Khiva is one of the largest and most ancient city centres of the Koresm agricultural oasis, located in the southern delta of the Amu Darya River, south of the Aral Sea, in the west of the Central Asia. The Kyzyl-Kum desert begins here.
There are number of national legends about Khiva and the origin of its name One of them attributes the city's foundation to the son of the biblical Noah - Sim, where it is said that Sim, after the Flood, he found himself wandering in the desert alone. Having fallen asleep, he dreamt of 300 burning torches. On waking up, he was pleased with this omen,, he founded the city with its outlines in the form of a ship mapped out according to the placement of the torches, about which he had dreamt. The Sim dug out the "Kheyvak" well, the water from which had a surprising taste. It is possible to see this well in Ichan-Kala (in internal town of Khiva City) even today.
Khoresm was the scene of many battles and skirmishes for Alexander the Great, and the Arabian army. Under the command of Kuteyb inb-Muslim, his army attacked Gurgandzh (the former capital of Khoresm) in 680, but could not permanently subdue the state for any length of time. After some centuries, Genghis Khan's unider army managed to rush into the capital of the powerful state of Khoresmshah-Anushtegenids - Gurgandzh after a year long siege, having destroyed the dams on the Amu Darya River. A consequence of which was that the water of this turbulent river rushed into the city and practically wiped it from the face of the earth. However the capital of Khoresm revived 200 years later.
Between the IX and XII centuries, a number of Muslim educational institutions, and large centres of science functioned successfully in Khoresm: schools of astronomy, mathematics, medicine and chemistry. The most well known was the Mamun Academy of Khoresm, which recently celebrated its 1000th anniversary; joined by the world community under the aegis of UNESCO. Muhammad-al-Khoresmi's fundamental works in mathematics, geography, and geodesy were already known in Europe by the IX century, and have not lost their importance to the present day. Al-Biruni, Agakhi, Nadzhmiddin Kubro and other scientists and seminary students, whose names are also connected with Khoresm, have left a rich, scientific and cultural heriage.
Amir Timur pursued five campaigns in Khoresm in the XIV century, but only in 1388 did he manage to win it completely. In due course, Khoresm blossomed again, and for a short period became one of the most important spiritual centres of the Muslim world. After Khiva's khanate was formed at the beginning of the XVI century, Khiva became its capital in 1598.
A major aspect of modern Khiva is characterised by the architecture of the Khivan khanate from the end XVII century until the beginning fo the XX century. However, archaeological excavations recently conducted here, show that in the basis of some rather, "youn" buildings rests ancient layers connected to the III and earlier centuries BCE. The architectural monuments of Khiva are of unique value to the world, with the city rightfully bearing the epithet of "City Museum". In the list of values of universal importance, Khoresm occupies a special place, as one of the centres of world civilisation and an important centre on the Great Silk Road. The city of Khiva was one of the first in Central Asia to be added to the UNESCO list as a place pertaining to the world heritage of mankind in 1990. Khiva celebrated its 2500th anniversary under the aegis of UNESCO in 1997.
Khiva is one of the most ancient and still surviving cities of the Great Silk Road in Central Asia. At the time of the blossoming of Khoresm it was the largest world trade center; a key point on the Great Silk Road. Merchants travelled from afar; from the Volga region, India and Iran. They gathered here, with trading caravans from the region travelling to the Near Eas, to East Turkistan and China.
There were routes to Mongolia from Khiv, and through the Polovtsian Land - to Saksin, a trading city at the mouth of the Volga River. Goods were traded further afield to Russian princedoms and even to Europe. Archaeologists have discovered new routes which ancient caravans travelled; in particular, from Khoresm to Mangushlak and from there to the sea in the lower Volga region; proving that Khoresm marchants connected a considerable part of the Central Asian states with Eastern Europe trade.
The Great Silk Road is a unique phenomenon of the history of the development of a civilization through its aspirations towards the exchange of cultural values, the conquest of living space and the development of trade.*
This, the largest transcontinental trade path in the history of humanity connected Europe and Asia, and in ancient times stretched from Rome to the ancient capital of Japan - Nara.
It is important to note that this road was never the only path it included various routes which branched off like the crown of a mighty tree. As a matter of fact, one of the main roads crossing Asia from east to the west had its beginnings in the capital of ancient China - Changan - and weaved its way to the north-west border. Having being ferried over the glaciated Tyan-Shan mountains, part of the caravans passed through the Fergana Valley staying awhile in the Tashkent oasis and continuing on to Samarkand, Bukhara, Khoresm. Some continued further to the Caspian and Black Sea shores, Bactria and India.
The istablishment of trade links contributed significantly to the development of semi-precious stone quarries in the mountains of Central Asia which enabled lazurite, nephritis, cornelian and turquoise to be utilized.