Merv is an old city on the Silk Road in the Mary Province of Turkmenistan. There is a state park for the old city center, a UNESCO World Heritage Site.


The oasis of Merv is situated in the Karakum Desert at the crossing of the Amu Darya (or Oxus) River and the main route to Bukhara and Samarkand. It occupies an area of 86 x 75 km. The earliest Bronze Age centers in the oasis of Merv date from 2500 BC to 1200 BC. They are situated in the northern part of the oasis.

The historic urban center developed around 500 BC in the eastern part of the oasis. It consisted of several walled cities, occupying an area of mire than 1200 hectares. The oldest of these cities is Erk Kala. According to the famous trilingual inscription of Darius the Great at Bisitun (Iran) Erk Kala dates back to the Achaemian period /519 to 331 BC). The oasis was part of Alexander the Great's empire. Plinius the Elder reports that the city was founded by Alexander himself. It was rebuilt by the Seleucid king Antiochus I Soter (281 to 261 BC) and named Margiana Antiochia. This city is identified with Erk Kala and Giaur Kala and was occupied in the Parthian, Sasanian and early Islamic periods. It is suggested that Greek and Roman soldiers who survived the defeat of the Romans against the Parthians at Carrhae in 53 BC settled at Margiana. Islam was dominant after the death of the last Sasanian King Yazdigird III (651 AD).

The medieval city from the Seljuk period was erected west of the Giaur Kala. It was walled by Sultans Malikshah and Sanjar in the 11th and 12th cent. The city extended over more than 600 ha. It was the capital of the Seljuk Empire (11th to 13th cent.) and one of the most important cities in this period. It attracted scholars from all over the Islamic world, as the famous astronomer and poet Omar Khayyam and the geographer Yaqut al Hamavi.

The city was sacked by the Mongols in 1221 and became part of the empire of Timur (1370-1405). The new city Abdullah Khan Kala was erected by Shah Rukh (1408-1471) on a new site to the south of Giaur Kala.

Get in

By plane

Turkmenistan Airlines operates three flights per day from Ashgabat to Mary. If you are short of time, you can fly from Ashgabat to Mary in the morning, visit Merv, and return to Ashgabat in the same evening.

By rail

Turkmenistan Railways has daily trains from Ashgabat, Turkmenabat and Turkmenbasi to Mary.


Aerial view of Merv

The historic urban center consist of three areas: Erk Kala, Giaur Kala and Sultan Kala.




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This article is issued from Wikivoyage - version of the Wednesday, February 17, 2016. The text is available under the Creative Commons Attribution/Share Alike but additional terms may apply for the media files.