Khiva: 6 reasons to visit the tourist capital of the Islamic world for 2024

By TravelWiseApr 3, 2024 06:30 AMNews
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Khiva: 6 reasons to visit the tourist capital of the Islamic world for 2024
Hiva offers tourists incredible architecture. Source: pixabay

The Silk Road city of Khiva in Uzbekistan is often described as a living museum. Its well-preserved streets, baked mud brick mosques, and majestic fortress walls recall the spirit of the Silk Road and its caravans that once passed through in large numbers.

This year, Khiva beat out cities such as Abu Dhabi, Lagos in Nigeria, and Urfa in Turkey to be named the Islamic World Tourism Capital of the Year 2024. The decision was made by 57 countries that are members of the Organization of Islamic Cooperation (OIC). This was reported by nationalgeographic.com.

UNESCO-listed architecture

The walled city of Itchan Kala in Khiva is a UNESCO World Heritage Site and one of the best-preserved sites on the Silk Road. This open-air museum, founded about 2500 years ago, is a maze of streets lined with dozens of intricately decorated monuments, most of which date back to the 14th-19th centuries. The architectural landmarks of Hiva include the 185-foot-tall Islam Hoja Minaret with its alternating rings of glazed blue tiles and sand-colored bricks. The 160-room Tash Khauli Palace, built for the 18th-century ruler Allah Quli Khan, and the simple but elegant Juma Mosque, whose roof is supported by 213 elm columns, each carved by a different craftsman.

Links with historical figures

Legend has it that Shem, one of the sons of Noah, the Old Testament prophet best known for his ark, founded Hebrews. However, it is easier for historians to verify the city's connection with important characters of the medieval world. The ninth-century polymath Al-Khwarizmi, often called the father of algebra and who gave his name to the scientific term "algorithm," was born here, as well as Pahlavon Mahmud, a poet and wrestler whose superhuman strength is still known in Turkey.

Diverse cultural programmes

With a dramatic and historical backdrop like Itchan-Kala, it's no surprise that Khiwa hosts festivals and other cultural events throughout the year. Highlights of the annual program include Nowruz, the traditional Persian-Turkish New Year, which is celebrated on March 21, the vernal equinox. The International Lazghi Dance Festival, a celebration of an elegant traditional dance form listed by UNESCO as an intangible cultural heritage and appropriately named Pahlavon Mahmud Strongmen Games, where athletes from around the world compete in extreme strength events such as lifting atlas stones and dragging huge anchors.

Khiva: 6 reasons to visit the tourist capital of the Islamic world for 2024
Khiwa impresses tourists with a variety of cultural events. Source: Pixabay

Preservation of cultural heritage

Khiva was the first UNESCO World Heritage Site in Central Asia, and great efforts have been made to preserve the historic city center. Balancing the residents' demands for modern amenities with UNESCO's requirements for nature conservation is no easy task. The entirety of Itchan-Kala is now car-free, and during the pandemic, local authorities took advantage of the lull in tourism to bury all electrical cables, and water and gas pipes underground and pave the previously uneven streets with attractive tiles. Many small monuments have been neatly converted into artisan workshops and bazaars, as well as cafes, restaurants, and hotels, and rental income from these businesses pays for the upkeep of this precious historic area.

Unique places to stay

Visitors to Khiva are spoiled for choice when it comes to accommodation options, which range from family-run guest houses to the four-star Farovon Khiva Hotel. But if you're looking for cultural authenticity and charm, the best place to stay is in the boutique lodges in and around the Ichan Kala area. The Orient Star Khiva Hotel set the trend of turning madrasas (Islamic universities) into simple heritage hotels, and the still subtle monastic atmosphere of hotels like the Muso To'ra and Feruzkhan is the real deal. However, if you prefer a little more luxury, Singaporean media personality Timothy W. Go opened his first hotel here, Hotel Bankir Khiva, in 2023. Timothy has a flair for interior design, and the rooftop terrace offers panoramic views of Ichan Kala.

Ease of access

In recent years, Uzbekistan has stripped itself of bureaucracy, and citizens of over 90 nationalities, including all UK and EU passport holders, can now enter the country without visas for up to 30 days. You can fly directly from London to Tashkent, the capital of Uzbekistan, three times a week on the national carrier Uzbekistan Airways, or you can travel via Istanbul and land in Urgench in western Uzbekistan. British tour operators such as Wild Frontiers and Trotting Soles offer small group and customized tours.

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