Turkmenistan is rich in ruined cities and settlements that were once stops on the trade routes of the Silk Road. These including the ancient and medieval settlement of Nisa, Annau, Abiverd, Namazga-depe, Altyn -depe near Ashgabat; Meshed-Mesrian in Dekhistan, Parau near Kizyl-Arvat, Shakhrislam in Bakhardok area, Serakhs, ancient Merv, Margush, Amul near Mary and Turkmenabad and Konya-Urgench, Shakhsenem near Dashgouz.

The ancient Turkmen city of Merv (Mary) used to be the so-called Gate to Central Asia. It was especially important in terms of trade and politics in the 9th – 10th centuries. From Merv the travelers proceeded to Amul (Chardzhou, Turkmenistan) and further to Bukhara and then to Samarkand. From Merv in the other direction travelers and caravans made their way westward towards the Caspian Sea or southward into present-day Iran.

Silk Roads Sites in Turkmenistan was nominated to be a UNESCO World Heritage site in 2010 According to a report submitted to UNESCO: “The integrity of the nominated Silk Roads Cultural Route serial property is related to the presence of all the attributes necessary to express its Outstanding Universal Value. The aim is to include in the overall property, after a number of extensions of the initial nomination, attributes that reflect fully the scope of the extensive cultural route, in particular its infrastructure, including caravansaries, forts, bridges, irrigation, agriculture and way markings, its production sites, related to the production of high value trade goods such a metal mining and metal working, and the outstanding outputs of the longdistance, profitable trade over almost two millennia, in particular cities, towns and sacred sites and their associations with the exchange of knowledge in the fields of science, technology, religion, and arts and architecture.” [Source: Embassy of Turkmenistan to France, UNESCO]

Silk Road

According to a report submitted to UNESCO: “Beginning its existence from the 2nd century B.C. and till the end of 15th century of A.D. this network of roads starting from Chan’an (modern Xian) and spreading from East Asia to Mediterranean to West and Southwest and down to Indian subcontinent, was contributing and creating conditions for intercontinental trade. [Source: UNESCO]

“In its turnover there were cultural and material values of different nations and countries. Chinese silk was one of the most valuable goods, but also there were many other goods distributed by these roads: precious metals and stones, ceramics, perfumery, incense and spices, goods made of cotton and wool, glass, wine, amber, carpets and thoroughbred horses. This trade, connecting various civilizations, existed during centuries and was supported by system of caravanserais, commercial centers, trading towns and fortresses extending for more than 10 thousand kilometers, which probably makes the most long cultural route in the history of humanity.

“However, The Silk Road transported not only goods.The Silk Road transported Buddhism, Judaism, Islam and Christianity, Zoroastrism and Manichaeism. Scientific and technological achievements also spread by this route, for example such ones from China: paper, powder, magnetic compass and porcelain, whereas engineering achievements (particularly, bridge construction) and growing of cotton, cultivation of grape vine were spread from Central Asia, Middle East, Mediterranean and West. The exchange of medical knowledge and medicine also was happening. The same road went diplomatic missions, establishing international contacts.”

Silk Road Routes in Turkmenistan

ROUTE I: AMUL - MERV: 1) Amul, Lebap velayat, At the outskirts of the modern Turkmenabat city 2) Akcha-gala, Bayramaly etrap, Mary velayat. Approximately 8 kilometers to the northeast of Merv, at the Akcha-gala deserted place: 3) Geok-Gumbez (3 medieval mausolea), Sakarchaga etrap, Mary velayat, At the Geok-Gumbez deserted place, 70 kilometers north of Merv [Source: Embassy of Turkmenistan to France, UNESCO]

ROUTE II: MERV - KHOREZM: 1) Chilburj, Bayramaly etrap, Mary velayat, 20 kilometers to the northwest of Merv: 2) Gyobekly, Garagum etrap, Mary velayat, 32 kilometers to the northwest of Merv; 3) Khurmuzfarra (Uly Kishman), Garagum etrap, Mary velayat, About 31 kilometers the north of Merv; 4) Gurtly-depe (medieval Bashan), Bayramaly etrap, Mary velayat, approximately 25 kilometers northwards from Ancient Merv; 5) Odemerghen-gala (rabat Suran), Bayramaly etrap, Mary velayat, about 100 kilometers to the north of Bayramaly city.

ROUTE III: MERV - HERAT: 1) Talkhatan-baba (mosque), Iolotan etrap, Mary velayat, 30 kilometers to the west of Merv; 2) Ekedeshik, Tahtabazar etrap, Mary velayat, In the south of Turkmenistan, near the etrap centre of Tagtabazar

ROUTE IV: AMUL - KHOREZM: 1) Dargan urban site, Birata etrap, Lebap velayat, 4.5 kilometers to the southeast of the Birata etrap (regional) center; 2) Dayakhatyn caravanserai, Lebap velayat, 173 kilometers northwards from Turkmenabat city, near the Khanabad railway station

ROUTE V: AMUL - ZEMM (KERKI); 1) Astana-Baba (medival Maimarg):, 1) Alamberdar mausoleum and, 2) Astana-Baba architectural complex, Atamyrat etrap, Lebap velayat, 12 kilometers to the northwest of the town of Atamyrat;

ROUTE VI: MERV - SARAKHS; 1) Dashrabat (Dandanakan), Mary etrap, Mary velayat, 35 kilometers to the southwest of Mary city; 2) Old Sarakhs (urban site and Abul-Fazl mausoleum), Sarakhs etrap, Akhal velayat, In the upper reaches of Tejen river; 3) Mele-Hairam temple complex, Sarakhs etrap, Akhal velayat, About 15 kilometers eastwards from the town of Sarakhs

ROUTE VII: SARAKHS - HERAT: 1) Pulkhatyn bridge, Sarakhs etrap, Akhal velayat, 70 kilometers to the south of the town of Sarakhs; 2) Injirli urban site, Sarakhs etrap, Akhal velayat, 42 kilometers northwest-westwards from the Akrabat settlement (Badkhyz)

ROUTE VIII: SARAKHS - ABIVERD: 1) Meana-Baba architectural complex, Kaka etrap, Akhal velayat, 217 kilometers to the east of Ashgabat city; 2) Kyone Kaka, Kaka etrap, Akhal velayat, At the northeastern border of Kaka settlement; 3) Abiverd, Kaka etrap, Akhal velayat, Westwards from Kaka

ROUTE IX: ABIVERD - NISA: 1) Anau urban site and ruins of the mosque of Said Jamal-ad-Din, Akbugdai etrap, Akhal velayat, 12 kilometers eastwards from the Ashgabat city

ROUTE X: NISA - DEKHISTAN: 1) Durun and Ak Ymam mausoleum, Bakharly etrap, Akhal velayat, 5-6 kilometers to the east of the town of Bakharly; 2) a) Dekhistan (Mashat-Misrian), b) Mashat-ata mosque-mausoleum (Shir-Kabir),, c) group of medieval mausolea at Mashat-ata cemetery, Etrek etrap Balkan velayat, 90 kilometers to the northwest of the town of Etrek and 22 kilometers to the northwest of Madau settlement

ROUTE XI: DEKHISTAN - KHOREZM; 1) Ygdy gala, Serdar etrap, Balkan velayat, 150 kilometers to the north of the town of Serdar; 2) a) Shakhsenem (medieval Suvburun),, b) Shakhsenem, suburb garden, Akdepe etrap, Dashoguz velayat, 90 kilometers to the southwest of the town of Kene Urgench; 3) Diyarbekir, Gubadag etrap, Dashoguz velayat, Approximately 90 kilometers to the west of the Dashoguz city; 4) Yzmykshir fortress (mediaval Zamakhshar), Tagta etrap, Dashoguz velayat, Approximately 30 kilometers to the southwest of the Dashoguz city; 5) Devkesen (medieval Vazir), Turkmenbashi etrap, Dashoguz velayat, 60 kilometers to west of the town of Kene Urgench.

Khorezm and Konye-Urgench

Konye-Urgench (near the Uzbekistan border, 100 kilometers northeast of Dashoguz, 400 kilometers north of Ashgabat and 45 kilometers from Nukus) was the capital of Khorezm empire and was a remote outpost on a branch of the Silk Road. . Founded around 1000 B.C. and located on the Amu-Darya Delta, where the Kara-kum and Kyzylkum deserts meet, it was ruled by Persians, Arabs, Seljuk Turks and reached its height in the 12th century under the Seljuk shahs of the Khorezm empire, which encompassed much of northern Turkmenistan and southern Uzbekistan.

Konye-Urgench is similar to Khiva but less well restored and less like a museum piece and much more empty than Bukhara and Samarkand because it is harder to get to. There are ancient mosques, minarets, mausoleum, madrasahs, and homes. Few modern structures obstruct the view. .Modern Konye-Urgench is a small town surrounded by state cotton farms.

Kunya-Urgench was named a World Heritage Site in 2005. According to UNESCO: “Kunya-Urgench is located in the territory of Dashoguz velayat of Turkmenistan. It is situated in the northwestern Turkmenistan, on the left bank of the Amu-Daria River. Urgench was the capital of the Khorezm region, which was part of the Achaemenid Empire. The old town area contains series of monuments mainly from the 11th to 16th centuries. This area has remained a vast deserted land with some remains of ancient fortified settlements, including a mosque, the gates of a caravanserai, fortresses, mausoleums and a 60-meter high minaret. [Source: UNESCO World Heritage Site, 2005]

“On the sample of Kunya-Urgench monuments one can see all variety of methods and décor of Islamic architecture of Central Asia. There are constructions from adobe and burned bricks, plain unicameral dome constructions up-going to ancient chartak and buildings with complicated compositions, sometimes with long history of development, repair and reconstruction. These monuments also demonstrate the evolution of methods of treatment of inner surface of domes from cellular sails to stalactite those times called “muqarnas” and brought to the highest perfection by local masters. The best monuments of this city are distinguished by high degree of decorativeness. They provide prominent examples of classical arabesques in monochrome terra-cotta and bright colorfulness of enamel. The monuments testify to outstanding achievements in architecture and craftsmanship whose influence reached Iran and Afghanistan, and later the architecture of the Mogul Empire of 16th-century India. The Islamic sacred objects concentrated in this city are exceptionally popular places for pilgrims and serve attractive objects for the international tourism.

The site is important because: 1) The tradition of architecture expressed in the design and craftsmanship of Kunya-Urgench has been influential in the wider region to the south and southwest i.e. in Iran and Afghanistan, and later in the architecture of the Mogul Empire (India, 16th century). 2) Kunya-Urgench provides an exceptional testimony to a cultural tradition (the Islamic culture of the Khorezm) and is unique in its state of preservation. The society that created this centre has disappeared; however we note that most of visitors are in fact pilgrims from the region.

Although the individual monuments are in variable conditions, the principal monuments have retained a substantial amount of original material, representing a reasonable level of authenticity. Other buildings have remained untouched or been more or less substantially reconstructed. The individual monuments have been subject to various degrees of repair, restoration and reconstruction. Seeing the condition before repair, it can be appreciated that in some cases the choice was a complete collapse or partial reconstruction. While taking note of the several reconstructions of individual buildings, the principal monuments are still considered to have retained a reasonable level of authenticity.

Early History of Khorezm

The origins of the settlement go back to the 5th century B.C., Archaeological excavations carried out on the hill known as Kyrkmolla revealed the contours of a powerful ancient fortress dated to the 5th-2nd centuries B.C.Urgench was mentioned in the Avesta — the primary Zoroastrian text — as Urwah (or Urga). In the Chinese chronicles of the Han dynasty (A.D. 1st century) Urgench was mentioned in a transcription as “Yuegan”. Chinese sources in the 7th century describe a period of revival of Khorezm. [Source: State Committee for Tourism of Turkmenistan]

In 712, Urgench was invaded by Arabs and named Gurgenge. Being at the crossing of trade routes between the Volga River in the northwest and Mongolia and China in the east, the town prospered and became a major trade center. At beginning of the 11th century, during the reign of Mamun I, historians describe military events, long marches, complex political intrigues. A brief reign. Under the reign of Mamun II the city reached its peak. Gurgenge was greater than Bukhara' and attracted famous scientists to the unique court “Academy” of Mamun. The great historian and Islamic scholar Abu Rayhan Muhammad ibn Ahmad al-Biruni (973-1050) and a brilliant scientist, physician and philosopher Abu Ah ibn Sina (980-1037), known in the West as Avicenna , were among those that lived there. This prosperous period in history of the city did not last long. After Mamun II died in 1017, Khorezm was conquered by the Ghaznavids and then by Seljuk Turks. After 1044, Khorezm was a a province of the Seljuk Empire.

In 1097 an event marked the beginning of the last dynasty of Khorezmshakhs — the Anushteginids dynasty. The Seljuks appointed Qutb al-Din Muhammad I as a ruler of Khorezm. He ruled for 30 years until his death was a loyal subject of Seljuk Sultan Sanjar, who then did not hesitate to approve his son Atsyz to the throne of Khorezm shahs. However, Atsyz repeatedly showed independece, engaging in military confrontation with Sandzhar. Atsyz persistently carried out a policy of “gathering lands”, and gradually gained control over the entire northwestern part of Central Asia. In 1194, his grandson Tekesh ibn Il-Arslan finally freed Khorezm from Seljuk domination and expanded Khorezm into what amounted to a small medieval empire.

Under the Tekesh son Ala-ud-Din Muhammad II the state of Khorezm shahs reached its highest power: their empire stretched from the northern regions of the Caspian Sea to the Persian Gulf and from the Caucasus to the Hindu Kush. During this brilliant period Gurgenge (Konye-Urgench) was the imperial center, where arts, crafts and trade flourished. Mohammed II later anger Genghis Khan when he had one Mongol messenger killed and had the beards burned off of two others.

Later History of Khorezm

In 1221, The Mongol sacked Samarkand and Bukhara and then took Gurgenge (Konye-Urgench) and destroyed it after a siege of several months. However, thanks to its advantageous location, the city was rebuilt not long afterwards and described as the finest city of the Turks with fine bazaars and impressive buildings. After joining to the possession of Juchi, and then becoming almost independent in the Golden Horde Khanate, Khorezm entered into a prosperous phase, which lasted until Timur's campaigns. The famous Muslim traveler Ibn Battuta arrived in Urgench in 1333 and called it the largest and most prosperous Turkic city. The city was at that time the capital of the vast eastern province of the Golden Horde.

Kutlug Timur and his wife Tyurabek Khanum played a special role in Urgench’s development in the first half of the 14th century, constructed beautiful and important buildings such as a hospital, a mosque and khanaka and restoring surviving monuments of pre-Mongol period. They finished and repaired the minaret that became one of the highest in the world (about 60 meters), and built up a large area within the city walls which extended 10 kilometers from the Ak-gala fortress in the north, encircling the entire territory of the site reaching Khorezm-bag fortress and the river Amu Darya in the south.

After 1360 Uregnch was taken over by a Turkish Sufi dynasty that was independent from the Golden Horde. Tamerlane regarded Khorezm as a rival of Samarkand and sacked Konye-Urgench five times in the 14th century.The city suffered heavily from destruction by the Timurid troops between 1372 and 1388, and never gained its previous position again. The best artists, architects, builders and craftsmen went to Samarkand instead. In spite of attempts to restore the city, particularly in 1391, the city never. In the 15th century the Amu Darya River changed its course and moved about 40 kilometers away from the city. The political and economic center of the region shifted from Khorezm to Samarkand and Bukhara. Finally, the development of sea routes between Europe, India and China, as well as the discovery of America led to the gradual disappearance of the Silk Road transcontinental caravan trade. The economy of Central Asia as whole declined and found itself at the periphery of world civilization. By the 17th century, Uregnch was all but abandoned, with its former population having moved to Khiva..

Almost nothing is left from the once great Gurgenge, and its ruins have since become known as the Old Urgench. The city has experienced modem development since 1831 when the Yab Khan channel was dug here (north of the mausoleum of Najm al-Din al-Kubra) form the Amu Darya.

Places in Konye-Urgench in Khorezm

Under the Khorezm shahs, Konye-Urgench was filled with mosques, madrasahs, libraries, bazaars, arched ramparts, carved columns, turquoise domes, spectacular mosaic tilework, white-washed houses with magnificent carved wooden doors and became a showcase for Islamic art and architecture. It was regarded as the center of the Islamic world until the Khorezmshah Mohammed II moved the capital to Samarkand in 1210.

Sights at Konye-Urgench include the 19th century Sayid Ahmed mausoleum, the Sultan Tekesh mausoleum, the Il-Arsian mausoleum (built in 1172, the oldest standing structure in Konye-Urgench), Kirkmomlla (a scared mound of graves), Mamun 2nd minaret (built in 1011 and rebuilt in the 14th century), the Dash Kala Caravanserai Portal, the Turabeg Khanym mausoleum, the Aka Kala fortress and the Khorezm Dag.

Najm-ed-din Kubra Mausoleum is the most sacred place in Konye-Urgench. Built over the tomb of a 12th century poet, philosopher and leader of a Sufi order, it has three do mes, tiled portals and two tombs (one for his body and one for his head, which was chopped off by the Mongols). The tomb is believed to have healing powers and pilgrims gather around to pray for cures. Nearby are a small museum, the Matkerim-Ishan Mausoleum, the Sultan Ali Mausoleum.

Turabeg Khanym Mausoleum is regarded as the beautiful spot in Konye-Urgench. Built over the family tombs of a 14th Sufi dynasty, it features an array of geometric patterns that organized like a calendar. In the inner dome is a mosaic with 365 sections, representing the days of the year. Underneath are 24 point arched symbolizing the hours of the day. The 12 arches below them represent the months. The four big windows symbolize the weeks in a month,

Kutleg Minaret is the highest minaret in Central Asia, at 67 meters. Built in the 1320s, it is only surviving part of Konye-Urgenche’s man mosque. It has bands of brickwork and a few turquoise tiles.

On monuments in Konye-Urgench one can see all variety of methods and decor of Islamic architecture of Central Asia. The buildings aree generally made from adobe and burned bricks and feature plain unicameral dome constructions. Some buildings have complicated compositions and a long history of development, repair and reconstruction. Others have distinctive Central Asian features such as cellular sails, stalactite bases, "muqamas" and classical arabesques in monochrome terracotta and bright enamel decorations. Amul on the Amul-Merv Silk Road Route

Amul (outskirts of Turkmenabat city) is one of the Silk Roads Sites in Turkmenistan that was nominated to be a UNESCO World Heritage site in 2010. According to a report submitted to UNESCO: Amul is the ancient and medieval site at the outskirts of the modern Turkmenabat city. The most ancient period of occupation refers to the I-IV centuries A.D. At that time it occupied the area of about 50 hectares and was a part of Kushanian kingdom. Srating from the 4th century A.D. the period of crisis is observed. After Arabian conquest Amul was revived and by the 9th century became one of the largest centres of international trade which promoted appreciable increase of the town. [Source: Embassy of Turkmenistan to France, UNESCO]

“Amul, the capital of Middle Amudarya region, was an important transit point on the Great Silk Road. Here there were crossed two international routes - land and river ones. The land one led from Merv to Bukhara and China. Another land way led to the north, to Khorezm. The second route was Amudarya itself by which the goods from India through Afghanistan had been delivered. According to archaeological data Amul of that period consisted of shakhristan inside of which there was a citadel (ark), and outer town with 3 gates: northern, southern and eastern ones. In 1220 Amul was destroyed by Mongols. The next significant stage of its life started in the 15th century when the town had been called already Charjui. The town plan of that period survived practically till 60-ies of the 20th century

“Now the remains of shakhristan of Amul-Charjui represents nearly regular quadrangle with the area of 9 hectares. It lies on the multi-meter pakhsa massif rising at a height of 21-24 meters above surrounding locality. In the northwestern corner of the fortress a massive ark (citadel) next to 33 meters high with 5 towers is located. Territory of rabad which had surrounded the Amul shakhristan exceeded 150-175 hectares.

“The origin of the name "Amul" is still under discussion. It appears in the 7th century A.D. In historical literature there are found also other its names: "Amuya", "Amuye", "Amu". Later the Persian abbreviated name "Amu" was applied to the Oxus-Jeikhun river which was started to call Amudarya (Amu-river), Since the late 15th century a new name of the town appears, that Charjui (or "Charkhajub - four streams") which gradually replaces the old one. Informations of the medieval Amul-Charjui are found among a series of authors: al-Belazury (IX century), ibn-Khordadbekh (IX century), al-Istakhry, al-Makdisy, ibn-Khaukal (X century), Yakut (13th century), Mukhammed Kazim (18th century) and others.

“During ancient and medieval times Amudarya river played a key part in the life of the population of adjoining territories as the basis of agriculture and the main transport and trade artery in Middle Asia. It was also a linking element for the peoples living on its left and right banks. Emergence and development of many pair towns-fortresses (laying on both river banks) was connected, first of all, with the favourable geographic location - in the places of water crossing. Large settlements were usually situated on the left bank of Amudarya, while small advanced posts - on its right bank. Such were, for example: Amul and Farap (then Bityk), Zemm and Kerkichi, Khodja-Idat-kala and Navidakh etc. (in Turkmenistan).”

Akcha-Kala on the Amul-Merv Silk Road Route

Akcha-Kala (8 kilometers the northeast of Merv) is one of the Silk Roads Sites in Turkmenistan that was nominated to be a UNESCO World Heritage site in 2010. According to a report submitted to UNESCO: Akcha-kala caravanserai (second half of the11th century) situated on the ancient road from Merv to Amul, approximately 8 kilometers to the northeast of Merv. This lonely station is remarkable for its dimensions (150x80 meters) as well as for architecture. Its blank outer walls of pakhsa are shaped with goffers of unusual form: two semicircular quarter pillars are divided by flat blade with a joint slit in the middle. At the corners of outer walls there are diagonally located quadrate towers. On the main façade there is a massive peshtak with a lanced niche. The ceilings of the rooms were domed. [Source: Embassy of Turkmenistan to France, UNESCO]

Akcha-kala station had been not mentioned in the travel books of the 9th-10th centuries since it was shaped as a large caravanserai just in the11th century In 1952 Akcha-kala was investigated by the YuTAKE (M.E.Masson, G.A.Pugachenkova) in archaeological and topographical respects. The Akcha-kala appearance resembles the caravanserai of Rabat-i-Malik between Bukhara and Samarkand, the most monumental in the Middle Asia and Rabati-Sharaf constructed on the road from Merv to Nishapur (Iran).

Akcha-kala brightly illustrates the local planning type of this structure usual for the medieval East. Such lay-out is found neither in the Near Eastern architecture nor in Maverannakhr. But it was enough wide-spread in Khorasan where the most characteristic inn type for this territory was formed by the end of the11th century The lay out scheme of these rectangular or square but always symmetrical structures includes the courtyard along its perimeter surrounded with the rooms for guests, storehouses, open sheds for pack animals and forage. Sometimes a separate service courtyard was made for animals and forage as in caravanserai of Akcha-kala. Now Akcha-kala is perhaps the only survived example of caravanserais with two-part lay-out the analogy of which give just the caravanserais of Mansaf situated on the way from Merv to Amul (at present it does not exist)

Geok-Gumbez Mausolea on the Amul-Merv Silk Road Route

Geok-Gumbez (70 kilometers north of Merv) is comprised of three medieval mausolea. It is one of the Silk Roads Sites in Turkmenistan that was nominated to be a UNESCO World Heritage site in 2010. According to a report submitted to UNESCO: The three medieval mausolea (13th-14th centuries) “make the ensemble of buildings stretched in line. The largest of them has on the main façade a peshtak with a lancet arch; the other facades are formed by narrow wall niches. Dome is based on the bay pendentives. Outside, the dome was faced with the blue glazed bricks fallen down later. The second mausoleum has kept only a part of its walls and the portal analogical to the previous one; the third mausoleum has preserved a small peshtak added to the cube-shaped bulk and a burial vault. [Source: Embassy of Turkmenistan to France, UNESCO]

In writing sources the Geok-Gumbez ("Blue Dome") is mentioned just in the 15th century in the connection with the events of fight (struggle with, for, against, conflict between) of 1456 between Mirza-Sanjar and Timurid ruler Khusein ibn Mansur ibn Baikara. In 1951 these monuments (until that time unstudied) were investigated by the YuTAKE.

The three mausolea in the Geok-Gumbez represent the traditional type of one-chambered portal-and-dome shrine of the Northern Khorasan architectural school. Here it is possible to trace the process of a new architectural type formation when the centric tomb of XI-12th centuries gave place to the portal-and-dome mausoleum with emphasized significance of monumental peshtak. The main Geok-Gumbez mausoleum reflects keeping local traditional methods in the architecture of 13th-14th centuries and, at the same time, emergence of new architectural forms. Some constructional details typical for Merv architecture, for example, method of the tromp construction (like in the mausoleum of ibn-Zeid and the mosque of Talkhatan-baba) connect it with the foregoing period. The innovation is a strongly developed peshtak which not simply protrudes on main façade (like in the mausoleum of Abu-Said in Mekhne) but represents the principal and sole façade form. The first mausoleum of Geok-Gumbez develops the same theme of one-chambered portal-and-dome shrine which is elaborated in the 14th century in Meverannakhr (early group of the mausolea of Shakhi-Zind in Samarkand).


on the Merv-Khorezm Route

Chilburj (20 kilometers to the northwest of Merv) is one of the Silk Roads Sites in Turkmenistan that was nominated to be a UNESCO World Heritage site in 2010. According to a report submitted to UNESCO: Its historic name is not established. The fortress represents an irregular rectangle in plan (230-260x200 meters). Its walls are thickly flanked with protruded rectangular goffered towers. The fortress corners are strengthened with powerful bastions. Sections between towers have in-wall passageways with the niches for archers. Towers and inter-tower ways are densely covered with arrow-shaped loopholes, mostly false. Chilburj had two gates (northern and southern ones) through which the central street crossed the town. Initially this was a military fortress therefore its yard was not built up; just in the centre a trace of some construction survived where the fire was kept on. [Source: Embassy of Turkmenistan to France, UNESCO]

The fortress was founded in the Late Parthian time (I1st-2ndI centuriesA.D.). In the Late Sasanian period (V-7th centuries), Chilburj was a flourishing town with the dense building of shakhristan and rabad; its development was broken off by the Arabian invasion. The third stage of the town life refers to the period of the developed Middle Ages (X-12th centuries) when it was used for caravans' halting place; in the X century a small juma-mosque (34x32 meters) was built nearby. As a caravanserai Chilburj existed up to the Mongol invasion whereupon it was abandoned completely.

The Late Parthian fortress Chilburj continues traditions of the Early Parthian period which are fully reflected in the fortress of Durnaly (1st-2nd centuries A.D.). Keeping traditional for the Parthian architecture the wall type with numerous towers of rectangular form cut through with embrasures (like in Durnaly). The principle of gate fortification typical for the Middle Asian antiquity, Chilburj provides the earliest in Middle Asia example of using the wall goffering usual for the 7th-10th centuries architecture.

Gebekly on the Merv-Khorezm Route

Gyobekly (32 kilometers to the northwest of Merv) is one of the Silk Roads Sites in Turkmenistan that was nominated to be a UNESCO World Heritage site in 2010. According to a report submitted to UNESCO: Gebekly is the ancient town site in the centre of Merv oasis situated 32 kilometers to the northwest of Gyaur-kala. It represents a square (88x88 meters) in plan. Ruins tower 12-13 meters high above the locality. In the centre of the site there is a large building of the Parthian Period - the House of Ruler. Living and ceremonial premises occupied its centre and the system of bypass corridors was arranged along the periphery. The monument was surrounded by fortress walls along its perimeter. Gate was in the middle of the southern wall. There are no traces of building around the fortress. [Source: Embassy of Turkmenistan to France, UNESCO]

For the first time Gebekly-depe was marked by the American expedition in Turkestan (at the beginning of the 20th century). Archaeological explorations carried out by the joint Russian-Turkmen expedition (G.A.Koshelenko, A.Gubaev) during 1980-s and 1997-2001 have allowed us to determine 4 principal periods of the site occupation: 1) time of its erection - before I century A.D. (Yaz-III period); 2) Parthian time - 1st-2nd centuries A.D.; 3) the early Sasanian time - 3rd century A.D.; 4) 4th century A.D.

The fortress walls of Gebekly-depe find their parallels in the fortifications of the later fortress - Chilburj (in-wall corridor, rectangular towers divided in segments etc.). The most sensational finds from Gebekly-depe are over 1000 Parthian bulls - clay articles of different forms with the impressions of seals which served for sealing the writing documents, vessels, doors etc. Depictions on the impressions include more than 30 plots. These plots follow different iconographic traditions: local ancient Margianian (various geometric ornaments) etc.

Khurmuzfarra (Uly Kishman) on the Merv-Khorezm Route

Khurmuzfarra (Uly Kishman, 31 kilometers north of Merv) is one of the Silk Roads Sites in Turkmenistan that was nominated to be a UNESCO World Heritage site in 2010. According to a report submitted to UNESCO: The ruins of Khurmuzfarra are situated approximately 31 kilometers to the north of Merv. This town served the important basic station on the trade route from Merv to Khorezm for centuries.

The caravanserai of Khurmuzfarra (9th-10th centuries), built of mud brick, had the unique lay-out. It was very vast. Here there were only 8 rooms, all other space was occupied by three-, two- and one-row stoia (a long gallery-portico surrounding the yard from the west, south and east). Each section of the stoia was covered with a dome based on massive supporting arches over-thrown between the pillars of large section (1.3x1.3 meters). Initially, there were 57 such domes, after rebuilding of caravanserai - 77. The rooms were destined for people, dome-arched porticos served for luggage and for animals during bad weather. The main entrance, shaped by two semicircular towers, was located from the south. There were also ancillary entrances-wicket-gates in the northern and eastern walls. [Source: Embassy of Turkmenistan to France, UNESCO]

The first fragmentary references about Khurmuzfarra appear among several Muslim authors describing the history of the conquest of Khorasan by Arabs; then some geographic works and dictionaries of the X century (Istakhri and Makdisi) and of succeeding centuries up to the 15th century (Idrisi, Samani - 12th century, Yakut - 13th century, Khamdallah Kazvini - 14th century and Hafizi Abru - 15th century) contain some information of the town. In addition to Khurmuzfarra there are found other names of this point such as Musfari, Masfara, Safari or Safri, Uly Kishman. In 1946 the Ashgabat historian and ethnographer G.I.Karpov indentified first the medieval Khurmuzfarra with the ruins of Uly Kishman site. In the archaeological respect Uly Kishman was explored by the YuTAKE in the 1946, 1950 and the 1960s.

Khurmuzfarra caravanserai is very original in architectural respect and does not resemble the Middle Eastern caravanserais of that time. This was an inn for caravans passed to Khorezm through the desert, a large trading station where enterprising merchants had often made wholesale dealings. Therefore, it has a little number of living khujras and many sheds for animals and packages. Before the11th century the functions of caravanserais were implemented by an ordinary dwelling keshk, surrounded by with well-defended yard. Caravanserai in Khurmuzfarra shows a different lay out scheme of inn which was finally formed in Khorasan by the end of the11th century The plan of these rectangular or square but almost


Nisa (15 kilometers west of Ashgabat) is an ancient city that was capital of the Parthian Kingdom between the 3rd century B.C. and the A.D. 3rd century. The Parthians were the great rivals of the Romans in the east. Nisa remained active until is was razed by the Mongols. Situated on a grassy plateau in the foothills of the Kopet Dag, it once contained a fortress with 43 towers, a royal palace and some temples. All that remains now are some mounds, broken up by excavation pits, and the mud-brick remains of two Zoroastrian temples, kitchens, a treasury. a courtyard house with a wine cellar and circular chamber believed to have been a ritual area of a Zoroastrian temple. Artifacts unearthed at the site are now in the Turkmenistan National Museum.

The Parthian Fortresses of Nisa were declared a UNESCO World Heritage Site in 2007. According to UNESCO: “The Parthian Fortresses of Nisa consist of two tells of Old and New Nisa, indicating the site of one of the earliest and most important cities of the Parthian Empire, a major power from the mid 3rd century B.C. to the 3rd century AD. They conserve the unexcavated remains of an ancient civilization which skilfully combined its own traditional cultural elements with those of the Hellenistic and Roman west. Archaeological excavations in two parts of the site have revealed richly decorated architecture, illustrative of domestic, state and religious functions. Situated at the crossroads of important commercial and strategic axes, this powerful empire formed a barrier to Roman expansion while serving as an important communication and trading centre between east and west, north and south. [Source: UNESCO World Heritage Site, 2007]

Nisa was the capital of the Parthian Empire, which dominated this region of central Asia from the mid 3rd century BCE to the early 3rd century CE. As such it formed a barrier to Roman expansion, whilst at the same time serving as an important communications and trading centre, at the crossroads of north-south and east-west routes. Its political and economic power is well illustrated by the surviving remains, which underline the interaction between central Asian and Mediterranean cultures.

History of Nisa

Nisa was a major trading hub in the Parthian Empire. It was later renamed Mithradatkirt Parthian ("fortress of Mithradates") by Mithridates I of Parthia (reigned c. 171 B.C.–138 B.C.). The region was famous for the fast and beautiful horses. Nisa has been described as the first seat of central government of the Parthians. It is traditionally assumed to have been founded by Arsaces I (reigned c. 250 –211 B.C.) and was reputedly the royal residence of the Parthian kings, although it has not been established that the fortress at Nisa was either a royal residence or a mausoleum. Nisa was totally destroyed by an earthquake, which occurred during the 1st decade B.C.

Traces of human activity dating back to the 4th-2nd millennium B.C. show that long before the beginning of the Parthian Empire the area of Nisa was already colonized by sedentary population. It is believed that there was a large settlement there as early as the 1st millennium BC. According to the legend, during the time of Darius Hystaspes (VI c. BC) settlement became a frontier fortress, which barred the way to invade from the North warlike nomads. [Source: State Committee for Tourism of Turkmenistan]

In the 4th century B.C. Achaemenid Empire collapsed under the Greco-Macedonian armies. Under the Seleucids — successors of Alexander the Great — formed independent states of Bactria, Parthia and Khorezm. The dynamic development of these states is well described in the writings of ancient authors. Some ancient sources, such as Isidorus of Kharax, mention the city of Parthaunisa as an administrative and economic center for the Arsacid dynasty. From their royal residence (Old Nisa) and the adjacent city (New Nisa), the Arsacid dynasty carried out huge conquests over a very large territory stretching from the Indus to the Euphrates. Parthaunisa was divided into two parts by the range of Kopetdag Mountain. One of them is located on the territory of modem Ahal region in Turkmenistan.

It is not until 247 B.C. apamstribe (or parns), became the big association of nomads who lived in the Karakum. It was founded by Arsaces I (reigned c. 250 B.C. - 211 BC), and was reputedly the royal necropolis of the Parthian kings, although it has neither been established that the fortress at Nisa was a royal residence nor a mausoleum. Greek Seleucid governor of the satrapy was killed, Arzak was declared a king of independent Parthia that took the territory of Hyrcania (area southeast of the Caspian Sea), which subsequently arose the first capital of the Parthian Empire — Gekatompily.

Parfavnisa city became the administrative and economic center of ownership of Arsakid dynasty. There was arranged a burial-vault of their first kings. Suburbs of Parfavnisa was surrounded by cob wall 7 kilometers long and the entire area with surrounding villages was also covered by the ring of walls.

The name of the site, Mithradatkert, and an indication of the date of its foundation are known from an inscription written on one of the 2,700 administrative ceramics (ostraka) found at Nisa. Mithradatkert means “the fortress of Mithidrat”, referring to King Mithradat I (174-138 BCE). Under the Mithridates I (174-136 gg. BC) on the site of Old Nisa royal fortress was erected by Mitridatkert (approx. 14 hectares) with 43 towers. From the perspective of the ancient art of the castle is an impregnable stronghold. In the 2nd-1stcenturies BC, in the heyday of the Parthian empire, Nisa achieved the status of royal sanctuary. Possibly there was a necropolis of Arsakids dynasty's members.

In 226 BC, however, the Parthian kingdom collapsed. Ardashir, the Parthian governor-general in Persia at the beginning of the Sassanid dynasty, checked Parthian expansion and conquered their cities and territories. Destruction and diminished populations in Nisa led to its partial abandonment, although it continued to be an important center until the Islamic period (12th-14th century CE).

Nisa Archaeological Site

The ruins of ancient and medieval town Nisa are located in the foothills of Kopetdag mountains in Bagir village. The Parthian Fortresses of Nisa consist of two parts Old and New Nisa, indicating the site of one of the earliest and most important cities of the Parthian Empire, a major power lasted almost 600 years from the mid-3rd century B.C. to the 3rd century AD. Archaeological excavations in two parts of the site have revealed richly decorated architecture, illustrative of domestic, state and religious functions. They conserve the unexcavated remains of an ancient civilization, which skilfully combined its own traditional cultural elements with those of the Hellenistic and Roman west. Situated at the crossroads of important commercial and strategic axes, this powerful empire formed a barrier to Roman expansion while serving as an important communication and trading center between the East and the West, the North and the South. [Source: State Committee for Tourism of Turkmenistan]

Numerous archaeological discoveries made in the mid-twentieth century relating to the 3rd-1st centuries B.C. such as remains of temples, substantial buildings, mausoleums and shrines, many inscribed documents, a looted treasury, many Hellenistic art works, a large number of ivory rhytons, outer rims (coins) decorated with Iranian subjects or classical mythological scenes, monumental clay sculptures, marble statues, ivory ornaments with reliefs, decorations made of metal and terracotta, weapons, utensils, economic and documents (mainly accounting wine products) written Aramaic alphabet in the Parthian language.

According to the opinion of the researchers, the monuments Old and New Nisa, keeping invaluable information about the material culture and art of one of the greatest ancient world power, are the key to the knowledge about Parthian culture. A large number of elements of architectural decor of the buildings of Old Nisa are the unique

The Parthians were displaced by the Sassanids. Parthian culture expert and leading archaeological researcher at Nisa, Dr. V.N.Pilipko, said: “People who spoke the Parthian language, and called themselves the Parthians vanished. But the nation, as such, did not really disappear. Changing its name, language and customs, this nation continues to live on this land and there is a good deal of Parthian blood in the veins of the Turkmens of the time. Successive link of many generations living in the lands of Southern Turkmenistan, more clearly trace through the study of local culture and it largely explains the keen interest of the present population in the culture of ancient Parthia, which sees it as an integral part of its own past.”


Dehistan (30 kilometers east of the Caspian Sea, 140 kilometers south of Balkanabat, 280 kilometers southeast of Turkmenbashi, 560 kilometers west from Ashgabat) is a ruined Silk Road city that was at its height in the 11th century, survived the Mongol invasion and thrived until 15th century when an ecological disaster cut off its supplies of water and made the city into a ghost town. There isn’t much left except for mud-brick foundations and the remains of a minaret. About seven kilometers away is a cemetery with some ruined mausoleums and Turkmenistan’s oldest mosque.

Dehistan-Mishrian was nominated to be a UNESCO World Heritage site in 1998. According to a report submitted to UNESCO: Dehistan/Mishrian was the principal city of Western Turkmenistan from the 10th to the 14th centuries. Located on a major caravan route from Gurgan in northern Iran to Khorezm, its finest buildings were constructed by the Khorezmshahs. Major surviving monuments include parts of a minaret built by Abu Bini Ziyard in 1004/5 and another built 200 years later, which formed part of the mosque of Muhammad Khorezmshah: this still has a superbly decorated portal, 18 meters. high. The city was strongly fortified with a double row of walls and occupied c. 2 square kilometers: it declined and was abandoned in the 1 5th century. [Source: Ministry of Culture, Government of Republic of Turkmenistan UNESCO]

“Seven kilometers to the north is the Meshat/Meskhet cemetery, where in the nineteenth century some 20 mausolea were preserved. Of these 5 still survive, including the important mosque/mausoleum Shir Kabir with an elaborately decorated mihrab of carved and coloured stucco. In addition to the medieval city and cemetery, there are also important sites from the third millennium BC.”

History of Dehistan-Mishrian

Looking at the smooth, barren plain of the Misrian plateau, which is part of the Southeast Caspian Sea, it is difficult to imagine that once it was the blooming, fertile oasis. But when viewed from the above, in the light of rays of the rising sun, on the relief of this area there will be clearly seen traces of ancient irrigation: channels' beds, squares of irrigated fields, where, according to researchers, a variety of crops - from wheat to rice - were grown. The researchers have already gathered sufficient evidence proving that the lands of Dehistan were used for about three thousand years. But it was not a continuous process: there were times when the fields were abandoned, and centuries later cultivated again. [Source: State Committee for Tourism of Turkmenistan]

Archaeologists have identified three historical periods of existence of this oasis. The earliest one is the Bronze Age (2nd millennium B.C.) that continues until the end of antiquity, that is, before the fall of the Parthian state, when this territory was called Hyrcania. The second epoch is associated with the state of the Sassanids and covers the 3rd-7th centuries A.D. It was a time when various pastoral tribes, including the ancient Turks settled here. The remains of their settlements in the form of huge slipped down barrows can be found even now in the spaces of the Misrian plateau. And, finally, the third era - from the 8th to 14th century - left the most impressive traces. The numerous ruins of medieval Dehistan remind one of what the urbanized area was like before the water sources that had fed it ran dry.

The caravan route from Khorezm to Persia along the Amudarya River's ancient bed - Uzboy, which flowed into the Caspian Sea, ran through Dehistan. The medieval Arab historian, Al-Makdisi, mentioned twenty-four Dehistan settlements, but archaeologists have discovered about forty of them with some of them not yielding to medieval cities by their size. The highly developed fortification, artistic merits, performance technique and the number of monumental sites of Dehistan put this provincial area on a par with such recognized centers of ancient cultures as Merv, Gurganj, Samarkand. Moreover, unlike the cities of Khorasan with its predominantly raw structures, burnt brick was widely used not only in public buildings, but also in dwellings of citizens while erecting the walls about thousand years ago. According to art critics, acquaintance even with the limited number of Mashad-Misrian monuments shows that Dehistan's architecture, as a major historical and cultural district with the rich past, undoubtedly had its own distinctive appearance, peculiarities and style.

Dehistan-Mishrian Archaeological Site

The settlement of Mashad-Misrian is the largest monument of medieval Dehistan. According to Arabic manuscripts that have reached our times, the capital city of Misrian was also called Dehistan since the 9th century. Its central part surrounded with a double defense wall with semicircular towers and a moat occupies about 2 square kilometers. It is the classic fortification, to which the extensive suburban area (rabad) consisting of artisan quarters, where one can still see many remains of pottery shops and foundations of several mosques and caravanserais, adjoined from four sides. [Source: State Committee for Tourism of Turkmenistan]

Gardens and parks and the marketplace were located in the southern rabad, and the traces of the dense residential buildings are seen in the western part. The eastern and southern rabads were most densely populated. There ran irrigation canals and the main canal, which provided the town with water. There was also a madrasah, the only known in Turkmenistan, which dates back to the pre-Mongol period. The abundance of earthenware products with ornamental and scenic painting is the distinctive feature of archaeological finds in Dehistan. Bronze pots, lamps and other metal products with artistic treatment, and a number of glass articles were also found here.

Improvements made in the city demonstrate the high level of development of Dehistan's urban culture. There were found the water supply and sewerage systems, bathhouses, brick-paved roads. This city had a boom period under the rule of Khorezm shahs, then suffered from the Mongols, but soon revived again and was finally deserted by the inhabitants about six centuries ago. From its architecture there remained the ruins of only a few impressive buildings having a considerable artistic value today as the vivid examples of Islamic culture. First, it is a mosque of Mohammed II, Shah of Khorezm, and two minarets next to it. There are also several medieval mausoleums in the ancient cemetery seven kilometers away from the settlement. Standing on a high platform, the funeral mosque Mashad-ata with the magnificent décor of very fine work dating from the 9th-10thcenturies stands out among them. This truly unique monument often called Shir-Kabir, along with the Samanids' Mausoleum in Bukhara built in the same period, marks the beginning of the classical period in the architecture of the whole Central Asia.

Image Sources: Wikimedia Commons

Text Sources: Turkmenistan tourism sites, Turkmenistan government websites, UNESCO, Wikipedia, Wikitravel, Lonely Planet guides, New York Times, Washington Post, Los Angeles Times, National Geographic, The New Yorker, Bloomberg, Reuters, Associated Press, AFP, Japan News, Yomiuri Shimbun, Compton's Encyclopedia and various books and other publications.

Updated in August 2020

This site contains copyrighted material the use of which has not always been authorized by the copyright owner. Such material is made available in an effort to advance understanding of country or topic discussed in the article. This constitutes 'fair use' of any such copyrighted material as provided for in section 107 of the US Copyright Law. In accordance with Title 17 U.S.C. Section 107, the material on this site is distributed without profit. If you wish to use copyrighted material from this site for purposes of your own that go beyond 'fair use', you must obtain permission from the copyright owner. If you are the copyright owner and would like this content removed from, please contact me.