the biggest city that died
Today was my only day off in Turkmenistan. But it was going to be packed. The ruins of Merv to be looked at. Shoes to be bought. And we needed to stock up on food for the remainder of the trip.
First we went to see the ruins. There was a gate with a ticket office that looked a lot like something that could have been in China:
We tried to avoid walking as much as possible, so we basically drove everywhere, which was good because the area was fairly large. Like I said before, Merv is said to have been the biggest city in the world in the 12th century. Before it was flattened by the Mongols.
Anyway, it was all in ruins now. We saw the Greater Kyz Kala, a structure that was thought by some to have been a madrasah for girls once:
Right next to it was the Lesser Kyz Kala, which might have been a madrasah for boys. It was in much worse shape than the Greater Kyz Kala:
Some of the old decorations were still visible:
And some of the stairs:
But bees had come to take over the place:
So I quickly left.
Remember how I told you about the pieces of cloth that people hung up in trees for good luck? Well, they had more of them here:
If you look at the ruins of Merv on my Google Earth file, you will see that it is basically two large walled areas. They belonged to different times, with the Eastern one being much older than its Western counterpart. Here is the wall of the Western part that was called Sultan Kala:
We could see a large, relatively intact mausoleum in the center of it:
It was the 12th century Sultan Sanjar mausoleum that had somehow survived the centuries. I longed to go there, but we were first going to look at some other things.
Like this obviously Timurid (and therefore post-Mongol) structure:
It was the Askhab Mausoleum, a place where two of Muhammad’s disciples were thought to have been buried.
This reminded me of Jiayuguan, Hami and Tuyu Gorge in the Northwest of China, where I had visited similar mausoleums. I started wondering how many disciples of Muhammad there had been altogether.
Pilgrims came here from all over Turkmenistan to pray at the mausoleum:
But also to take group pictures:
They came in their own pilgrim bus, by the way:
Then we checked out something that I found fascinating from a practical point of view – the ancient ice house:
This was basically a huge fridge:
The structure went deep underground inside, and the walls were thick and high:
Also, the walls were double, so as to isolate from the summer heat:
People would gather ice here in the winter, and then the building would serve as a cool storage in the hot summers. Isn’t that awesome?
We then went to the Erk Kala, the Eastern part, which was a lot older than the rest:
Still, the mausoleum was calling me from the distance:
But we didn’t go just yet.
We went to a fully renovated mosque first, the Yusuf Hamadani Mosque:
There was a sarcophagus here as well:
And more pilgrims:
And a minaret:
And then we finally went and looked at the Mausoleum of Sultan Sanjar, the big one in the middle of the Sultan Kala:
The pilgrims were there, too. They had come to pray:
And to take selfies:
I liked the mausoleum a lot, especially the elaborately decorated ceiling:
And there was something special about this particular mausoleum:
If you look at the foreground you can see that there used to be structures there, and the newly added staircase leads to a door that comes out of the mausoleum mid air.
It had been one of the first mausoleums to feature additional structures outside, possibly a mosque. There was something strange though:
This opening indicated that there might have been a bathhouse here. A ritual cleansing facility of the mosque?
We said good-bye to old Merv after that and went back to the city. On our way we passed a row of identical houses that also reminded me of something I had seen in China many years earlier:
Oh, and I have yet to tell you how Merv died, given that there were Timurid structures, which could have only been erected after the conquest by the Mongols. Well, Merv sort of came back to life after the Mongol catastrophe, but then the river changed its course to a location about 30km west of it (where Mary is located today), and the city of Merv was done for. A sad story.
We had lunch in a small restaurant:
Actually it was probably more mid-sized than small:
And like every restaurant I had been to in Turkmenistan, it had little booths where people could eat in private:
Of course there were selfies again, this time with the cooks:
This was behind the restaurant:
Again, I am sorry about the sheer amount of pictures I am sharing here, but it all seemed very interesting to me. So bear with me, for I have not yet shown you the hotel reception hall:
We then went to the bazaar. There was a strict no-photo policy in all bazaars in Turkmenistan, but they looked exactly the same as the bazaars in Uzbekistan anyway.
Remember I wanted to get new shoes? Well, we went to a few places, but their shoes were all made in China (even the ones that said “Made in Turkey” had the same feel), and I am sad to say they were all crap. I tried out a whole bunch, and I hated them all. What I liked, though, was this rather chubby mannequin:
Fat dudes need shoes, too!
I went back to my hotel after that and did some lounging, then I went back to the bazaar (again, no pictures), and I hung out there for a while. I like doing that sometimes when I’m traveling – just sit in a place until the people around me find me boring.
And then, at around eight at night, the opening ceremony of the Asian Games happened, and it was massive:
People in my hotel had been glued to the TV since five in afternoon, and they seemed very excited about it all:
I stayed for a while, but when the President started giving a long speech in Turkmen, I drifted back to my room. I had bought a can of Turkmen cola that I wanted to try.
Here it is:
Very interesting! Buildings are massive and magnificent!
It seems that the the big city has very high standard of living…
Thank you for sharing.