Merv, the Ancient City with Remnants from the Islamic Golden Age

Merv, the Ancient City with Remnants from the Islamic Golden Age

Merv, also known historically as Marv or Mary, is an ancient city located in present-day Turkmenistan, nestled within the expansive Karakum Desert.

This ancient city held significance as a major city in Central Asia, occasionally referred to as the Merv Oasis or Alexandria.

The history begins in 6th century BCE as an oasis by Achaemenid Persians.

Situated along the trade routes connecting the East to the West, Merv soon flourished into a prosperous trading hub, attracting merchants, scholars, and travelers from far and wide.

Historically, Merv was a significant urban center, boasting a vast area estimated to be around 1200 hectares encompassing multiple settlements and architectural complexes.

At its zenith during the Islamic Golden Age, Merv is believed to have been one of the largest cities in the world. It had a population numbering in the hundreds of thousands.

Today, the archaeological site of Ancient Merv covers a wide expanse of desert terrain, consisting of several distinct areas including the ancient citadel of Gyaur Kala, the medieval city of Sultan Kala, and the oldest settlement of Erk Kala.

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Educational Hub During the Islamic Golden Age

During the Islamic Golden Age, Merv reached its pinnacle. It flourished under the rule of the Abbasid Caliphate in the 8th and 9th centuries CE.

Consequently, as the capital of the vast province of Khorasan, Merv became a center of learning, culture, and commerce.

Scholars flocked to its renowned libraries and universities, contributing to advancements in various fields such as astronomy, medicine, and philosophy.

Moreover, the city’s cosmopolitan atmosphere was characterized by its diverse population, which included Arabs, Persians, Turks, and Central Asians.

Merv as a Popular Place for Pilgrimage

Merv held sacred significance across various religions. According to Zoroastrian belief, Merv (known as Mouru) was among the 16 perfect lands created by the god Ahura Mazda.

From the 5th to the 11th centuries, this city was functioned as the seat of an East Syrian metropolitan province.

Ali ar-Ridha, the 8th Imam of Twelver Shia Islam and a descendant of the Islamic prophet Muhammad, relocated from Baghdad to Merv, where he resided for several years.

Additionally, Merv was the birthplace of Al-Muqanna, known as the “Veiled Prophet.” He started his movement there, amassing followers by claiming divine incarnation.

The Seljuk and Mongol Conquests

However, Merv’s prosperity was not to last. In the 11th century, it fell under the rule of the Seljuk Turks. They ushered in a period of relative stability but also marked the beginning of its decline.

Merv suffered further devastation with the arrival of the Mongols led by Genghis Khan in the 13th century.

The city was sacked, its inhabitants massacred, and its once-grand monuments reduced to rubble. The destruction was so complete that Merv never fully recovered its former glory.

Legacy of Architectural Splendor in Merv

Despite its decline, Merv remained inhabited over the centuries, albeit as a much-reduced settlement.

Today, the archaeological site of Ancient Merv is recognized as a UNESCO World Heritage Site, comprising numerous well-preserved ruins that offer a glimpse into its storied past.

The site is divided into several distinct areas, including Erk Kala (the oldest part of the city), Gyaur Kala (the citadel), and Sultan Kala (the medieval city).

Additionally, underground qanat systems were built to access groundwater in Merv. These innovative systems sustained the city’s agrarian economy by providing water for farming.

Moreover, Merv’s archaeological remains include palaces, mosques, mausoleums, and bazaars, offering insights into its urban layout, architecture, and religious practices.

Remnants of the sophisticated irrigation systems demonstrate the ingenuity of its inhabitants in harnessing scarce water resources in a desert environment.

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Innovative Irrigation Techniques for Agriculture

In Merv, people used clever methods to get water for farming, even though it was in the desert.

They built sophisticated irrigation systems to bring water from the nearby Murghab River to their fields.

These systems consisted of canals, channels, and reservoirs designed to efficiently distribute water across the agricultural lands.

Additionally, they constructed underground qanat systems, which were underground tunnels used to tap into groundwater sources and bring water to the surface.

The people of Merv were skilled engineers and farmers who understood how to manage scarce water resources effectively.

They sustained a thriving agrarian economy in the midst of the desert by harnessing irrigation and innovative water management techniques. These practices ensured the prosperity and survival of their city for centuries.