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History of Merv.

Tours on architectural sights of Merv.

«In the beginning of the IX century, being Khalif al-Mamun's residence and the second capital of the Arab khalifat, Merv went through a short but splendid period in its history. No architectural monument of that time remains, but it is known that in Gyaur-kala Banu Makhan mosque was restored»

Travel on ancient monuments of Merv.

The age of ancient Merv can be determined approximately only because constant finds and discoveries convince us that people long before the foundation of Erk-kala developed the oasis, approximately 2500 years ago. 
It is known that in the second half of the IV century ВС, the Akhemenids captured Margush. In ancient times the Murgab's delta was a populous oasis and entered either Baktria or Parthia. In the IV - III centuries ВС, the son of the founder of the Selevkid country Antioch built anew the capital of the region which was given the name of the Selevkia or Anti-ochia of Margiana (Gyaur-kala in Merv) and the whole oasis was surrounded by clay walls 250 km long to shield it from nomads' raids and desert sand.
That wall was 6 - 7 m wide and is identified with Gilyakin-Chil-burdj earthen wall.  Merv's joining the Parthian Empire in the time of Mitridate II (in the year of 115 ВС approximately) promoted the town's quick development as a large craft center and crossroads of transit trade at the Great Silk Road between China and Rome.
The regular lay-out of Gyaur-kala remaining from the time of the Selevkids testifies to the use of Greek urban development and native traditions: a symmetrical quadrangle of walls with gates in the center, where two main roads cross the town.
In the southwestern comer, the Razik canal flowed through a vaulted tunnel. A thick comer jutting out for 7 m from the town wall well protected the water. Besides intensive urban development, in the Parthian period much work was done to reconstruct the wall (its width was 10m) and the citadel which Erk-kala was transformed into.
The new wall of Gyaur-kala met all the demands of fortification of that time. More than 100 bastions gave the possibility of flank attack. Under feudal development, public and political life in Central Asian towns was gradually removed out of citadels to developed new territories protected by fortress walls which were called shakhristans.
In the early feudal period Gyaur-kala was Merv's shakhristan with an area of 100 hectares surrounded by walls 30 m high and 12m wide. At that time it was the largest city in Middle Asia. Together with suburbs it was surrounded by the wall (Al-Ray) built in the IIIrd century and fencing a territory 4 km in diameter.
For some time the wall remained under Arabs who called the shakhristan «Gyaur-kala. «The inner and outside towns became suburb, irrigated by four canals, one of which was the Razik. It flowed to the town through an artificial water supply filling town reservoirs.
The shakhristan consisted of housing estates, blocks of craftsmen and temple and palace complexes. In the VI - VII centuries the territory of Gyaur-kala was settled only partly and was not so well developed as during the Parthian period.
In the second part of the VII century Southern Turkmenistan (Northern Khorasan) was invaded by Arabs who began to introduce a new religion, Islam. In towns mosques with graceful minarets, medrassahs, knanakas and other Moslem buildings began to appear.
The first mosques are known only in written sources. Just after the annexation of Merv, in the center of Gyaur-kala the Beni-Makhan mosque was built. It became a constituent part of the cultural and memorial complex formed in the   X - XII centuries.
At that place walls and remnants of a minaret are archaeologically fixed. When the first mosque became crowded, another one was built at the town gate on the Razik canal, and in the middle of the 8th century the next one was built in the west on the Madjan canal.
By that time Gyaur-kala almost fell into a state of neglect owing to the policy of Arabs evicting people from the fortified shakhristan. So the suburb began to develop, and the main town life moved there.  In the IX century, Arab khalifs' power in agricultural areas of Turkmenistan was replaced by the power of native feudal dynasties.
ince the year of 821 during 50 years Khorasan was go- verned by the Takhirid khalifat. They were then overthrown by the Saffarids who, in their turn, fell under the Bukhara dynasty of the Samanids. The latter succeeded in uniting Khorasan, Khoresm and other regions in the united centralized state existing during the Xth century.
That fairly prosperous period was marked by excitement of urban life in the whole region. In the beginning of the IX century, being Khalif al-Mamun's residence and the second capital of the Arab khalifat, Merv went through a short but splendid period in its history.
No architectural monument of that time remains, but it is known that in Gyaur-kala Banu Makhan mosque was restored. The decay began after al- Mamun's departure to Baghdad, and the Takhirids moved the Khorasan rulers' residence to Nishapur.
However, Merv continued to grow to the west between the Razik and Khurmuzfarra canals. Perhaps, even at that time, the new part of the town (Sultan-kala) had an external wall. The XI century was marked by the formation of a powerful Turkmen state led by the Great Seldjuk dynasty, which made great contributions to the history of the Middle East.
The architectural peculiarity of the Seldjuk period is the perfection of brick laying; complicated construction was done as well as magnificent ornamentation which was never achieved before.  Merv gained the epithet «Shakjahan» ("soul of kings") in the Xth century and began to develop intensively under the Seldjuks.
In the period of Sultan Sanjar, it was the capital of their great country, the largest town in Middle Asia and in the whole Muslim East (its area together with suburbs was 1,800 hectares with a population of 150 000 people).
Most Central Asian towns had a population of 2000 - 5000 people; taking that into consideration, one can imagine the scale of Seldjuk Merv. It developed from the former western suburb of Gyaur-kala on the Madjan canal, where in the middle of the VIIIth century Abu-Muslim had moved his residence and a market, and built a mosque.
In the days of Sultan Melik-Shakh (1072 - 1092), the clay wall of the suburb, the Central square part of Sultan-kala was built. At a distance of 3 m the wall was surrounded by a deep moat 22 m wide and the Razik canal in the east.
Along the perimeter with 20 metro interval there were about 200 semicircular towers 4 m in diameter with two-story vaulted rooms for infantrymen. Walls were 10-12 m high and 6 m wide; inside there were cells and secret passages.
Under the Seldjuks Merv continued to grow in the northern and southern directions along the Madjan canal, dividing the town into two parts. In the days of Sultan Sandjar, housing and craftsmen's estates, a market and a cemetery appeared there; they were surrounded by clay defense walls known as the northern and southern fences.
During that period the life also continued in the old shakhristan (Gyaur-kala); housing and craftsmen's estates appeared, and a new mosque was built in the center instead of the old one.  In 1153 Merv was invaded and cruelly plundered by Guzzles-nomads. T
he feudal wars created anarchy, Khorasan was occupied for some decades, and all constructive activity ceased. Only after joining the state of the Khorezmshakhs could the town partly compensate the damage caused. In 1221 it was fully destroyed by Mongols.
After the Mongol invasion Merv was restored only 200 years later by Shakhrukh, a son of the great conqueror Emir Timur and the ruler of an independent state with the capital of Gerat. In 1418 he ordered to settle Merv.
With the difficulties of water supply the town was moved to a new place 2 km to the south of Sultan-kala. Ruins of Timurid Merv are known as Abdul- lakhan-kala. In 1454 - 1457 another Timurid, Mirza Sanjar, expanded Merv to the adjoining territory now called Bairama-likhan-kala. Both sites of the town lie on the same axis, have a symmetrical plan, are surrounded by fortress walls with semicircular towers and are encircled by a moat.
The fortress brick gate was like a developed portal with thick round towers and an entrance arch. The main town road lay between them. During the whole XVI century Merv was constantly exposed to raids and annexations by rulers of neighboring countries.
In 1510 it entered the state of the Sefevids and was conquered by the Sheybanids. Lack of stability led to the displacement of the ancient West-East trade route from Merv to Gerat. Only the XVII century passed fairly quietly for Merv thanks to Khiva's protection.
Total crisis in Middle Asia in the end of the XVIIth century and the beginning of the XVIII century, however, generated anarchy again. In 1727 Nadir, the future khan of Iran, evicted all the people of Merv to Mashad.
Ten years later he himself began to restore the deserted city and the dam of Sultan-Bend on the Murgab river to organize an arsenal for a war campaign against China. After Nadir-shakh's death, strife began again.
The town was being devastated by Afghan and Bukhara troops. The short government by Bairamali-khan in 1780's was marked by widening the Timurid site of the town to the west where at present there is a market and blocks of flats in the modem town of Bairamali.
In the end of the XVIII century and the beginning of the XIX century there was an embittered struggle for Merv unleashed by the Bukhara emirs. They destroyed the irrigation system and ravaged the Murgab oasis which Turkmen tribes such as Salyrs, Saryks and Tekes began to settle.
In 1822 Turkmens drove the Bukhara emirs out and soon built a fortress far away from Bairamalikhan-kala on the new banks of the Murgab, which had changed its bed. So the present town of Mary was built, unconnected with the sites of ancient Merv.

 Bernshtam A.N. «History-archeologic sketches Central Tien-Shan and Pamir-Alay». «Religious and spiritual monuments of the Central Asia». The author of M. Khashimov. Publishing house "Saga", 2001 Tolstov S.P. «Ancient Khoresm», 1848. Tolstov S.P. «On traces Ancient Khorezm civilizations», М.-L., 1948.