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November 9, 2002

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If you've heard of Khiva then you probably know it's famous for slaves, massacres, and cruelty. Sounds like a 'must-see.' The slaving continued for three centuries from the 1600's when Khiva made a fortune on a slave trade that kidnapped people from Turkmenistan, Kazakhstan, and Russia. The massacre came in 1717, when Khiva's ruler tricked a Russian general and his 4,000 man army into believing they had a safe place to spend the night; the general and his men lost their heads. The cruelty became commonplace as rulers used impalement as the favorite execution method and then legendary when travelers reported seeing men having their eyes gouged out and their beards used to clean the knife. We didn't see any of that excitement. Old town sits within high, crumbling mud walls. Inside the streets are narrow, quiet, and clean. Most houses stand low and dun-colored, a striking contrast with tall minarets and domes of turquoise majolica. The only sound missing is the imam's call to prayer, banned all over Uzbekistan by a government that is nervous about religious fundamentalism.
Islom Huja Minaret, 1910: the experts call it the last architectural achievement of Central Asia. One religion, different styles: the Turks build slim and pointed minarets; the Arabs build cylindrical and functional minarets; and the Central Asians build tapering and tiled minarets.
A nice walk through Khiva, the more impressive a building's facade, the less functional it will be unless you're a cadaver in search of a tomb.
Khiva has an historic heart yet everyday life has been squeezed out of it. The old town is a self contained museum, no McDonalds or Coke advertisments here.