Day 80: Kalta Minor Minaret

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the stumpy yet spectacular Kalta Minor Minaret

Located within the central citadel of the Ichan-Kala in Khiva, the Kalta Minor Minaret is most famous probably because it was never finished.  This colorful stump of a minaret was intended to be the most spectacular in the world, but instead the unfinished structure serves as a symbolic reminder not to start something you can’t finish.

When construction started in 1851, Mohammed Amin Khan wanted to build a minaret so high he could see all the way to Bukhara.  Unfortunately no one bothered to tell the Khan that seeing all the way to Bukhara is impossible thanks to the curvature of the earth, but it was not wise to argue with the Khan.  He died in battle in 1855, at which point construction abruptly stopped and was never continued in the tumultuous years which followed.

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Our visit in March 2016

With a base of nearly 15 meters (50 feet), the minaret, had it been completed, would have been the tallest in the muslim world at the time.  The planned height of 70-80 meters (260 feet) would have far surpassed anything in Khiva at the time, including the Juma Minaret at 47 meters (154 feet).  The Islom-Hoja Minaret at 57 meters (187 feet) was not completed until 1910, and is currently the tallest in Uzbekistan.

World famous only because of its potential, rather than the final result, the minaret is still beautifully decorated.  Following an extensive renovation completed in 1997 on the occasion of the 2,500th anniversary of the city of Khiva, the stumpy tower was totally restored, including extensive refurbishment of the glazed tiles and inscriptions that completely cover the structure.

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as seen from the watchtower of the Kuhna Ark across the street

The Kalta-Minor Minaret is the only minaret to be completely covered in glazed tiles.  The colors of dark green, blue, and turquoise stand out against the beige colored mud brick construction that dominates the rest of the city, and the landscape in all directions.  The outer walls of the minaret also feature inscriptions in the Nastaʿlīq calligraphy style of Arabic script which is today predominantly used only in the Persian language.

Today the adjoining Mohammed Amin Khan Medressa is the Hotel Orient Star, which offers unique, if austere accommodation in converted study cells.  Access to the minaret itself was not possible during our visit in the spring of 2016, but access to the base of the structure is unrestricted.  You can also check out a different perspective by ascending the watchtower of the Kuhna Ark across the street for unobstructed views across the entire city.

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The panoramic view from the Khuna ark awards the visitor with an unobstructed view of all three of the famous Khiva minarets – (from left to right) Juma, Islom-Hoja, and Kalta Minor

 

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