Ancient Merv
Oasis City along the Silk Road

An Oasis City

The archaeological remains of Ancient Merv lie within Turkmenistan’s Murghab River delta, surrounded by the Karakum Desert. Ancient Merv has been settled for over 4,000 years and urbanized for the last 2,500 years. Unlike many similar sites, which were continually occupied and built atop each other, the cities of Merv periodically shifted, with five distinct cities built next to each other, leaving each relatively well-preserved.

The cities’ location was highly strategic, on the trade and pilgrimage routes of the ancient world, where its position in the river delta provided a natural watering and resting place along the Silk Roads that crossed Central Asia, connecting the great civilizations of the Orient with Europe, the Middle East, and Africa.

The Timurid Pavilion

The standing remains at Ancient Merv include the defensive circuits of the various cities and standing buildings, including the unusual köshks (fortress-like buildings) and numerous important Islamic mausolea. One of Ancient Merv’s unique remains is the Timurid Pavilion, a remnant from the Timurid Empire, a late 14th century CE Turko-Mongol Dynasty. One of the few remaining Timurid buildings at Merv, the Timurid Pavilion is a small, square structure with a grant entry door and a large number of intricate and delicate mud-plaster decorations.

Icehouses: A Desert Solution

Perhaps the most unique structures at Ancient Merv are the icehouses, of which four still remain intact. These large, conically-domed earthen structures would have had sheets of ice built up on the ground level over the course of the winter to provide year-round ice supplies. There are remains of wood beams that stretched across the domes, and it has been suggested that these were for structural support and/or used to hang meats and other culinary items for cold storage.

Preservation of Ancient Merv

Ancient Merv lies in a harsh desert environment, with scorching summer heat and below-freezing winter cold, leaving the archaeological remains relatively well-preserved. Yet the cities of Ancient Merv were constructed primarily of earthen architecture and are at a heightened risk of erosion and collapse, a process which has accelerated considerably in recent years. These threats have led to the inclusion of Ancient Merv on the World Monuments Fund Watch List, and in 2007, a team of international specialists digitally documented the site for conservation and monitoring purposes. This team was supported by the Ancient Merv Project, a collaboration between the Institute of Archaeology at University College London and the State Historical and Cultural Park Ancient Merv, part of the National Department for the Protection, Study and Restoration of Historical and Cultural Monuments within the Ministry of Culture of Turkmenistan.


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