Suitcase and World: Ancient Merv.

Sunday, April 12, 2015

Ancient Merv.

Kyz Kala.

We were scheduled to leave the hotel at 7a. That means breakfast at 8a. As usual, I was up before the alarm and ready to head down for breakfast at 6a. So was Pat so down we went. It was a very simple breakfast in the hotel's dining room. Jabbar was already eating when we arrived; we joined him at the table. A few minutes later, Dolat arrived. By 6:30a, we were finished eating. No point hanging around the hotel so we decided to hit the road. Jabbar got us checked out as we are leaving Mary this evening for Ashgabat. With all luggage safely stowed in the back of the van, we headed off!

First destination of the day - the ancient ruins at Merv.   I had read about them and was excited to see them in person.  Click here for my digested write up on the cities and structures located in Merv.

It was a short drive out of town.  Somewhere in the middle of a field, I saw some lumpy looking things in the far distance.  Jabbar acknowledged it was Merv!

I zoomed in and recognized the Mausoleum of Sultan Sanjar on the left and Kyz Kala on the right.

A view of the Mausoleum of Sultan Sanjar and Kyz Kala that better shows the distance between the two landmarks.

We started our visit to Merv with Greater Kyz Kala or as it we called it, Big Kyz.

Dolat stopped the car as close as he could to the base of the hill.  Unfortunately, excavation work is taking place so the entire place was fenced off.  You can't really tell from the photo but the place is massive.  While Jabbar told Pat about Big Kala, I walked around and took photos.  Jabbar did confirm that exactly what purpose this structure served is still being debated.  The one thing that archeologists do agree on is that despite its size, the structure was not a fortress as it lacked the elements that you would typically lack such as corner towers or slits from which arrows could be shot through.

Even from a distance, you can see how thick the corrugated mud brick walls are.

A side view of Big Kyz.

In easy walking distance from Kyz Kala, was the structure that is commonly referred to as the Smaller or Lesser Kyz Kala.  We just called it Little Kyz.  

We headed to Little Kyz next.

Little Kyz wasn't cordoned off so we could wander all around it.  Looking at it, it's hard to imagine what it looked like when it was originally built. 

You can still see some of the original brickwork and archways.

Little Kyz in the foreground, Big Kyz in the background, right.

Sultan Sanjar Mausoleum.  We'll be visiting that later.

The arch above the corner looks like a squinch to me.

Today is Sunday and a small group of boys decided to come hang out here.   They were a noisy bunch of happy boys.  Thankfully, they arrived just as we were about to leave.

Modern wheels :-)

Someday, the site may be cordoned off to prevent from further damage by humans but today, it's still open for young men to clamor all over.  I do have to say that I didn't notice any graffiti on the ancient brick walls so at some level, people are respectful of the site.  Afterall, it is part of their cultural heritage.

Kiz Bibi Mausoleum.  I only got to see this place from way afar = we didn't visit it.

From here, we went to another landmark in ancient Merv - the Architectural Complex of Askhabs.  The complex is located just a short drive from the two Kyz's.

From the complex, I could see the remains of the walls of Gyaur Kala, the second largest city in Ancient Merv.

We were in the Turkmen desert. There was so much wide open space around us, it felt like we were in the middle of nowhere!

The two Askhabs  (aka "associates") of Prophet Mohammed -  Buraydah ibn al-Husayn al-Islami and Al-Khakim ibn Amr Al-Gifari are buried here. Two small domed kiosks are framed by two large iwans that lead nowhere - serve only as a backdrop for the tombs.  The iwans stand side by side and face south: they are joined by a thin wall with an arched doorway.

After death of Askhabs their tombs became local sanctuaries. In the 15th century, the Timurids constructed a religious complex around them.

Unfortunately, on our visit, the black marble tombs were under renovation and so they were shielded from clear view.  The only thing I could make out, cause I'm so short, was a bit of tile work on one of the portals.  You could barely see the mausoleums through the mesh.  As you might expect, we didn't' stay here long.

To supply the pilgrims with water, a sardoba was built nearby.  A sardoba is a circular cistern that is covered with a shallow dome.  The water comes from a canal which I could not see looking around me.  The sardoba has been renovated over the centuries, most recently in 1992.

Steps lead down to the cistern below.   It's dark and dank down there.

The doorway is set within an arched portal decorated with stucco with vegetal motifs of the nineteenth century.

Decorative bricks were used as a design element.

Nearby the sardoba is a recently constructed two room, askhana.  An askhana is a room used to prepare ritual dishes.  Makes sense for it to be located near the sardoba.

Next, we went to another landmark.  I think it was the remains of a section of the fortress wall that once surrounded Gyaur Kala.

Jabbar made a point to show us just how thick the defensive walls were.

A close up view of the brick construction.

Then, we went to Erk Kala.  Dolat parked the car at the edge of the parking lot and we took the path that led up to the top of the hill.

It looked like a pretty steep climb and the ground was uneven.  I wasn't sure Pat would tackle it but she took it one step at a time.  We stopped part way up to take in the views.  It's very flat here and we could see quite a long distance away.  It's early spring and the desert foliage is that beautiful shade of green.  In a few short weeks, it'll all be brown.

The lumpy things in the background are remains of the wall that surrounded Erk Kala.

The mausoleum of Sultan Sanjar far off in the distance. 

When we reached the top, we were essentially standing on the top of one of the wall.  Looking down, there was not much to see but a very large pit.  It's believed that the remains of the actual city itself  lie some 17 meters below today's surface.  Buried under millenia of buildings old and new, it is virtually inaccessible to archaeological exploration.

We stared at the pit and looked around for a few minutes before turning around and heading back down.

We had gotten such an early morning start that even though I felt like we had already seen a lot of sights, it was barely 8:30a when we left Erk Kala.  We still have several more hours of sightseeing ahead of us but first, a very unexpected and heartwarming experience was to come.  We're off to the Hodja Yusuf Hamadani Mosque.