Khiva is one of the jewels of Uzbekistan, a small city that once was part of the Silk Road. Legend has it that it was founded when Shem, the son of Noah, discovered a well here. The older part of town (Itchan-Kala) is a lovely place to explore and get a sense of what it must have been like here so many centuries ago. The doors, the minarets, the buildings – it just seems like you go from one fabulous place to another. Yet, with all of these fabulous places, one of my favourites was the Pahlavan Mahmud Mausoleum.

This mausoleum was built for Pahlavan Mahmud, a famous poet, craftsman and extremely strong (and undefeated) fighter. He died in 1326 at the age of 79. Originally the mausoleum was small and unassuming, but it became a famous place of pilgrimage over the years, and was subsequently reformed and expanded. The biggest change came in 1810, when Muhammad Rahim Khan I changed the mausoleum somewhat so that it connected with the adjoining necropolis of the Khan family. This is when the double dome of the mausoleum was constructed and it has been a well-known view of Khiva ever since.

When we went inside our guide asked the imam to say a prayer/give a blessing, which you can hear in the video below:

Not long afterwards, a wedding party came in. As mentioned earlier, this mausoleum is a popular place of pilgrimage, and many will come here to pray or wish for something at Mahmud’s tomb inside (it’s to the left of the main chamber). Of course, this is not an Islamic tradition, but it happens frequently (not just here, but in many places). After the bride and groom went to ask for wishes, the imam sang a blessing for them, as he did for us.

I didn’t have much time to explore the necropolis next door (although I realized I had passed it many times in my short explorations of the city already), but it wasn’t very large as it mostly was for nobles connected to the ruling dynasties of the past.

Words from the poet Mahmud:

The world is like a gilded pitcher

His water is sweet and sometimes like bitter wine.

Hey ignorant, do not rely a lot on his life,

Death hung over his head like a blade.

Architect of the world erecting a palace-aivan

Only having built it, that aivan destroys.

Today bringing its dome to the skies,

The next day, he will equal the aivan.


Monuments: The mausoleum is the monument. Gorgeous tile work.

Grounds: Flat, easy to get around.

Visitors: Yes. This is a major site in Khiva.

Notes: Will have to remove shoes to enter.


Site: Pahlavan Mahmud Mausoleum

Established: 1326 but the current complex dates from 18th century

Location: Khiva, Uzbekistan

Hours: 08:00-18:00. Entry into the old city is by ticket, once inside, all the buildings are accessible at least once (twice in most cases).