State Historical and Cultural Park “Ancient Merv”
State Historical And Cultural Park “Ancient Merv”
Cultural Turkmenistan Asia And The Pacific Mary Vilayet

The sequence of the cities of the Merv oasis, their fortifications and their urban layouts bear exceptional testimony to the civilizations of Central Asia over several millennia. They exerted considerable influence over the cultures of Central Asia and Iran for four millennia. The Seljuk city in particular influenced architecture and architectural decoration and scientific and cultural development.

The oasis of Merv in the Karakum Desert, at the crossing point of the Amu Darya on the main east-west route to Bukhara and Samarkand, has supported a series of urban centres since the 3rd millennium BC. The earliest Bronze Age centres (c . 2500-1200 BC) were located in the north of the oasis. With the development of more advanced irrigation techniques, the centres moved further south and east of the oasis. It consisted of a series of adjacent walled cities.

The oasis formed part of the empire of Alexander the Great. The Seleucid king Antiochus I Soter (281-261 BC) rebuilt it and named it Margiana Antiochia;it is identified with Erk Kala and Gyaur Kala. Islam became dominant with the death of the last Sassanian king, Yazdigird III, in 651.

The medieval city of the Seljuks developed to the west of Gyaur Kala. It was walled by Sultan Malikshah. The city was the capital of the Great Seljuk Empire, and was one of the principal cities of its time. Its famous libraries attracted scholars from all over the Islamic world. In 1221-22, when it was sacked by the Mongols, and in the 16th century, Merv came under the domination of the Uzbek Turks, and a century later it was incorporated into the Persian Empire. An increase in population in the 18th century led to the creation of a fortified extension, known as Bairam Ala Khan Kala, now mostly ruined.

The five earliest settlements, in the northern part of the oasis, are Kelleli, Adji Kui, Taip, Gonur, and Togoluk. Kelleli is an area of settlement with two major sites: Kelleli 3, which has a double external wall with towers flanking four symmetrical entrances and an area of houses that has been cleared in the south-western sector, and Kelleli 4, which also has a double outer wall with towers. Both sites are poorly preserved, but they contain important evidence of middle Bronze Age Margiana. Adji Kui is from the same period.

Taip is constituted of two close but distinct mounds consist of a walled square area with a large courtyard building in the south. The largest and well-preserved site in the Murghab delta is Gonur Depe. The Toguluk area was densely occupied during the Bronze Age. Excavations have revealed the remains of several large fortified buildings.

Two Iron Age centres are Yaz/Gobekli Depes and Takhirbaj Depe. Takhirbaj Depe is the most prominent site in the whole area. Yaz Depe is of special importance for the fact that it has produced abundant ceramic finds that provide the basic typology for the period. Nearby is the well-preserved Partho-Sassanian rectangular fortress of Gobekli.

The historic urban centre consists of three principal elements: Erk Kala, Gyaur Kala, and the medieval city of Sultan Kala or Marv al-Shahijan. Erk Kala is a walled and moated polygonal site with walls surviving to some 30 m and an internal citadel. Gyaur Kala is roughly square in plan, with walls about 2 km long. In the interior are the remains of a number of important structures: the central Beni Makhan mosque and its cistern, the Buddhist stupa and monastery, the 'Oval Building' in the north-west quarter. Sultan Kala was walled in the 11th century, with its Mausoleum of Sultan Sanjar and the unique walls of the medieval city and of the citadel.

The walls and moat of the 15th century, but only a few walls of the palace, that survive in the citadel, are of exceptional interest in that they continue the remarkable continuous record of the evolution of military architecture from the 5th century BC to the 15th-16th centuries AD. There are many fine mosques and mausolea from this period in the oasis.