Travel companies that publish information about the most interesting sights of Central Asia always include the Ancient Merv of Turkmenistan in their lists.This once great and unique city, which preserves the fragments of many civilizations and cultures, provokes interest not only of modern tourists.
Throughout its centuries-old history, it served as a powerful center of attraction for many prominent people from royalty to scientists and poets.
As the British scientist Tim Williams wrote a few years ago in the journal of World Archaeology, “due to its prime position on the Great Silk Road, Merv was one of the greatest cities in the world.
Here are the traces of many great civilizations Achaemenids, Seleucids, Parthians, Sassanids, as well as the Muslim empires of the Umayyads, Abbasids, Seljuks”.
This city was called in different epochs: Antioch Margian, Giaur Kala, Sultan Kala, Maru-Shahijan, Marv, Merv, Mary. It may have had many other names, already forever forgotten, but the fact is that for many centuries it was famous all over the world.
…By the tenth century AD, it was considered as the third or fourth largest city in the world, rivaling Baghdad, Cairo, and Damascus in fame and importance. The fame of its rich libraries attracted scholars such as the poet-astronomer Omar Khayyam and the geographer al-Muqaddasi, who described Merv as “delightful, beautiful, elegant, brilliant, vast and pleasant”.
Many brilliant intellects of the East were born and created in Merv, or came to work.During the reign of al-Ma’mun (son of Caliph Harun al-Rashid) in Merv, who gained fame as a patron of science, such famous scientists as Muhammad ibn Musa al-Khwarizmi “the father of algebra”, the famous astronomer and geographer al-Ferghani and astronomer Khalid ibn Abdalmalik al-Merverrudi worked here.
The Merv physician Ibn Masa (9th c.) was widely known among his contemporaries.He left behind numerous works on the diet, the effect of certain types of food on the body, the regime and the importance of water procedures for health, and the rules of bloodletting.
He was a great connoisseur of pharmacognostic and botany, described a number of medicinal plants.
Far beyond the borders of Merv, the school of Merv historians and philologists from the Samani family, whose founder was Abu Saad Abu’l-Muzaffar as-Samani, was also known. The famous Merv Observatory and more than a dozen major city’s libraries rendered great assistance to scientists.
Merv reached its peak of prosperity in the middle of the 12th century, when Sultan Sanjar made it the capital of the Seljuk state. Enshrouded in poetic legends, the mausoleum of the last sultan of the Great Seljuk dynasty is one of the most recognizable monuments of ancient Merv, admiring its strict beauty, amazing harmony and symmetry of proportions.
Medieval Merv was not just a city, but a huge agglomeration with the center of Sultan Kala, inhabited suburbs, the protected residence of Shakhriyar-ark, a complex system of irrigation facilities and dew mounds.
Written sources testify that in the 12th century, before the army of the son of Genghis Khan wiped off the flourishing city from the face of the earth, there were 14 blocks, 20 streets, 11 religious buildings in Merv, and 160 settlements in the vicinity of the city.
By 1210, it was estimated to have a population of up to 500,000 people.
At the end of the 19th century, Ancient Merv and its surroundings became an object of special interest and attraction for famous orientalists and archaeologists who conducted many years of research here. British scientists made a great contribution to the study and popularization of Merv monuments in the world within the framework of the International Merv Project.
The results of the large expedition, which was led by the historian and archaeologist, Professor Georgina Herrmann, were summed up in a number of scientific publications, including the fundamental monograph “Monuments of Merv: Traditional Buildings of the Karakum”, published in 1999 by the Society of Antiquities of London.
In the same year, the Ancient Merv reserve was the first of the unique historical and cultural monuments of Turkmenistan to be included in the UNESCO World Heritage List.
It is interesting that Professor Georgina Herrmann, who worked together with Turkmen archaeologists, met Prince Charles of Wales in Sultan Kala the eldest son of Queen Elizabeth II of Great Britain, who showed interest in Merv and its history.
In 2001, research and conservation work on the Ancient Merv sites was continued as part of a new project (Ancient Merv Project), organized by the Institute of Archaeology at University College London under the leadership of Tim Williams.
The aim of this project was to develop approaches, methods and models for the full study and preservation of the archaeological resource, to create an information base on archaeological sites for taking the necessary conservation and management measures, to train personnel in methods of preserving the archaeological heritage and to promote it at the international level.
The work was carried out using the latest digital technologies, including 3D laser scanning, digital photography and GPS geodetic equipment, which allowed for the documentation of the Merv settlements with high definition (HDD).
Specialists of the National Administration of Turkmenistan for the Protection, Study and Restoration of Historical and Cultural Monuments cooperate with other foreign partners, in particular, with French and Polish colleagues, in archaeological and restoration work on the monuments of the Ancient Merv State Historical and Cultural Reserve, in particular Uly Gyz-Gala.
The works on this unique monument of medieval architecture are supported within the framework of the international program of the US State Department “Preservation of Cultural Heritage”.
The Great Merv served as a source of inspiration for many writers. In the 30s of the last century, it was visited by representatives of the Russian intelligentsia, such as Vladimir Lugovskoy, who wrote in the poem Serpentine,
If I believed in God And burned with faith like a candle, On the ruins of ancient Merv I would sit And be silent.