Photo: Matthieu Paley
Photo: Matthieu Paley

from Issue 6

Steppe 6 Cover

Khiva: Bird’s-Eye View

by Matthieu Paley

A view of the walls and reconstructed west gate,  – known as the Ata Darvaza (‘Father’s Gate’) of the Ichon-Qala (‘Inner Fortress’) ) – of Khiva, photographed from the citadel. At the top left of the photograph is the nineteenth-century Muhammad Amin Khan Madrassa (now the Hotel Khiva), which was built by the Qungrat ruler of the same name. Just out of sight, to at the left of the photo, is the Kalta Minar (‘Short Minaret’), which was never finished owing to the death of Muhammad Amin Khan in battle in 1855.

While many of the buildings within Khiva’s the Ichon-Qala date from the nineteenth- century, others have origins further back in time, including the Djuma or Friday Mosque (‘Mosque of the Day of Assembly’, or ‘Friday Mosque’), for instance, whose hypostyle hall contains a number of wooden columns dating back to the tenth century AD.

Long an oasis town within the ancient kingdom of Khwarezm, Khiva came to prominence in 1592 when it became the capital of the Khanate of Khiva, ruled over by the Uzbek Sheibanids and later the Qungrats.

From the seventeenth to the nineteenth centuries , Khiva was notorious for its slave market, trading mainly in Persian and occassionally Russian slaves.

By 1920, the last Khan of Khiva was deposed, and the Khorezm People’s Soviet Republic was established in its place  – later to be divided up by the Turkmen and Uzbek Soviet Socialist Republics, with Khiva falling to Uzbek ownership.

Today, the Ichon-Qala has a museum-like atmosphere. The majority of Khiva’s population lives, works and trades outside these once once-bustling inner-city walls (see the right- hand-side of the photograph), but for an insight into the urban architecture of eighteenth- and nineteenth-century Central Asia, however, Khiva has no comparison.

For a better view of the Muhammad Amin Khan Madrassa and minaret, go to http://visit

Matthieu Paley specialises in photographing remote places and has worked extensively in Northern India, Pakistan and Central Asia.