As legend has it, this place has a history that dates back to the time of Shem, son of Noah. A settlement was certainly established here by the 8th century AD and began to flourish in the early 16th century. A colourful procession of conquering khans, Silk Road traders, Great Game spies and Russian invaders has long captured the imagination of writers and poets. It is also a photographer's delight, particularly in the evenings when the sun begins to set. This beautifully-preserved town is perfect for exploring on foot, with impressive walls that mark the boundaries of the old city. Upon entering through its gates we are greeted by towering minarets and numerous medressas.
The high turquoise dome of Pakhlavan Mahmoud’s tomb in Khiva is a beacon for pilgrims seeking the blessing of the town’s patron saint and the most beautiful sacred building in the city. Pakhlavon Mahmud was a renaissance man of sorts; a poet, philosopher, doctor and legendary wrestler, he is the most revered man in Uzbekistan, protector of Iranian wrestlers and patron saint of women without child. All local weddings end up here: If you drink from the fountain in the courtyard, as all brides and grooms do, you’ll be guaranteed to live one hundred years and be blessed with many children. Afterwards, remove your shoes, wander through the ivory, copper and coral inlaid doors, and on to the brilliant sarcophagus. Kneeling with the pilgrims cupping their hands over their face for blessing, you’ll be taken with the serene beauty of the tomb and understand why generations of Khans wished to be entombed here too, in such close proximity to the saint.
Strange and beautiful are words that come to mind together and often all over Uzbekistan, and no more so while walking through the entrancing calm of Juma Mosque in Khiva. Daylight spills from portals to illuminate the carved wooden pillars and shadowy recesses of the great hall. Each of the 200 pillars, a few over a thousand years old, is carved from a single elm. Their spacing and collection give the appearance of an ancient underground forest. You’ll marvel at the scene and, on closer inspection, the intricate carving upon each, and be certain you’ll otherwise experience nothing like it outside fantasy books and film.
Algebra anyone? The statue outside Amin Jhan Medressah Hotel in Khiva will either have you smiling in adoration or shaking your fist in fury, depending on your memories of school. Ninth century mathematician and local hero, al-Khorezmi, whose name translates in Latin to algorithm, is immortalized here as one of Khiva’s favourite sons. His work Al-Jebr was first formulated in this museum town of ancient walls, gates, medressahs and minarets, and put Khiva on the map. A significant waypoint for silk road traders, conquering Khans, cold war intrigue and Russian invaders, the town has long been an inspiration for writers and poets, but perhaps you’ll want to flex your left brain with a quadratic equation race at the feet of al-Khorezmi …Or just enjoy wandering the quiet streets and snap the stunning architecture in one of the most picturesque towns in all Asia.