli Palace in the 1830's which was followed by another residence outside the walls, Kunya Ark remained in use till the 20th century.
Both Itchan Kala, the inner town of Khiva and Dishan Kala, the outer town used to be surrounded by enormous walls in all four directions.
Lengths of the walls of the inner town is about 2,200 metres. Their height can reach up to 11 metres and these massive walls have an average width of 4 metres and a maximum of 8 metres. Names of the four gates of the inner town are as follows: West Gate (Ata-Darvaza), North Gate (Bagcha-Darvaza), East Gate (Palvan-Darvaza) and South Gate (Tash-Darvaza).
Tosh Hovli (or Tash Hauli) Palace was built by the order of Allah Kuli Khan in 1832. It consists of three courtyards: the reception area, the harem and the guesthouse area. Visitors are nowadays allowed to tour the harem courtyard, so we'll also focus on this part of the palace complex.
Pakhlavan Mahmud Mausoleum is the holiest site in Khiva and it belongs to the highlights of any city tour. It is named after Pakhlavan Mahmud (1247-1325), a local craftsman making fur hats who was also a talented poet and a famous wrestler. The local hero was entombed here, at the former place of his workshop but it soon became a pilgrimage site and several khans decided to be buried here as well. They turned the small mausoleum into a spectacular emerald-green domed shrine.
Built between 1906 and 1912 by khan Muhammad Rahim Bahadur II for his son, Isfandiyar this palace is an eclectic mix of Central Asian and European styles. It is located outside Itchan Kala in Dishon Kala about 10 minutes by foot from Hotel Sobir Arkanchi.