Nissa is one of the most important sites of the Parthian Empire. The Parthians ruled in Persia from 247 BC to 228 AD. They defeated the Seleucids (successors of Alexander the Great) and conquered great parts of the Middle East and southwest Asia.
The earliest settlements in the area of Nissa date back to the 4th millenium BC. In the 3rd century BC the Parthians built an impressive fortress at Old Nisa and erected a royal residence, which probably was the first royal residence of the Parthian kings. The city was named Mithradatkert (fortress of Mithradates) during the reign of King Mithradates the Great (174-138 BC). Greek sources refer to the city as administrative and economic centre during the reign of the Arsacid dynasty. The Arsacid dynasty conquered a huge area from the Indus to the Euphrates and Nisa became an important city on the crossroads of many cultures from Persia, Greece and Central Asia.
New Nisa was conquered by the Arabian Caliphate in the 7th century and became part of the Seljuk Empire in the 11th century.
Archaeological research at the site began in the 1930s. Since 1990 it is excavated by the University of Torino, Italy (Centro Scavi di Torino) . In 2007, the fortresses of Nissa were declared a UNESCO World Heritage Site.
The Parthian Fortresses of Nisa are located 15 km southwest of Ashgabat near the village of Bagir in the Akhal District of Turkmenistan. Buses, marshrutkas and taxis depart from the western side of Teke Bazaar in Ashgabat. The ride in a minibus to Old Nisa costs USD0.20. The cost of bus ticket is 0.20 TMT.
With public transport it is only possible to reach Bagir village. From a roundabout in the centre of the village it is pleasant 2 km walk uphill to Old Nisa and the same distance to New Nisa.
The site is small enough to explore it conveniently on foot.
- Partian Fortresses of Nissa. 8am to 6pm. (Old Nisa and New Nisa) US$ 1.
- Old Nisa is a natural hill, about 14 ha wide, surrounded by high defensive earthen ramparts with 40 rectangular towers, The top of the hill was flattened and levelled with layers of earth. Number and location of gates have not yet been identified. It is presumed that the main (and perhaps the only) entrances was at the center of the western part of the surrounding wall. The fortress constist of a Northern Complex and a Central Complex.
- The Northern Complex includes the so-called large square building in which the royal treasury, wine vaults and auxiliary buildings have been identified. In this area, the most famous pieces of art of Old Nisa, as the Rodogoune marble statue, the Goddess of Nisa marble statue, elaborate ivory rhythons (drinking vessels), fragments of royal thrones and more than 2000 pieces of ceramics (ostraka) representing house keeping documents were discovered.
- The Central Complex consists of a Building with the Square Hall, a Building with the Round Hall, a Tower-like Building, a North-Eastern Building and a Columned Hall. The Building with the Square Hall is the most important building of the Central Complex. It covers an area of about 1.000 square meters and has walls up to 5 meters thick. The North-Eastern Building consist of two decorated yards and rooms for domestic uses. It is considered as the palace of the Arsacid dynasty. The Tower-like Building has a massive aquare base of 20 by 20 meters. It is encircled by two rows of dark corridors, lit by narrow windows. The upper parts show traces of architectural decor and wall paintings depicting battle scenes. It houses a small museum of paintings and architectural elements. The Building with the Round Hall is a square building with a round hall of 17 meters in diameter. The building served religious purposes, it is, however, unclear if it was a temple, a mausoleum or the shrine of a hero. The Columned Hall consists of a large rectangular hall with four columns in the middle and served ceremonial purposes.
- New Nisa is located about 1,5 km north-west of Old Nisa. The tell with a surface of about 25 ha is surrounded on all sides by powerful walls with a height up to 9 meters. It has two entrances (one from Bagyr village and one from the North West). In Parthian times, the city was divided into two parts, the upper city (ark) and the lower city (shakhristan). The layout clearly indicates a densely populated town. The Parthian buildings are interpreted as remains of the fortress, burial houses and storehouses.