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Coordinates: 37 ° 39 ′ 51 ″  N , 62 ° 11 ′ 5 ″  E

Map: Turkmenistan

Merw ( old Persian : Margiana ; new Persian مرو, DMG Marw , also Merv , Russian Мерв ) was in ancient times an oasis city in the southeast of today's Turkmenistan in Central Asia . The ruins of the city have been declared a World Heritage Site by UNESCO .


The remains of the old Merw on the inland delta of the Murgab are in the small town of Bairam Ali, almost 30 km east of the modern cities of Murgap and Mary , of which the latter was also called Merw until 1930 . The place, once an important station on the Silk Road , is located a little north of the Karakum Canal and part of the route of the Trans-Caspian Railway .


Central Asia with the Silk Road

The place has been populated since the Neolithic . Merw experienced its first peak in the 2nd millennium BC. The oldest part is a twelve hectare fortified settlement from the Achaemenid period known as Erk-Kala .

During the Alexanderzug Merw was conquered, renamed Alexandria he Margiane ( Greek Ἀλεξάνδρεια τῆς Μαργιανής / ἡ Μαργιανή, dt. Alexandria in Margiana ) and expanded to a Greek polis . The place was destroyed by the Seleucid king Antiochus I , but rebuilt under the name Antioch in Parthia (Ἀντιόχεια τῆς Παρθίας / ἡ Πάρθη, also: τῆς Μαργιανής / ἡ Μαργιανή). This city, now known as Gyaur-Kala , was ruled by the Parthians in the following centuries and then by the Sassanids until the end of antiquity .

In 651 AD the last Sassanid king Yazdegerd III was born in Merw . murdered. In the course of the Islamic expansion , the city soon fell to the Muslim Arabs who had conquered the Sassanid Persian Empire . At this time, to which the great and the minor Kyz-Kala also date, the scholar Elias of Merw functioned as Nestorian archbishop of Merw. The Persian general Abū Muslim , with whose help the Abbasids revolted against the Umayyads in this city , came from Merw. The city was the capital under al-Ma'mūn (813–833). The most important scholar from Merw was the Jewish astronomer and astrologer Sahl ibn Bischr . During this time fortified castles ( Rabat ), two Buddhist and one Christian monasteries were built.

Merw was conquered by the Seljuks in 1037 and made the capital of the east by Chaghri Beg . The center of gravity of the city shifted westwards to a place that is now called Sultan-Kala . This paved square has an irregularly rectangular layout. There you will find the imposing mausoleum of Sultan Ahmad Sandschar (d. 1157), who also resided in Merw, and the citadel Schahriyar-Ark from the 11th century. The mausoleum of Muhammad ibn Zaid, the potters' quarter and other ruins in the suburbs also date from this period.

Mosque, photographed in the late 19th century
Caravanserai in Merw around 1890

During the conquest under the Mongol Tolui Khan , son of Genghis Khan , in 1221 the flourishing metropolis was destroyed and the population was almost completely murdered. According to some historians, more than 1 million people were killed in the course of the siege, several hundred thousand of them refugees who had fled to the city. This makes the siege one of the bloodiest conquests in world history. Before that, Merw was an important center of the Khorezm Shahs . It was only partially rebuilt, the ruins of which, south of Sultan-Kala , are known as Abdullah-Khan-Kala .

Merw was sacked again by the Mongol-Turkmen conqueror Timur in 1380. In Timurid period (14-15. C.) Have been developed also the two Aschab mausoleums. In 1505 the Uzbeks occupied the city ​​and five years later it was conquered again by Persia , which ruled there until 1524 and then again from 1601 to 1747. The place now lost all meaning.

Forced by the Persians, the Turkmens had to leave their homeland in the 19th century and settle in eastern Khorasan and Transoxania , including near Merw. From 1823 Merw belonged to the Khiva Khanate . After armed conflicts between Persia and the Turkmens, the place came under Russian rule in 1883 by General Komarov . In 1884 a Russian military and administrative center was founded about 30 kilometers to the west, which was also named Merw ( Russian Мерв ); the Turkmen name form Mary has been official since 1937 . In 1925 the area became part of the Soviet Republic of Turkmenistan , which gained its independence with the collapse of the Soviet Union . The devastation of Merws by the Kitai, Mongols, Afghans etc. destroyed many cultural artefacts and left only a few ruins of Chorasan-Seljuk architecture. Apart from the ruins of religious buildings, only ceramic artifacts survived, but no manuscripts and no miniatures, although it is known that Merw alone owned twelve libraries.


The first investigations of the ruins spread over 70 km 2 took place in 1880. More intensive archaeological investigations were carried out by the expeditions under Evgen Michael Masson 1946–53. One of the most famous finds from the excavations in Merw is the so-called Merw vase from the time of the Sassanid rule.


Commemorative coin Merv - 2500 years of the Central Bank of
Russia from 1993


An exhibition Margiana - A Kingdom of the Bronze Age in Turkmenistan on the Oxus culture took place in the New Museum in Berlin in 2018 . This exhibition was then shown both in Hamburg and in the Reiss-Engelhorn Museums in Mannheim . The exhibits were from recent excavations at Gonur Depe . They were supplemented by large-format photos by the photographer Herlinde Koelbl .


In 1993, the Russian State Bank issued a commemorative coin commemorating the 2500th anniversary of the city's foundation.


  • Institut Istorii Im. Š. Batyrova. [Red. kollegija: MA Annanepesov (otv. red.)…]: Merv v drevnej i srednevekovoj istorii tezisy dokladov naučnogo simpoziuma [Akademija Nauk Turkmenskoj SSR]; Ashabad 1990 (Ylym); (In Cyrillic script, Russian, history 800 BC-500)
  • Edmund O'Donovan (1844-1883): The Merv oasis: travels and adventures east of the Caspian during the years 1879-80-81 including five months' residence among the Tekkés of Merv. London 1882 ( Smith, Elder & Co. ), 2 vols.
  • Georgina Herrmann: Monuments of Merv: Traditional Buildings of the Karakum. The Society of Antiquaries of London, London 1999
  • Klaus Pander: Central Asia. DuMont Art Travel Guide, Ostfildern; 6th edition 2005, ISBN 3-7701-3680-2
  • Gabriele Puschnigg: Ceramics of the Merv oasis: recycling the City. Left Coast Press, Walnut Creek (Calif.) 2006, ISBN 978-1-59874-225-1 (ceramic finds, history pp. 224–651)
  • Margiana. A Kingdom of the Bronze Age in Turkmenistan . Exhibition in the Neues Museum Berlin, 2018

Web links

Commons : Merv  - collection of images, videos and audio files

Individual evidence

  1. See also Mary (Turkmenistan) .
  2. Mayer's Large Universal Lexicon, Vol 9, p. 293
  3. Great Soviet Encyclopedia, New York 1977, Vol. 16, p. 143
  4. Lazar Israelowitsch Albaum, Burchard Brentjes: Lords of the Steppe. On the history and culture of Central Asian peoples in Islamic times. VEB Deutscher Verlag der Wissenschaften, Berlin 1978, p. 47.
  5. Rolf Brockschmidt: The forgotten goddess . In: Der Tagesspiegel . April 24, 2018, ISSN  1865-2263 ( [accessed May 11, 2018]).
  6. Andreas Kilb: Pre-ancient cultural treasures: In the land under the wings of the eagle . In: FAZ . May 7, 2018, ISSN  0174-4909 ( [accessed May 11, 2018]).