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 Ancient Merv: on the Silk Road


Margush (Margiana) in Gonurdepe. “Margian’s” expedition started its work on the territory of Turkmenistan in 1974. It was headed by brilliant scientist-archeologist Victor Sarianidi more than 60 years. His expedition opened Gonur oasis and Gonur Depe town. It is a main settlement among a great number of other settlements of a bronze epoch in the Karakum. More than 200 ancient settlements had been discovered in the Murgab valley by 1990 (in its ancient delta). The excavations were conducted continuously from 1990 to 2012. The ancient settlement huge area is dated to the III-II thousand BC. The number of burial places in this area is huge. For today, more than three thousand burial places have been found. The most part out of them was in a town necropolis.

For today, a castle, a citadel with towers, Temple of Fire, Temple of Water, town necropolis, imperial necropolis and refectories have been excavated. Only Gonur central part occupies about 25 hectares. Margiana (Margush country) is recognized as one of the most ancient civilizations of the world. Gonur existed up to the XVI century AD. Its inhabitants strongly suffered from the Arabian conquests. In the town, rich and majestic in former times, even swimming-pools were found of the length of 100 and the width of 60 meters.

The surprising architecture testifies to both availability of skilful good craftsmen and jewelries. The ivory articles found in Gomur tell that Margush country did business with other Asia states. Margiana was surrounded by vast lands cultivated for growth of agricultural planting.


Ancient Merv - Erkgala, Gyaurgala near Bairamali on the bank of the Murgab River in the centre of “a blessing region”, which is mentioned in the Zoroastrians’ Avesta Scripture under a name of “Murgav”, and in the cut-out inscriptions of the Bekhistun rock - as an area of  Akhemenids’ state, the ruins of Ancient Merv were spread. The Greek-Roman geographers called the town as Margiana; the medieval eastern historians called it Мaru or Merv; and it is called as Mary town now.

Erkgala. The most ancient kernel of Merv is called so. Its diameter about a half of kilometer represents a circle (actually - multiangular). Erkgala is surrounded by the inaccessible high walls. According to an ancient legend, Mary fortress was built by the order of mythical Padishah Takhumart. While excavation on Erkgala hills the archeological findings were found of the third of a lower layer of the І century BC.


In Parthia’s Epoch, Merv territory was extended; numerous villages and town-type fortresses appeared around Gyaurgala, which main occupation was melon growing, gardening, field husbandry and arable farming. Chilburch fortress was one of the large fortresses of that time. Chilburch means “a fortress with forty towers”. According to the scientists, Chilburch fortress was a base station, which was built for protection of Margiana population against the nomads’ attacks. The fortress was built in the І - ІІ centuries BC.

In this fortress, it is possible to see further improvement of Margiana’s building-and-architectural methods. The fortress is located 3-3.5 kilometers to the north-west of Gyaurgala. Its structure is in a form of rectangle (200-230m – 200m); each wall is reinforced by a tower of 17-20m.


Sultan Sandzhar Mausoleum is one of the greatest monuments of the medieval East, a mausoleum of the great politician of Central Asia and leader of the last Seldzhuk state shah - Soltan Sandzhar. 

This mausoleum located in Mary is really an incomparable sample of the Khorasan architectural school. The structure was called by Sultan Sandzhar himself as “the Other World”. Reshidetdin (ХІV century) called it as “the largest building in the world”. The other historian of the ХV century wrote that “This greatest structure of the world is so strong that it will not go to ruin”.

Khodzha Yusuf Khamagani Mosque - a mosque built in the ХVІ century near Khodzha Yusuf Khamagani mausoleum to the north-east of Soltangala is included in the numbers of Merv magnificent architectural monuments. It consists of a complex of buildings built at various times and for the various purposes:  mausoleum, mosque, housing and household facilities.


Dervish Abu-Yakub Usuf ibn Aiob was born in Khamadan town in the first half of the ХІІ century; he lived in Merv and after his death the mausoleum was built in a place of his burial over his tomb. In the ХVІ century a mosque was built in the south-west side of the mausoleum on the same axis. The mosque has a shape of an open aivan, a place of worship with mekhrab located opposite to the mausoleum.




Mohammed Ibn Zeida Mausoleum. Mohammed ibn-Zeida mausoleum is near to the western wall of Sultan-Kaly near to the potters’ suburban manufacturing ward. The population often calls it as Mohammed Khanapy’s mausoleum. However, actually it was erected over a tomb of Ali-Mohammed ibn Zeidi’s descendant living in Mary in the VІІІ century. The mausoleum was built in 506 AC that is in 1112-1113 BC. It looks as if it adjoined the later structures and walls. Before the tomb there had been a small roughly built mosque. The wide entrance of the mosque closes the mausoleum; and the walls are decorated by bricks with a cut-out ornament. These small bricks put one by one or in an irregular shape form a complex of numerous geometrical figures. The mausoleum has a quadrangular form and is covered with a dome. On the western wall there is mekhrap turned into a Kaab side. It is decorated with patterns of a dark-blue, black and red color.