Long before the arrival of Islam, Central Asia was a world where Zoroastrianism held sway. Centuries later, there are still vestiges of this, the world's first monotheistic belief, to be found throughout the region. Noruz, the celebration of the New Year according to the Zoroastrian calendar, is the most important and beloved celebration of the year from Iran to Kazakhstan, but it is here, in Khiva, that you see everywhere the twin inverted triangle symbol of Zoroaster set into buildings all over the city. Whether as here, in the wall of a minaret or set into the walls of the wedding palace, they occur again and again. It is thought the presence of the tile within brickwork is an indication that Persian slave labour was used for the construction. There are no fire temples here as in Azerbaijan, no eagle-winged sun discs such as those at Persepolis but this enigmatic little symbol reminds us of a time and a belief that has left its mark on all the great monotheistic faiths that have come after it.
The tile symbolises the balance of a good, honest and charitable life - the major tenets of Zoroastrian belief, which are expressed in the motto Good Thoughts, Good Words and Good Deeds. The triangles represent good thoughts and good words whilst the narrow bar in the centre represents good deeds. The correct orientation is vertical - it's thought the slaves who placed the tiles did not necessarily have an understanding of the symbolism which led to many being placed horizontally
The tiny minaret in photo 1 is all that remains of the Tura Murad mosque that was demolished during Stalin's time. It stands close to the Mohammed Rakhim (Feruz) Khan Madrassah, tucked in between a group of private houses.
2009 updateThe minaret has been enclosed behind the wall of one of those houses - you can just see it peeping over the top.
Photos 2,3 and 4 show the tile set in to other buildings around the city - photo 3, the Mohammed Amin Inak Madrassa (built in 1785) and now used at the city's Wedding Palace, photo 4 is the Sayyid Niyaz Shalikarbay Minaret and Medressah. Photo 2 is part of the exterior wall of the Tash Kauli Palace.
Photo 5 is another symbol used by the Zoroastrians - a swastika - which when, as here, is oriented to the right, is symbolic of the revolving sun =the bringer of life and creativity. Turn it leftwise and it takes on an altogether different, and all too sinister, meaning.
Outside pressure turned Khiva more or less faithless during the last century, so despite dozens of large madrassahs, mosques and palaces, you won’t hear muezzins shouting their call for prayer from the magnificent minarets, nor will you hear bustling bazaars and traders in the market place. For Khiva became what I call a “septic history”, real life drained out and replaced with tourists and Russified locals.
The local custom you’ll see omnipresent though, in Khiva as well as in all other soviet towns….are the weddings…emptied from their religious values, no wedding can take place without a ceremonial walk and dance of joy performed in front of the most representative monument or building of t he entire area.
The same happens in Khiva, and you can see at least 4-5 weddings/day.
It is difficult to qualify Misha as a local custom….but I thought he does not deserve being forgotten.
Well, Misha is the Russian name (sic!) of a camel…and he’s been tortured during the last 5 years or so as a “tourist” attraction of the artificial Khiva.
What can be more exotic than a one dollar photo with a fat OGM ass on the back an old sick camel, with a Khorezmian minaret as in the back? No wander why he spits and farts so often :-)))
You will never find me writing tips just quoting other sources, but here I have to do an exception :-)
I nearly died of laughing when reading a passage of Lonely Planet's "Cenral Asia" (which is fun to read anyhow). Let me quote it and then explain.....
Quote from Lonely Planet:
Khiva's token camel, named Misha, stands burping and farting outside the medressa's south wall, waiting for tourists to ride it or pose with it.
And of course I needed to see famous Misha, and nearly died a second time ! As if either he (it ?) or the tourists have read the Lonely Planet – it was all still true:
There he was standing, some tourists sitting on him, a huge crowd waiting to get their picture done. I didn't come close enough to smell if the rest was also true, but he made several noises as if he found it all quite boring to have these people mount on him just for the picture.
Later, I saw him lying peacefully in the sun and maybe just liked that no one wanted him to do his job.
And no, I don't know how much it was to have a picture taken on him.
Coordinates on GoogleEarth (= of where Mischa sits and waits):
Do as the locals do. - stay in the shade!
These ladies with their parasols are not just carrying them as some sort of quaint old-fashioned fancy. It gets seriously HOT in Khiva, even in late May when we were there, officially still Spring, the temperature rose to over 40 degs, and their pretty parasols meant they carried their shade with them wherever they went.
I'm not suggesting you pack a parasol - juggling one whilst trying to take a photo isn't all that easy - but do keep out of the sun as much as possible, especially between the hours of 10 and 2 when the sun's ultra-violet rays are at their peak.
Wear a hat - one with a decent brim that provides shade to the back of your neck as well as over your face - and some serious sunblock.
Take advantage of whatever shade you can find - a long lunch in a cool chaikhana isn't a bad idea, and of course there are lots of museums and other buildings to ecape into.
Don't push yourself if the heat starts getting to you - better a missed museum than a bout of heat exhaustion
And always, always - be sure to drink plenty - water first, perhaps green tea (the locals' choice) ... and don't wait until your mouth is dry to drink - by then you're already dehydrated
Khiva's old city is no place to get lost; it is just too small. But, while wandering through the streets, peaking in here or there, walking into the smaller streets, you might have lost yourself in the city.
But – it is still not possible to get lost, as Khiva is nice enough to have these three landmarks, which will show you where you are and where you want to go next.
Certainly, Islom Xo'ja's minaret is the biggest in Khiva, and its colour is not to be missed. It stands in the southeast, and maybe you might even see the blue dome of Pahlavon mausoleum close to it.
Juma mosque's minaret is not as big as Islom Xo'ja, but still quite big and easy to see. It stands more or less in the middle of the east-west main street.
And finally Kalta Minor, the big fat meant-to-be minaret close to the west gate shows you where is west.