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Kalta Minor, Khiva

Main characteristics

Coordinates: 41.3783 N 60.3579 E
No:483        (list of all attractions)
Categories:Islamic shrines
Values:Art, Architecture
Address:Asia, Uzbekistan, Xorazm Region, western part of the old city (Itchan Kala) of Khiva, at the eastern side of Mohammed Amin Khan Madrassah
UNESCO World Heritage status:part of "Itchan Kala", 1990, No.543
Name in Uzbek:Kalta Minor
Construction time:1852 - 1855
Kalta Minor in Khiva, Uzbekistan
Kalta Minor in Khiva / Fulvio Spada, / CC BY-SA 2.0

One of the last great buildings in the great Khanate of Khiva was Kalta Minor. This had to be the tallest structure in Khiva and even in the whole Central Asia. Works ended abruptly in 1855, leaving this beautiful minaret unfinished.


Western wall of Itchan Kala with Kalta Minor, Khiva in Uzbekistan
Western wall of Itchan Kala with Kalta Minor / Daniel Duce, , CC BY 2.0

For two millenia at least Khiva has been an important oasis at the rim of Karakum Desert. This was the last place to rest before the crossing of Karakum desert on the way to Persia.

In the 16th century Khiva became the main city of Khwarezm - large, comparatively fertile area between the deserts of Central Asia.

The historical heritage of Khiva has been well preserved. The historical citadel of Khiva - Itchan Kala - is especially interesting. It is still encircled with medieval city walls. Inside these walls, which enclose an area of 26 ha, are several hundreds of historical buildings.

Kalta Minor - symbol of Khiva

Kalta Minor, Khiva in Uzbekistan
Kalta Minor, Khiva / Fulvio Spada, , CC BY-SA 2.0

The best known of these structures is Kalta Minor - unusual, massive stump which is somewhat similar to a giant barrel. But "barrel" here is a crude word - Kalta Minor is gorgeous and sophisticated structure.

This tower is 29 m tall and its diameter at the base is 14.5 m.

Kalta Minor was a project of Mohammad Amin Khan - ruler of Khwarezm. According to stories, he wanted to build a minaret so high he could see all the way to Bukhara.

Initially it was planned that minaret would be 70 - 80 m tall, some think that even 110 m. This would make it the tallest structure in Central Asia at its time.

Works were started in 1852. Three years later Mohammad Amin Khan was killed during the fight with Turkmens in Serakh. His death ended also his ambitious project - the construction of minaret ended in 1855.

Thus the unfinished Kalta Minor stands. For locals it definitely looked odd, but gradually everyone used to it and now it is symbol of this amazing city.

Amazing blue glaze

Blue glaze of Kalta Minor, Khiva in Uzbekistan
Blue glaze of Kalta Minor / Fulvio Spada, , CC BY-SA 2.0

Kalta Minor is the only minaret which is fully covered with glazed tiles. These tiles form intricate, diverse ornaments and are in several colors. The dominating colors though are different shades of blue - blue-green.

This blue color is the most common color of the ornamentation in numerous historical buildings of Central Asian countries, especially in Uzbekistan.

There are several explanations to the popularity of this color, but the basic one is: this is traditional color of Turkic people, a part of their identity since the times of Timur or even earlier. According to beliefs this color wards off evil eye. Color of lucid water also symbolises the wealth in Central Asia.

Permanent, long lasting and deep blue glaze is great achievement of local craftsmen. According to local stories this started with Timur in the 14th century: he wanted to see locally produced imitation of the beautiful Chinese porcelain, which uses cobalt salts.

Locals managed to find the replacement - so called ishkor glaze, at least as good as the Chinese glaze if not better. The recipe for making this glaze is not openly disclosed - exact recipes of these dyes are family secrets for many generations and it seems that nowadays part of this knowledge is lost.

It is known that there is used ash of several local plants, including Salsola soda. These plants should be collected in the late September. Also specific salts found in local mountains are used - chemical analysis shows that blue glaze in different Uzbek medieval cities contains cobalt, just like in the case of Chinese glaze. Pebbles of clean quartz also are used. But the chemical composition is just part of the recipe - it is known that the whole process for the production of high quality glaze is very complex process.

Unfortunately much knowledge is lost today. Rather often the contemporary replacement to ancient tiles looks out of place.


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