After a longer than expected ride from Turkmenistan through Urgench, we reached Khiva in the late afternoon. After some confusing talks with our taxi driver, we ended up walking through the entire old part of town, to reach the bed and breakfast of our choice. It gave us a first glimpse of this historical inner city, and it made us get rid of our stuff fast, and hit the town. After the South Gate, we walked through the picturesque alleys to reach the Islom-Hoja minaret, the tallest minaret of Ichon-Qala or inner city of Khiva. A brown, tall structure, with bands of green and blue, culminating in an impressive top part with an abundance of green decorative tiles and a golden spire. We would see this minaret often during the next days, and noted that it had a different beauty during sunset, sunrise, and even at night when lights from below made it stick out against the dark sky.
We continued walking, and decided to climb the stairs leading up to the city wall, part of which can be walked, offering superb views of the city, its sights, but also the adobe houses below, and some of their courtyards. We would walk the often completely empty city wall more often in the days to follow: the views altered according to the position of the sun. Once back down in the streets and alleys of Khiva, we walked towards the West Gate, where we found the Kalta Minor minaret. An amazingly beautiful minaret, or more correctly: base of a minaret that was, unfortunately, never finished. It was supposed to be tall enough to see Bukhara from the top, and it could have been the tallest minaret in the world - but alas, the Khan who ordered it built dropped dead and construction was halted. Rumours had it that the next Khan realized that anyone on the minaret could peek into his harem, and see his wives. In any case, the minaret was never completed. Now, it still shines as one of the major sights of the old city because of its dazzling colours, with the inevitable dominant green. Around the Kalta Minor, we also saw the West Gate, the impressive tall city walls, the Kuhna Ark, and several medressas.
The city of Khiva is supposed to exist since the 6th century, but really rose to importance in the late 16th century when it became the capital of the Khorezm. It was well known for its slave market, and ultimately fell to the Russians in 1873. The Russians sought to conserve Ichon-Qala starting in the 1970s, and the result is that the inner city now has become a prototype city museum. But apart from the many medressas, minarets, mosques, and museums, there are actually also people living in this lovely place. Actually, when walking the empty streets in the very early morning, when all the tourists were gone and the souvenir sellers were still dreaming, we saw entire families sleeping on beds outside, to escape the badly ventilated houses. We came to love this time of the day most: no one to harass us, no groups of French tourists to block our view, and with a cool temperature. It was also a good time to see the houses without feeling to intrude: their beautiful wooden doors, the curtains, the adobe houses with their photogenic shapes and colours. It is the combination of those daily life-sights with the superb historic sights that make Khiva more than just an open-air museum.