Our hotel was just across from the West Gate (Ota Darvoza meaning Father Gate). This gate was rebuilt about 40 years ago after being opened for car traffic. Khiva was once enclosed by both inner walls and outer walls. The outer walls have long since disappeared, but the inner walls are spectacular. Some parts of the 2.2 kilometer/1.4 mile walls date back to the 5th century, but the strongest portions were built in the 17th century.
Tombs are stacked up on the inner side of some portions of the southern walls; it was believed, incorrectly, that if an invader did breach the wall, he would not continue into the city because he would not walk over the graves. Even though the plan did not work, graves have been placed upon graves which were placed upon even earlier graves. The earlier tombs were made with unbaked mud brick which erode easily giving up their contents--more bones.
The inner city of Khiva is occupied by about 2,000 locals with about 38,000 residents occupying the outer city. Leaving the main tourist streets, we walked around the neighborhoods of the inner city.
One morning we walked around a portion of the residential area of the inner city. Many of the doorways have amulets hanging above the door. Most often we say containers filled with salt and dried red peppers. Sometimes the amulet above the door was a set of ram's horns. Nearby a woman with a basket of warm bread gave us a each a piece of delicious, thin bread. Eventually, we found the source. We watched the bakers roll out the dough, stamp it with a concentric design, transfer the dough to a loaf shaped pad, prick the dough with a fork, and transfer the dough to the oven. We had more bread fresh out of the oven. The baker said her bread is more expensive than her competitors because she uses real cream and butter. The cost was 3,000 sum (about $1 USD).
Just inside the west gate the Kalta Minor (short), while never finished, is the symbol of Khiva. The Khan commissioned the construction in 1852 to be the biggest, tallest minaret in the Islamic world. The death of the Khan three years later left the minaret "short" but still beautiful with the many shades of jade green and turquoise tiles.
Once back on flat land, we watched a bride and groom stroll past.
Khiva's Friday Mosque (Juma Mosque, 1788) is unlike any other. First, the space has a subterranean feel to it. Second, the site may have once been a Zoroastrian Temple. The roof is supported by 213 black elm pillars some of which date to the 10th century.
Back outside, we watched as a few women spontaneously began dancing near the Music Museum.
In addition to mosques and minarets, we also visited palaces and museums. The blue Majolica tiles with their intricate designs some created for protection as amulets (pomegranates and pepper flower) captured my attention.
Another symbol of Khiva is the bow-tie tile designs that are used as accents on some of buildings. Pre-Islam, the tile was made with a yellow-brown glaze and it was set horizontally. This was the symbol of Anahita the Zoroastrian Goddess of Fertility. The triangles symbolized the equality of men and women, and the center line represented children. Once Islam came to Khiva, the tile was glazed green for the color of Islam, turned vertical, and became a decorative feature.
On our last morning in Khiva, Azat took us outside of the inner city to the Reception Hall next to the Nurullah Bai Palace (1906-1912). The Reception Hall is decorated with Russian Tsarist gingerbread; I call it gingerbread because every inch of the walls is decorated with intricate designs and colors.
Post collapse of the Soviet Union, a statue of the long-lived Muhammad Rakhim II replaced the Lenin statue (the first in Central Asia) that formerly resided in the courtyard of the reception hall.
Later today, we will fly back to Tashkent to catch our plane back to Bishkek, Kyrgyzstan.