The remote town of Khiva is one of the best-preserved and most intact Silk Road cities in Uzbekistan. Compared with Bukhara and Samarkand, it's also compact, making it easy to explore on foot. In fact, evening strolls through the nearly deserted old city were some of our favorite moments.
Start your tour of the old city at the western gate, which leads to the main east-west street. The first thing you'll notice is the colorful Kalta Minor. The original plans called for this minaret to be one of the tallest in the Islamic world, but the structure was never completed—it's less than half finished. The radius of the bright-tile-covered base gives you a sense of how tall it was meant to be.
Next to the minaret is the Muhammad Amin Khan Madrasa with its lovely portal. It once housed up to 250 students (it was the largest theological college in the city). Today, it's a hotel. After taking a quick look at the decorated courtyard, cross the street to the Kunya Ark, the old city's citadel. Stroll through this maze of rooms, courtyards and corridors at your leisure, but be sure to see the summer mosque and the throne room, and climb to the rooftop platform for a bird's-eye view of the ark and the old city.
Continue along the main street and you'll come to the Jummi Mosque, whose interior is filled with carved-wood columns. A bit farther to the northeast is the Tash Hauli. You'll enter the palace through the private quarters, the harem, which are ornately decorated with blue-glazed tile and carved-wood columns—it's one of the most beautiful spaces in Khiva. The private part of the palace is separated from the official part by a long corridor. Take a look at the throne room and music room, each with its own courtyard.
The most important sights south of the main street are the Islam Hodja Madrasa and Minaret (if you climb only one minaret in Khiva, make it this one) and the Pakhlavan Mahmoud Mausoleum, a must-see for its beautiful blue-and-white interior. After you've seen those sights, take time to stroll the back streets and admire the portals of the many other madrassas. You can also take a walk along the ramparts of the city walls—start at the northern gate and walk toward the Kunya Ark. Because of its proximity to the Turkmenistan border, Khiva's bazaars are some of the best places to pick up a beautiful Turkmen carpet.
It's possible to see Khiva in one day, but we recommend that you stay at least two nights—evenings are the best time to soak in the atmosphere. The lights and shadows make the city mystical.
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