Khiva is situated on the edge of the Khorezm Oasis, flanked by the the Korakum Desert ('Black Sands') to the West and the Kyzlkum Desert ('Red Sands' to the East. Turkmenistan lies twenty miles to the West while the Oxus River (now called the Amu Darya) limps along in the north.
Khiva is made up of an ancient inner city, Ichan Kala, and a more modern outer city, Dichan Kala. Although most tourists remain within the snaking sandcastle walls of the Ichan Kala, the Dichan Kala is also worth visiting.
According to legend, the founder of Khiva was Noah’s son Shem.
When Alexander the Great marched his armies through Khorezm he was reputedly seduced here by an Amazon warrior princess who wished a powerful conqueror to father her child.
The inventor of algebra and the decimal point, Al Khorezmi, came from Khiva.
Khorezm was once the most powerful empire in Central Asia but was brutally decimated by Genghis Khan. The Oasis once more rose to power during the time of the Khiva Khanate, extending over large areas of present day Turkmenistan, Uzbekistan and Karakalpakstan. Divided by the Soviets, today Khorezm spans three countries although only the portion in Uzbekistan is known as Khorezm.
Khiva gained notoriety during the nineteenth century for establishing the largest slave market in Central Asia.
Whilst the other Silk Road trading centres of Bukhara, Samarkand and Kokand have become sizable modern cities, Khiva maintains the feel of a small, friendly town.
Khivans converse in a distinct dialect which draws on both Uzbek and Turkmen and is thought to be one of the purest forms of Turki - the language spoken throughout Turkestan Central Asia) before the Soviet era.
Parts of the film ‘Orlando’ were shot in Khiva.
In 1997 Khiva celebrated its 2500 year jubilee. However some historians believe that it could be up to seven thousand years old.
Today Khiva’s Ichan Kala is the most homogeneous example of Islamic architecture in the world and a UNESCO World Heritage Centre.