Tag Archives: Turkmenistan

Merv, Marv-i-hahjaham, Queen of the World

Merv was one of the major cities on the Silk Route from whom many caravans went forth to all four corners of the world therefore its walls witnessed a rich cultural and religious interaction of many ethnic groups.

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Merv003811Alexander the Great conquered it and called it Alexandria Margiana however Parthians conquered the Hellenistic city and thus it was under their control from 250 BC to 226 AD until the Sassanians conquered it.

The Muslims conquered it in the 7th century. Merv achieved its greatest height of power, culture and civilization in the 11th and 12th centuries when it was the Seljuk capiyal. When I stood on the immense Giour Kala which today is an enormous mound of dirt, I closed my eyes and let my mind be caught up in the world of Scheherazade of the Thousand and One Nights because this great city inspired those wonderful tales filled with medieval adventure.

The Mongols devastated the great Merv, the Queen of the World in 1221.

Merv was up to that conquest a great cosmopolitan city whose walls embraced not only 365 hectares but also religious diversity: a quarter was Christian, a quarter Buddhist, a quarter Jewish and then Muslims.

After an long and imaginative day at the ruins at Merv, I went to a Zadekah celebration and helped with the cooking. The locals not only want to share food but also wanted their photo with me.



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Ashgabat and Anau

This morning was spent at the Tolkuchka Bazaar. Until recently it was held on the sand and considered one of the largest markets in central Asia. Now it is housed in several immense outdoor pavilions and does not hold much interest for tourists since it in words of my guide: “it is no longer oriental.” However i wanted to go to see how locals purchase goods at a good price.

You can purchase animals such as sheep, goats, camels and cows.




On my drive into the city the colorful headscarves worn by women in long dresses caught my attention. My guide said that these are worn by married women. Young girls attend school in long green dresses and young women attend university in long red dresses. Boys and young men are in uniform as well.


There is jewelry in abundance.


These are the hats the boys wear.

These are the hats the boys wear.

Even though the market has little tourist appeal, it is colorful.

My guide explains the symbolism of the Turkmenistan carpet.

My guide explains the symbolism of the Turkmenistan carpet.

Turkmanbashi, the first president had this mausoleum built which now contains his tomb and those of his family as well. As with all construction during his long presidency white marble and gold are the dominate motif.

Next to the mausoleum is the largest mosque in central asia. Each minaret is 91 meters commenorating 1991 independance from the USSR. Not only are there quotes from the Koran but there are also quotes from the president’s book inscribed on the walls of the mosque.


The wooden doors are from Morocco.



Turkmen-043055The site of the Anau was already inhabited in the 4th to 3rd millenium BC. This photo gives you an idea of what the mosque looked like before the 1948 earthquake.

The original Jemmalatdin as very curious in that the mosaic decoration above the entrance had two enormous dragons facings each other. This pictorial representation that violates Islamic artistic canons show the influence of Chinese motifs on this mosque of the silk road.

What remains of the mosque today




Muslims come here to prayer and make offerings so their petitions are answered by the holy men buried there. For example, baby clothes are left by those seekimg children

Or houses built for those seeking new houses.

People come to make offerings and walk around the tomb three times in hope their request will be anwsered.

More on the Unique City of Ashgabat

The city bears the artistic signature of the first president. All the buildings are of white italian marble and gold. The National Museum houses many ancient artifacts recovered on digs.

The central atrium of the Museum.

Monuments in marble and gold abound. This is the Arch of Neutrality and on top of a 12 meter high statue of the first president, Niyasov. The polished gold statue used to revolve to follow the sun.

This is Independence Square.

Turkmen2-041602The architecture defies description. Marble and gold buildings, wide boulevards and extravagant water features are everywhere. Marble apartments are everywhere and construction is everywhere as well.

Not only do the buildings glisten in the sun, they are illuminated with colored lights which change through the night. The cube shaped building is the wedding palace. One guide said the city is nicknamed Las Vegas.


This is one of the new hotels built for the asian Olympics across from the stadium. Then the hotel turns pink while the stadium changes colors. This is a far cry from the drab days of the Soviets.

Turkmen2-035039There is even a new hotel nicknamed the Dubai Hotel. My driver said it looks like a drop of water then another guide said it looks like a teardrop across from the wedding palace which dominates the cityscape.

Miles and miles of marble and gold and colored illumination gove the city a uniqueness. My guide said they made the Guiness Book of Records. Ashgabat is one of a kind.

More photos: http://www.theatlantic.com/photo/2013/06/the-city-of-white-marble-ashgabat-turkmenistan/100528/

Introduction to Turkmenistan, Modern and Ancient

Note: Internet connections here seem inconsistent, so pictures will be posted on the blog as they can be transmitted.

Modern day Ashgabat was a total surprise. With the collapse of the Soviet Union, Niyazov declared independence for Turkmenistan on October 27, 1993. He was declared president for life until his death in 2006 during which time the city underwent a remarkable transformation, some might say eccentric and unique transformation. All the new buildings would be lavishly faced with white Italian  marble, sparkling golden domes, extravagant fountains with large parks and wide boulevards. And the city is graced with his 12 meter high golden statue on the Arch of Neutrality. My tour guide said the the city is called Las Vegas not because of casinos but rather all these marble buildings are bathed at night with changing colors which offers a unique urbanscape at night.


This is an archeological model of ancient Nisa, the capital of the Parthian Empire.

The approach to the archeological site of Nisa with the Kopetdag mountains on the horizon which border northern Iran.

Turkmen-003717A reconstructed entrance into the complex that once had 43 towers and housed the palace and temple.

The gypsum on the wall to the left of the opening is original. The corridor was once covered with frescoes now housed in the museum.

Fresco fragments from the corridor

Onto the Silk Road

When I boarded the plane in Istanbul, that is, Constantinople, to Ashgabat, Turkmenistan, my thoughts turned to a book I read in grade school about the adventures of Marco Polo who embarked from Constantinople on the beginning on his journey through Central Asia on what is now the so-called Silk Road. Of course a flight from Constantinople would prove far less strenuous than the long and dangerous overland journey he undertook to travel east. Marco Polo would have first set out from Venice to Constantinople and then through the Levant, Iran and on to Merv in present day Turkmenistan. From there he would have continued his journey through Bukhara and Samarkand, Kokand in present day Uzbekistan.

He continued east to Fergana Valley whose horses were well sought, then beyond the mountains to what is today the border of China and Kyrgystan. Through a series of passes into and over the Pamirs to Kashgar where a decision had to be made: whether to go north or south of the severe Taklamakan desert to the Jade Gate which then leads to Xian, China.

There were so many trade routes crisscrossing Central Asia connecting east to west. As my plane was landing in Ashgabat, I was eager to embrace the adventure of exploring modern day Central Asia, a land totally foreign to me while at the  same time reconstructing in my mind the rise and fall of ancient civilizations whose interactions enriched the culture in which I live today. This rich encounter was truly exceptional and a gift to our shared humanity.