Kalta Minor, Khiva

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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.

Khiva

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.

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

Kalta Minor – symbol of Khiva

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.

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

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

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.

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

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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Kalta Minor, Khiva 41.378279, 60.357923   Kalta Minor, Khiva
Coordinates: 41.3783 N 60.3579 E
Categories: Islamic shrines
Values: Art, Architecture
Rating: (3.5 / 5)
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
Religion: Islam

Landmarks of Uzbekistan

Gur-E-Amir, tomb of Tamerlan in Samarkand
Gur-E-Amir, tomb of Tamerlan in Samarkand / Giorgio Montersino, / CC BY-SA 2.0

Uzbekistan is a comparatively dry, mostly desert covered land very far from any sea… and this is one of the reasons why this country has such an amazing cultural heritage!

For millenia Uzbekistan has been crossed by trade routes uniting prehistoric, ancient and medieval cultures of Eurasia. For a shorter route caravans had to cross inhospitable deserts and no one could afford to miss the oases in Uzbekistan. Here, at the crossroads of diverse cultures and wealth developed rich and sophisticated cities, such as the glorious Samarkand, Bukhara and Khiva.

Islamic shrines

Kaaba in Mecca, Saudi Arabia
Kaaba in Mecca, Saudi Arabia / , Flickr / CC BY 2.0
Place for worship in Islam is called mosque. Mosques serve also for education, news exchange, dispute settling.

Initially, in the 7th century mosques were unpretentious, large halls for gatherings. Over the time, as Islam was spreading, there developed diverse, locally adapted architectural forms of mosques.

Recommended books

A Carpet Ride to Khiva


An unique travel memoir about one of the world’s most enchanting but least-known countries.

A Ride to Khiva


It is 1875, the time of the ‘Great Game’, when the British and Russian Empires are vying for power in central Asia. Great Britain learns of Russia’s plans to annex India, the ‘jewel in the crown’ of the British Empire. A British officer rides for Khiva, a Russian city closed to European travelers. He is on a dangerous mission, to learn if this remote and dangerous oasis is about to be used as a springboard for the Russian invasion of India.

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