Capital of the now-lost civilisation of Khorezm, Khiva was the final stop for caravans preparing to cross the desert to Persia on the legendary Silk Road.
Its heart then and now is Itchan Kala: the ancient city core encircled by 10m-high walls, pierced by four magnificent gates and dating back 2,000 years.
Within this magical enclave, about 4,000 people still live by ancient ways, mostly as silk and carpet weavers. Foreigners who want to own one of the 250 historic houses – their porticoes supported by delicately sculpted wooden posts – must marry a local. Tradition dictates land can be passed only among Khiva families.
The city is a vision conjured from The Arabian Nights. Ornately decorated mosques, ravishing blue tiled minarets and elegant madrasahs (Islamic colleges) rise from narrow traditional streets, where colourful bazaars contrast with ancient ochre stone.