We were lucky to get some time on the day of our arrival to begin our visit of this fascinating place. The next morning our local guide joined us for a formal tour.


Seems odd to come all the way to Central Asia and come home with a picture of a sheep, but I saw a variety of livestock in the urban areas. This one was tethered right outside the walls of the inner city.

Here in Lexington feathers have been flying over a modest proposal to allow the keeping of a few hens within the city limits. The original proposal failed to get approval, but another one is on the way.

Al Khorezmi

As we walked around the city walls, our guide showed us this monument to Al Khorezmi, an 8th century mathematical genius. The term algorithm is derived from his name, which is Algorismi in Latin. The term algebra comes from the title of one of his books.

This spot was of particular interest to Jim and the other mathematician in the group, Dave Carlson.

Khiva Ark

The exterior of the Khiva Ark, which we had visited the afternoon before. We had climbed all the way up into the tower.

Shem's Well

Legend says that Khiva was founded and named by Noah's son Shem who miraculously discovered water here. We asked our local guide, shown here by the well in the Ark, if "Shem's well" still existed. He replied that he could show us as many Shem's wells as we could possibly want to see!

What he was illustrating here, however, was the custom of predicting a child's sex. If the bride and groom come to a well and throw a bucket down it, the bucket will either land upright or upside down making a different sounding splash. (I forget which splash predicted which sex.)

We wondered if he was serious until we saw this in practice at another well later.


Many of the buildings were covered in exquisite majolica tiles. Of those, many were completely or partially restored. Our guide told us how we could recognize original versus reproduction tiles.

The picture shows two complete tiles. The one on the bottom is original. This can be determined by two things: it has a nail in the center that affixes it to the building, and just to the left of the nail is a number in Arabic script (looks like black squiggles). The reproduction tile on top has neither of these things. It has been created for this spot and set in place with cement or grout.

The numbers were necessary because the tiles were made elsewhere and there had to be a key to place on the wall for the design to be correct.


This mosque shows how the majolica tiles were used to cover almost everything – including the stairs that the imam mounts for the service.

Note how it is not enclosed on all sides.


The Madrassah of Khurdjum. By this time my head was swimming with Madrassahs so I can no longer remember what was supposed to be memorable about this one. It had a museum. It had shops. It had an acrobatic show. But what I really remember is in the next slide....


While we were listening to whatever it was we were SUPPOSED to remember, these two women came screaming out of the door. The woman in black had shop-lifted a scarf and wrapped it under her furry coat. The shopkeeper was determined to get it back. They struggled over it and the woman in black fled.

The shopkeeper retired in triumph, but shortly thereafter came hustling back out shaking the scarf and took off through the gate. I gather it had been damaged during the struggle and she was in search of the perp.

This was the only incident of thievery that we saw. Everywhere else I've traveled we've been constantly warned about pickpockets and such, but rightly or wrongly we felt safe from predators here – even at night walking the dark streets of the cities.

TV Interview

As we walked to a restaurant for lunch, we were startled to see a TV camera crew doing "man on the street" interviews. They approached our group and we nominated Jim Massie as spokesman. Jim, who is a retired Episcopal priest and accomplished speaker, gave a marvelous interview about our experiences in Uzbekistan. We keep hoping we'll see him on the News At Eleven, but have yet to do so.

Leatherworkers in Khiva

There were numerous handicrafts for sale in Khiva in addition to the standard tourist stuff. The way to and from our hotel passed a blacksmith's shop (one couple stopped in and had a nice chat with the smith's son). There were numerous women knitting slippers, which were a local specialty. This group of young men were working with leather and making quite a social time of it.


The minaret of Islam-Khodja dates from the early 20th century. It is the tallest minaret in Khiva.

This street leads to the Pakhlavan Makhmud mausoleum. I got a picture of its dome on our first afternoon here. We will be visiting it this time.

Pilgrims to Pakhlavan Makhmud Mausoleum

Workers were cleaning the mausoleum so there was scaffolding all around. That discouraged me from trying to get a picture. The cenotaph can be seen behind and to the left of the imam.

I've forgotten the significance of the food. After the prayers, pilgrims took a bite.

Wishing well

This well was in the courtyard in front of the mausoleum. While we were resting in the shade several couples came and dropped the bucket into the well just as our guide had described earlier in the day.

Sometimes they were there with friends and there would be much giggling at the result.

After the bucket was hauled up, there was a ladle used to share the water.

Cooking bread

As we walked around town toward our next stop we came upon these women baking bread. The woman in red has a huge oven mitt that she uses to place and retrieve the bread inside the oven.

The oven is first heated by building a fire in it. Once the fire has burned down to coals, it is ready to cook. According to WWW sources, the heat can reach 900° F.

Baking bread

Instead of being placed on racks, the bread is slapped on the side of the oven. It sticks to the surface and cooks from the residual heat. Finished loaves are on the table in the background.

The ovens had been pointed out to us earlier, but I was unable to comprehend how they could work until we saw this one in action. It is a tandoor oven. I'm still puzzling over how one could be used to cook tandoori chicken.

Masjid-i Jami

The masjid-i jami was originally built in the 10th century although it was reconstructed in the 18th century. The 218 columns are all different and a few may date back to the original building. The name signifies that it was the principle mosque in the city.

The openings in the roof provide light.


In addition to the columns themselves being uniquely carved, their stone bases vary and also the capitals as shown here.


There were old, unused columns placed along the walls and also brand-new ones waiting to be used as needed.

Khan's harem access

fter the mosque we visit the khan's harem. It is reached either by convoluted paths (naturally) or by secret passageways from the palace itself.

The gate at the bend in the road is yet another mausoleum for wandering holy men.

Summer Court

This is one of the places where the khan held court. The cover over the dais, which rises above the surrounding walls, is oriented to catch any cooling breeze and divert it down into the courtyard.

In the winter a yurt is set up on the circular raised platform at the lower left of the picture. It provides warmth.

The harem The harem. The niches to the left are where the khan's principle wives held court.


Across the courtyard was the home of his concubines.

Slave market

Khiva was the center of a thriving slave trade. The slaves were usually Russians captured in raids and then brought to the desert.

This is the area where the slave market was held.

Filling out Forms

Our final night in Khiva we had another session in filling out forms. Of the five countries we visited, Turkmenistan is the hardest to get into.

They are particularly interested in carpets. If you travel INTO Turkmenistan with a carpet, you must have it declared and approved on the customs declaration or you will not be able to take it OUT of Turkmenistan.

Jama also emphasized that Turkmenistan was a paranoid society. The bus was likely to be bugged. Perhaps the hotel too. We were not to ask the guide and embarrassing questions because it would be cruel to put him on the spot. We were beginning to be paranoid ourselves.

Khiva dancer

After completing our forms we were treated to another folkloric presentation that included singing, dancing and instrumental performances.

Audience participation

It also included audience participation!

We were sorry to bid goodbye to Uzbekistan, but I believe everyone was looking forward to home.