Khiva is an ancient city, though no one is sure when it was founded. Arab merchants first mention it in writing in the 10th century as a trading centre on the Silk Road, and in the 1600s it became the capital of a tribal state known as the Khanate of Khiva. For centuries it was renowned as the largest slave trading post in Central Asia, functioning well up until Russia conquered the city in the 1870s. Today all that remains of the khans’ legacy is a maze of elaborate old inns, mosques, shops, and other buildings.
Khiva is tucked away near the border of Turkmenistan, and is one of those must-see destinations that not everyone gets around to visiting. The old inner town isn’t very big, and was absolutely crammed with people and animals during the height of its popularity. Apparently the Soviets cleaned it up a lot, scrubbing every corner squeaky clean, and now it resembles more of a movie set than historical site. It’s beautiful to look at, but a bit soulless, and you really have to squint your brain to imagine how it must have been the place to pick up slaves back in the day.