Highlights of Ashgabat
The Independence Park hosts the Ruhnama Book Monument, the Monument dedicated to the fifth year of independence and the Monument dedicated to the tenth year of independence.
The latter monument, in the shape of a yurt, stands out because of its tall 91 m marble column, with a 27 m high golden peak and flanked by massive statues of famous Turkmen historical figures. A statue of the first President of Turkmenistan stands in the path leading up to the main statue.
Since 2012, Ashgabat hosts the world’s largest Ferris wheel in an enclosed architectural design. It measures 47,60 meters in height, and has a diameter of 57 meters.
A large glass and white-steel casing houses the Ferris wheel, which has 24 six-seat cabins. At night, the construction is beautifully lit my multi-colored spotlights. It is located in the southern part of Ashgabat, from where the entire skyline of the city can be admired.
Immediately upon your arrival in Ashgabat you will be welcomed by a vast statue of the mythical founding father of the Turkmen nation, Oguzkhan.
Surrounded by Turkmen warrior-heroes is a vast fountain complex that entered the Guinness Book of World Records in 2010 as a facility combining the greatest number of public fountains. The complex is particularly beautiful at night when colored spotlights shine through the rays of water.
Every Sunday in spring and autumn horse races take place at the National Hippodrome, located at the eastern outskirts of Ashgabat.
A visit to such a race gives you a rare opportunity to see the powerful Ahalteke horses in action. On the last Sunday of April, the Hippodrome is the venue for the celebration of the National Race Horse Day. For more information, contact us directly.
The Museum was opened in 1998 and has a total area of 165323,21 m². On the ground floor of the main building there is a hall of Independence, hall of a Turkmen carpet and temporary exhibitions; on the first floor - hall of Ancient history, Margush, Parthia and two halls of history of the Middle Ages.9 history halls house the Turkmenistan’s major collection of artifacts discovered at various excavation sites in Turkmenistan.
These include the ivory rythons found at Nissa, and the Merw vase and Buddha head found at Merw, and one of the biggest hand -made carpets in the world, a good collection of Turkmenistan jewelry and costumes. In front of the museum stands the 5th tallest unsupported flagpole in the world.
The original bazaar was called Tolkuchka Bazaar (or Push Market) and was the biggest bazaar in Central Asia. Now it has been slightly relocated and renamed Altyn Asyr Gundogar Bazaar.
On Thursday and on weekends people gather here to buy and sell fresh food, household items, electronics, and traditional carpets, silk and wool items. On Sundays also camels, sheep and poultry are for sale. It is a good opportunity to collect souvenirs, but also to simply watch people from all walks of life and their livestock.
In the center of Ashgabat, with a view onto the central square, we can see a monument that consists of 10 Ahalteke horses, the pride of Turkmenistan.
In front of the monument is a gold statue of the first president of Turkmenistan. Both the Independence Monument and the Horses Monument are favorite places for wedding photo shoots.
Stairs of Health
A 33-km long concrete stairway across the foothills of the Kopetdag Mountains, constructed on the orders of the first president of Turkmenistan in the early nineties.
Along the route are various access points and little pavilions, and at night the whole route is lid up. At the entrance of the Stairs in Berzengi you can climb up a short distance for nice views over the city and surrounding lowlands.
Ahalteke horse stables
A variety of Ahalteke private horse farms and stables can be visited for those that want to observe these gorgeous horses from a safe distance.
For those that want to ride one of these temperamental beauties, various stables are able to organize short (one-hour) to long (1-8 days) trips.
Opened originally in 1994 and re-opened in its new home in 2008, the museum offers an impressive collection of antique and contemporary Turkmen carpets.
Many of the carpets in this collection date back to the 17th century. Also it displays two of the largest hand-made carpets in the world: the “Turkmen kalby” carpet is 190 m2 and was made during WWII, and the “Turkmenbashi kalby” carpet is 301 m2, weighs 1.200 kg, and was completed in 2001.
Originally constructed next to the Central Square in the old city center, it was the landmark of Ashgabat, until in late 2011 re-opened at its new location at the southern edges of the city.
The tripod construction in concrete, with its decorative legs and belt, dedicated to Turkmenistan recognition as a neutral country by the United Nations in 1993. It is famous for the golden statue of the first president of Turkmenistan, that crowns the top.
Ertogrul Ghazi Mosque
The mosque, inaugurated in 1998 and constructed by a Turkish construction company, is named after Ertogrul Ghazi, the father of Osman I, the founder of the Ottoman Empire.
It is sometimes also referred to as Azady Mosque. The design is reminiscent of the Blue Mosque in Istanbul and is an expression of the friendship between the Turkish and the Turkmen people. Both exterior and interior design are exquisite and the mosque is well worth a visit.
Highlights of Ahal region
Just outside Ashgabat to the east, Anau is the site of an urban settlement that existed since the Bronze Ages, but flourished particularly under Parthian and Timurid rule.
Next to excavation mounts and the remains of the medieval fortress are the remains of the portal of the magnificent mosque of Said Jemaliddin, constructed in 1456. Although the portal collapsed during the 1948 earthquake, the remains are impressive. It serves as an important local pilgrim destination.
Murzachirla and Akmolla
A cluster of authentic desert settlements, located in low basins in the heart of the central Karakum, accessible only by four-wheel drive, and requiring camp style overnight.
Due to their remoteness and limited influence from modern urban development, hospitality, local traditions and nomadic lifestyle features continue to play a decisive role in these communities. While sleepy during the daytime heat, the villages come to life at sunrise and sunset.
Turkmenbashi Spiritual Mosque and Mausoleum in Kipchak
The Ruhy Mosque (literally: spiritual mosque) at Kipchak was built between 2002 and 2004, and is one of the five largest mosques in the world (capacity of 20,000 people).
Its outer construction largely made up of white marble, the structure forms a magnificent contrast against the backdrop of the Kopetdag mountains, and the golden cupola can be seen from far away. The mosque architectural details hold numerous Turkmen symbolisms. The next door mausoleum holds the graves of Turkmenistan's first president and his family.
Nohur is home to a small community that lives in the high valleys of the Kopetdag Mountains. Nohur local culture has been preserved due to its isolation from mainland Turkmenistan.
Nohur is also a center of keteni (Turkmen silk) weaving, and this art is practiced by virtually every household up to today. Next to its cultural aspects, a visit to Nohur will also give an opportunity to enjoy magnificent mountain landscapes, canyons, waterfalls and highlands.
Kopetdag Mountains and the lunar landscapes (“Moon Mountains”)
The mountains form a natural border with Iran, hosts some unique protected flora, birds and mammals, and some bizarre lunar-like landscapes. The Sumbar river area runs through the range.
The dry and sub-tropical climatic conditions lead to an abundance of wild and cultivated forms of vegetation, such as pomegranate, fig, pistachio and walnut. As a result of ancient volcanic activity west of the region, barren lunar-like hills, deprived of any form of vegetation, form a unique contrast to these fertile landscapes.
Today at Altyn Depe archeological site a 22m meter high mount, covering a 46ha territory, indicates the presence of a settlement from the Bronze Age (3000-1600 BCE).
Remains of a ziggurat were found of which the central building was 12m high and 26x26m in size. Altyn Depe is located not far from Meane (Mehne) and Kaahka town, on the way between Ashgabat and Mary.
Nodir Shah Fortress(aka Kunya Khivaabad)
The remains of a large fortress, built on orders of the 18th century Persian governor Nadir Shah, is located against the backdrop of the Kopetdag Mountains.
The rectangular construction had walls of one-kilometer-long and 3 meters high, and 12 circular towers that fortified each wall. The southern walls were damaged by floods; the others however, have survived till date. The ruins of a palace remain visible in the inner part of the fortress.
The archeological site of Ulug Depe is unique in that it represents proof of the longest chronological sequence of human habitation ever found on the territory of Central Asia.
The 30-m high mount at the foothills of the Kopetdag Mountains revealed evidence of human habitation as far back as the Neolithic era, the Bronze Age and Stone Age. A Turkmen-French archeological expedition conducts excavations, conservation and restoration work.
The center of a gas-rich area in the heart of the Karakum desert attracts travelers from all over the world because of its unique burning crater, that offers a particularly spectacular view in the dark.
In the early seventies, an underground cavern filled with natural gas was identified here, remained unexploited, and therefore today looks like a large circular 60-m wide hole with hundreds of fires burning inside, some of them with flames up to 10-15 m high.
Abiverd is an archeological site showing settlements that existed since II c. BC, but particularly thriving as one of the principal Silk Road cities of Northern Khorasan.
Renowned for its moderate climate and abundant bazaars, documented by historians and praised by Parthian, Arab, Persian and Seljuk rulers, alongside Merw, Nissa and Serakhs. Today, the remains of the city's citadel and shakhristan remain proof of the importance of the city, which halted when local water sources dried up in the XIX c AD.
In the same area lies Namazga Depe, where excavations from various time periods functions as reference for the chronology of other Bronze Age sites in Turkmenistan.
The most significant is Namazga V (dated 2000-1600 BCE) when Namazga Depe emerges as a center of local production and probable government. Around 1600 BCE, Namazga Depe shrinks to a fraction of its former size after incursion of nomadic pastoralists from the Alekseyevka and/or Srubna culture.
Geok Depe MosqueFortress
Geok Depe (‘Green Hill’) hosts the remains of a 19th-century fortified settlement, where in 1881 a decisive battle between the forces of the Russian tsar and Turkmens of the Teke tribe took place.
The site hosts the Saparmurat Haji mosque, a small history museum and the ruins of the fortress. The mosque was constructed in 1995 and topped with a blue dome (Geok Gumbez), and flanked by four tall minarets. It is dedicated to the commemoration of the victims of the battle.
Karakala is a small and pleasantly tree-lined mountain town in the heart of the Kopetdag Mountains, from where both the fertile river valleys as well as the lunar-like landscapes can be visited.
Karakala has a botanical garden, is the base for wildlife protection activities, and in a nearby village is a museum dedicated to the famous Turkmen poet Magtymguly. Karakala forms a good overnight location for westward travel from Ashgabat and Nohur to Dehistan and Balkanabad.
Nissa Historical Park(UNESCO World Heritage since 2007)
Located on a natural high platform at the foothills of the Kopetdag mountains, Nissa owes its importance to the early Parthian rulers who took over control of the area in III c. BC.
Proof of Hellenistic architecture and Zoroastrian worship are clearly visible at the site, while the magnificent collection of ivory rythons found here, can be admired at the National Museum in Ashgabat. Life in Old Nissa ceased by the end of Parthian rule (III c AD), but its shakhristan (New Nissa) continued to exist until the mid-19th century.
Meane Baba Mausoleum
Mehne was a medieval urban Silk Road Town that connected Merw with Serakhs. At the outskirts of the town the mausoleum of Abu Said (locally referred to as Meane Baba) is located.
Abu Said (967-1049) was a well-known Sufi sheikh, and his mausoleum remains an important pilgrim destination up to the present day. The mausoleum construction belongs to the masterpieces of the Serakhs architectural school (XI-XII cc.).
The Karakum covers nearly 80% of Turkmenistan’s territory and is bordered by the Ustyurt Plateau, the Amu Darya and Murghab rivers, and the old Uzboy River and salt lakes near the Caspian Sea.
The desert landscapes include up to 35m high mounts of loose sand; broad, flat areas of fertile clay soil where desert acacia, poplar, white and black saksaul grow; and flat plains encrusted with salt. Herds of sheep and camels seek food and water om the fertile plains. Springtime is magnificent here.
Erbent and Bokurdok
Erbent and Bokurdok, both surrounded by the sands of the Karakum, are villages inhabited by people of the Teke tribe. Various nomadic household and lifestyle aspects remain intact here.
Easily accessible due to their location next to the Dashoguz-Ashgabat highway, a visit here gives you a glimpse into desert life. While having a cup of tea or chal (fermented camel’s milk), you can observe the yurt construction or watch the baking of Turkmen flat bread or the milking of camels.
Kowata underground lake in Baharden
Kowata (literally: Father of Caves) is one out of a dozen karst caves in Turkmenistan, created as a result of carbonate accumulation millions of years ago.
The waters in the cave's lake holds multiple minerals. The cave is 65 meters deep, and the lake is on average 10 meters deep, with an average water temperature of 37 degrees year-round. After a swim in the lake you can enjoy tea and shashlyk under the trees next to the cave.
Highlights of Balkan region
Like the Black Sea, it is a remnant of the Parathetys Sea, being landlocked about 5.5 million years ago due to a tectonic uplift and a fall in sea levels. It is the largest enclosed body of water on Earth.
Several salt marshes can be found along the coastline, such as the Karabogaz Gulf. Numerous kinds of sturgeons (for caviar), trout, white fish and the Caspian seal call the Caspian home, and millions of birds winter at protected areas along its shores, including thousands of flamingoes and pelicans.
Dehistan - historically also known as Misrian - was a town located at the banks of the Etrek River, that thrived in the Silk Road period and rivaling Kunya Urgench and Merw in importance.
It connected Khorezm with Persia and the Arab countries. City walls and the impressive remains of two 20 m high minarets and the remains of a mosque portal of 18 m height, with the name of Khorezmshah Mohamed (1200-1220) inscribed in it, survived to date.
Ygdykala shows the remains of a Parthian frontier fortress (I c. BC - IV c. AD), located on the high rocky bank of the Uzboy River. It is situated deep in the desert, at 150 km north of Serdar town.
The fort functioned for the control of water trade way along Uzboy (from India to the Black Sea area).
Despite the uncharacteristic building material (stone), Ygdykala repeat in all details the principles of Khorezmian construction style, and corresponds fully to the standard of Parthian forts in its layout.
Ferava and Parau Bibi Mausoleum and pilgrim site
Ferava Rabat (IX-XIVth cc AD) was a Silk Road hub, located in the Kopetdag foothills, on the route from Khorasan to Dehistan, known for its intricate system of karyz (underground water pipelines).
The building of most interest lies on the steep hillside to the south, accessible by a staircase of 269 steps. This is the Mausoleum of Parau Bibi, one of the most important centers of pilgrimage in Turkmenistan. At the base is a large complex comprising a guesthouse and communal kitchen area.
Kemal Ata Mausoleum and Kaitarmysh volcanic rock formations
The mausoleum is located some 25 km from the mausoleum of Gozli Ata, at the spot where a freshwater source carves out a small valley through various ancient volcanic rock formations.
Kemal Ata is widely believed to be a disciple of Gozli Ata, but his mausoleum is not the main purpose of visitors to this area. The Kaitarmysh spring is a favorite drinking place for local shepherds with their cattle, and borders a larger area covered with various rock formations made of dried-up lava.
Awaza is the collective name of a chain of ultra-modern hotel and recreation complexes located along the Caspian Sea coast, connected by a promenade, and an artificial canal.
After a long day of driving through the desert, canyons or mountains, a stay at one of the five-star hotels at Awaza provides a perfect place to recuperate. Enjoy a swim in the sea, have barbeque on the beach, have a drink at the swimming pool bar, or enjoy a beauty treatment.
Melegoch and Balishem
A cluster of authentic desert settlements, located in low basins in the heart of the eastern Karakum, accessible only by four-wheel drive, and requiring camp style overnight.
Due to their remoteness and limited influence from modern urban development, hospitality, local traditions and nomadic lifestyle features continue to play a decisive role in these communities. While sleepy during the daytime heat, the villages come to life at sunrise and sunset.
Balkanabad is the regional capital of Balkan Region. The booming oil and gas industry in Balkan Region has also caused this city to develop, with various foreign companies’ subsidiary offices.
It is home to several pleasant dining places and a comfortable hotel, and makes a strategic starting place for day excursions to Dehistan (in the south) or trips into the Yangikala Canyons (in the north) or towards the Uzboy River, Ygdykala and Balishem.
Turkmenbashi, former Krasnovodsk, is the port of Turkmenistan. It has a remarkable geographical location with a range of low grounds and cliffs, which encircle the city.
Turkmenbashi is growing and today it is one of the biggest industrial and tourist centers of Turkmenistan. There is an interesting museum in Turkmenbashi where you can get acquainted with mineral resources of Turkmenistan , fauna of the Caspian sea and Turkmenistan marine history.
Yangikala and Yangisuw
Impressive white, green and red limestone formations rise up from the desert sands. These cliffs are the remains of massive coastline and seabed of the pre-historical Parathetys Sea.
This surreal landscape is impressive at any time of day, but sunset and sunrise offer particularly spectacular views. The area is reachable only by 4-wheel drive, passing through the Balkan Mountains and a vast highland area where camels, sheep and horses graze.
Mashhat Ata Mausoleums and the Shir Kabir Mosque
On the territory of the cemetery located some 7 kilometers from Dehistan town itself, five mausoleums (XI-XII cc.) partly survived, as well as the pristine Shir Kabir mosque.
This is the earliest (IX-X cc.) mosque among those that survived in Turkmenistan. Original fragments were preserved in the unique mihrab. Old stone graves are found in the surrounding tribal cemetery.
Gozli Ata Mausoleum andpilgrim site
The mausoleum of Gozli Ata, located on a low platform against the backdrop of stunning pink and red limestone rock formations, is one of the holiest pilgrim sites in Turkmenistan.
The mausoleum is surrounded a large Salor tribal graveyard. Gozli Ata (literally: All-seeing Father) was a famous 12th century Sufi teacher who studied in Turkestan (present-day Kazakhstan), who was said to have the capacity to see inside peoples’ soul.
The Uzboy was a tributary of the Amu Darya, and flowed 750 kms into the Caspian Sea, until XVII AD, when it abruptly dried up, destroying the Khorezm-Dehistan culture which thrived along its banks.
A riverine civilization existed along the banks of the river from at least V c. BC, but now only a few communities of kumli inhabit the area. Several unique water reservoirs have been created as legacy of the river: The Yashka lake with its fresh water and the Mollagara Salt Lake being the best known.
Highlights of Dashoguz region
Kunya Urgench Historical Park
Kunya Urgench owes its UNESCO World Heritage status to the fact that it was an important Silk Road hub on the Oxus River, and capital of the Khorezm Empire (12th c AD), until its destruction by the armies of Dzhengis Khan.
Several mausoleums, town wall remains, the tallest minaret in Central Asia and the Kyrk Molla pilgrim mount reflect the various roles of this historical city, which was praised by historical figures such as Biruni and Avicenna, Al-Farabi and Al-Khorezmi.
Kunya Urgench - Turabek Khanym Mausoleum
The spectacular mausoleum of Turabek Khanym is located near the Kutlug Timur minaret. She was a daughter of the Golden Horde ruler Uzbek Khan, under whose reign its power reached its peak.
The double-domed construction was constructed in 1370, and remains in excellent state till this day. The interior has impressive stalactite majolica decorations were employed to decorate the arch of the portal and the entrance hall ceilings.
The gates, towers, enormous moat and well-preserved 25-meter high walls that stretch for some 1500 m, remain an impressive sight. Next to the fortress is a mausoleum, allegedly of a famous medieval philosopher Abu az-Zamakhshari, and therefore Yzmukshir is also known as Zamakshar.
Kunya Urgench - Kyrk Molla citadel and pilgrim hill
The remains of the fortified northern walls of a citadel (VI c BC – III c AD) are located just opposite the Tekesh mausoleum. The popular name of the citadel is Kyrk Molla (forty mullahs).
The citadel is perhaps the oldest part of Kunya Urgench. The earliest ceramics discovered here date back to V c. BC. The mount covering the rest of the citadel, has become a cemetery, where local pilgrims perform an unusual prayer ritual.
Kunya Urgench - Tekesh Mausoleum
The next door mausoleum is the mausoleum of Soltan Tekesh, who was the shah of the Khorezm Empire from 1172 till 1200.
The mausoleum’s construction is notable for its remarkable blue glazed decorated conical dome and rather high and intricately decorated entrance portal with stalactite design. The mausoleum has a square base, with walls of 11,5 m in length.
Devkesen, 60 km west of Kunya Urgench, towers high above the 30-m precipice of the Ustyurt Plateau. It is crowned with an earthen citadel with goffered walls. Due to its location in a border area, the site is currently off-limits to visitors.
Devkesen represents the huge rectangle (250x220 m) of stone walls with numerous towers. At the foot of "the upper town" is a second rectangle of a walled "lower town". During the Golden Horde, a cult complex was formed, of which 3 nameless mausoleums and a mosque of fired brick and stone survived.
Kunya Urgench - Kutlug Timur Minaret
The minaret, the construction of which started in 800 and was completed in 1320, is located south-east of Kyrk Molla. The tallest minaret in Central Asia is 15 m higher than Bukhara’s Kalyan minaret.
The upper part of the minaret leans 1,5 m to the west. Today the minaret is 64m high, and is named after the Mongolian governor of Kunya Urgench, Kutlug Timur, a powerful emir of the Golden Horde.
Kunya Urgench - Najmiddin Kubra and Sultan Ali Mausoleum Complex
Najmiddin Kubra mausoleum (constructed in 1320-30)
The mausoleum, with its beautifully aquamarine majolica portal decorations, holds the tomb of Najmiddin Kubra (1145-1221), a renowned Sufi leader and founder of the Kubra order.
Directly opposite is the mausoleum of Khorezmshah Sultan Ali (XV! c.), the design of which is considered a poor copy of the Turabek Khanym mausoleum built two centuries earlier.
Diyarbakir (IV c. B.C/III c. A.D., X-XIII cc., XIV c.) is an ancient and medieval urban site about 90 km to the west of Dashoguz. It represents a rectangle (250x200 m) in plan surrounded with the walls having an inner fire corridor and semi-oval towers.
700 m eastwards from the site are the remains of an interesting object, supposedly a caravanserai and bazaar from the period of the Khorezm Empire. It is square in plan (200x200 m) and consists of four courtyards encircled with rooms and iwans. By size Diyarbakir reminds of nearby Shahsenem.
Kunya Urgench - ‘The Gate of the Caravansera
The portal of this building of unknown purpose (XIV c.) is one of the few monuments preserved on the territory of Dash Gala. The common explanation is that it was the entrance to a caravanserai.
The portal bay has been beautifully decorated with blue and white majolica, representing floral and geometrical designers. The external side of the arch is decorated with cut brick ornaments.
Kunya Urgench - Il Arslan Mausoleum
The oldest mausoleum on the territory of Kunya Urgench is the mausoleum of Khorezm shah Il Arslan. Its most striking feature is the Khorezmian conical dome.
On the main façade is a un-outspoken entrance portal. However, three separated niches above the main entrance are beautifully decorated with terra-cotta stucco decorations, representing floral designs. Il Arslan was the shah of Khorezm from 1156 till 1172.
Shahsenem is an urban site is situated 90 km to the north-west of Kunya Urgench. It represents a polygonal hill, towering almost 9 m high above the locality, originating from the period of the Kushan Empire.
The fortified medieval town (aka Suvburun) was surrounded by double-row walls with arrow-shaped embrasures and semi-circular towers. In the center the ruins of a large mosque of the time of the Khorezm Empire have been preserved. Outside the town wall, a vast garden complex charbag (XII-early XIII cc.) was located.
Highlights of Lebap region
Daya Hatyn represents the remains of a fortified caravanserai (aka Ribat of Takhiriya) located at the Amu Darya River, on the caravan route from Amul to Khorezm. Due to its location in a border area, the site is currently off-limits to visitors.
It functioned as elite traders’ inn from the X to XVII centuries. The caravanserai is considered the most perfectly preserved among elite inns that survived in Turkmenistan, and its architecture is an outstanding example of craftsmanship of the masters of the Northern Khorasan architectural school.
Amu Darya River
During ancient and medieval times, the Amu Darya River – then known as Oxus - played a key part in the life of the population as the basis of agriculture and the main transport and trade artery in Middle Asia.
Development of many “twin towns” occurred in locations where the river could easily be crossed. Large settlements were usually situated on the left bank of Amudarya, while small advanced posts - on its right bank. These include Amul and Farap (then Bityk), and Zemm and Kerkichi.
Kugitang is located at a strenuous 7 to 8 hour’s drive southeast from Turkmenabad. It is known for its famous Dinosaur Plateau, its lush valleys, steep gorges, karts caves, lakes, springs and waterfalls.
Whereas the Karlyuk karst cave complex is closed for visitors, most other sites, such as the dinosaur foot prints, the Umbar Dere canyon, the Koyten Lake, and Kainar Baba hydrogen sulphate spring are freely accessible. Only a basic lodge in Koyten village provides visitors with accommodation.
Astana Baba and Alamberdar Mausoleum Complex
Astana-baba (medieval Maimarg) was a settlement on the old caravan route from Balkh to Zemm and Amul. It is located near the town of Atamyrat (old name: Kerki) at the banks of the Amu Darya River.
The Astana Baba construction ensemble consists of several parts, of which its oldest - the mosque and peshtak - refer to the XII century. The nearby Alamberdar mausoleum dates back to the early XI c. and can be considered as one of the earliest monuments of the XI century in Central Asia which gives us a notion of the evolution of mausoleums from centric-domed type to portal ones.
Amul is the ancient and medieval site at the outskirts of the modern Turkmenabat, at the banks of the Amu Darya River, thriving particularly as a crucial transport hub for three main Silk Road caravan routes.
Destroyed in 1220 by Mongolian armies, the town revived in the XV c. as Charjui. The town plan of that period survived practically till 60-ies of the XX c. Remains of a medieval citadel or ark, on a 13 m high platform, the main kala or shakhristan which is itself on a raised platform of 20 m high, and a rabat can be observed.
Kyrk Gyz pilgrim cave
The Cave of the Forty Girls is one of the most revered pilgrim shrines in Turkmenistan. It is located at the end of a narrow gorge in the Kugitang Mountains and easily accessible on foot.
The ceiling of the cavern is covered entirely with pieces of wishing-cloths, that pilgrims have flung up there with the help of chunks of mud. Legend says that the cave brought protection to a group of girls chased by local bandits.
The plateau is located in the Kugitang Mountains, and hosts the imprints of more than 400 footsteps of dinosaurs on a steep limestone slope. The largest has a diameter of 80 centimeters.
The footprints were left on the bottom of a shallow lake. When the lake dried up, the footprints baked in the sun. Later, a volcanic eruption sealed them in lava. The giant dinosaurs were accompanied by smaller ones whose footprints are similar to a human foot.
Highlights of Mary region
Mary is a typical provincial town, established in the 1880s by the tsarist armies as their next large hub on the Trans-Caspian Railway project, and successor of Bronze Age Margush and medieval Merw.
A visit to the Central Bazaar is pleasant in its own right, but when you look carefully at the older stone structures, you find the remains of a tsarist bathhouse and teahouse. The Russian-orthodox Prokovskaya Church, the Art Gallery and a large newly-built mosque are also well worth a visit.
Merw Historical Park
Merw, located at the former banks of the Murghab River, was the most important Silk Road hub in the region, and particularly thriving as regional capital under Seljuk governor Sanjar.
Merw is the collective name of five urban centers that existed under various different names in different periods of time from the VI c BC up to the XVIII c AD. The entire 120 ha site of Merw has been recognized as a UNESCO World Heritage Site since 1999.
Merw – Gyaur Kala
The Seleucids added a second walled city (IV c. BC), known today as Gyaur Kala, but which experts belief to be Antiokhia-Margiana. The 360 ha area town planning reflects a Hellenistic grid pattern.
In the middle are the now indistinctive ruins of a mosque. In the south east corner is a mound which covered the remains of a Buddhist stupa and monastery. Important finds included the ’Merw vase’ and the clay head of a statue of Buddha, now both in the National Museum in Ashgabat.
Merw – Abdulla Khan and Bairamali Khan Kala
A few kilometers to the south of the ruins of the medieval Sultan Kala we find the post-medieval city, known today as Abdullakhan Kala, constructed in the period that Timurids ruled the area.
Despite being one of the strongest and best fortified cities in the area, Abdullakhan Kala never reached the importance of its predecessors, although the city walls are still impressive. Bairamali Khan Kala (XIX c.) was the last clay-walled urban site in Merw, and has been poorly preserved.
Merw – Shahriar Ark
During Seljuk Sultan Sanjar’s reign the Shahriar Ark was constructed - a citadel within the citadel, protected by its own walls and moat. It housed crucial governmental and military buildings.
One of those construction is what is today called “kepterkhana”, an interesting corrugated structure, which is the best-preserved within the citadel. It’s walls still survive to a height of some 4,5 m, but its function remains debatable: from library to pigeon house.
Merw – Shrine and pilgrim site of Yusuf Hamadani
The important complex includes a recently built mosque and minaret, the shrine and grave of Yusuf Hamadani (died in 1140), a Timurid iwan (portal), a prayer hall and pilgrim guesthouse facilities.
Yusuf Hamadani was a famous Sufi scholar of the 12th century, and the first of a group of Central Asian Sufi teachers who founded the Naqshbandi order. He was born in 1048-49 in a small settlement called Bezendjird, close to the famous Iranian city of Hamadan.
Merw – Ashkhabi shrines
Original set of graves from the time after the death of the prophet Mohamed, when ashkhabi (“companions/campaigners of the Prophet”) helped the spread of the Islamic faith in their locality.
The graves of two askhabs are of Al Khakam Gifari (died in 670) and Bureyda Al Aslami (died in 681). At the time of their death the graves were constructed; in the 15th c. (Timurid era) aiwans were added, and in the 19th c the mausoleums were constructed over the graves by Guljemal Khan.
Margush and Gonur Depe
From 1971 onwards archeological teams did discoveries that reveal the importance of this area as a possible fifth center of ancient civilization, next to Mesopotamia, Egypt, India and China.
Research established that in the II millennium BC the center of population drifts away from the oases of the Kopetdag plains in Southern Turkmenistan, to the Murghab River delta oasis. Gonur Depe was the center of “Margush’, and had direct relations with Bactria in Northern Afghanistan.
Ahun Baba Madrassa
Nearby is Ahun Baba, a madrassa (XIX c AD) called Kyrk Gummez (or Forty Cupolas), because it is made up of a courtyard surrounded by a square structure covered by 10 cupolas on each side.
The Ahun Baba madrassa is named after a local mullah-teacher. The madrassa was located en route from the medieval Silk Road center of Merw to the Soltanbent Dam. It is visited by the local Baluchi community that lives in the surrounding villages.
Yekedeshik cave complex
The complex of Yekedeshik is near Tagtabazar, which can be reached by an 8-hour strenuous drive from Mary. Caves stretch along the steep right bank of the Murgab River and over the Karabil Height. Due to its location in a border area, the site is currently off-limits to visitors.
Surface investigations of the surrounding locality revealed a number of similar caves along the whole right bank of the Murgab. They stretch up to neighboring Afghanistan. The caves were supposedly Buddhist complexes, a great number of which survived in neighboring countries.
Opened in 2009 at its new location in an impressive octagonal-shaped building, the museum houses the largest collection of artefacts found at the BMAC excavation sites of Bronze age Margush.
Next to the halls with historical items, the museum has a good local flora and fauna section, and a wonderful ethnography hall, displaying aspects typical of local nomadic lifestyle: household items, jewelry, embroidered costumes, carpets, musical instruments, a yurt, and a decorated horse and camel.
Merw – Erk Kala
The Seljuk regional capital, consisting of an ark (governmental quarters), a shakhristan (citadel) and a rabat (bazaar), considerably exceeded Damascus and Jerusalem in size and population.
Today the Seljuk citadel is called Sultan Kala. Adjacent to its two predecessors, and oval in shape, it occupies about 630 hectares. Its layout is still visible in aerial pictures. Among all city sites of Merw, perhaps the most significant is this medieval Seljuk city.
Merw – Sultan Kala
Erk Kala shows the first step in the process of urbanization in Merw. The smallest and earliest site, also known as Alexandria-Margiana, comprises 20 hectares and was enclosed by massive walls and a moat.
The only entrance-way had a ramp leading straight to the city. Archeologist Georgina Hermann described it as ‘One of the most imposing sites in Merw.’ The city’s wall was continually reinforced until the early Islamic period when both Erk and its extension Gyaur Kala were gradually abandoned.
Merw – Mausoleum of Sultan Sanjar
The highlight of an excursion through Merw is a visit to Sultan Sanjar’s mausoleum, the tall brick walls of which still dominate the landscape and functioned as a landmark for traveling caravans.
This central-cupola building without portal is typical of the Khorasan architectural style. The mausoleum was created by Mohamed, the son of Atsyz of Serakhs, whose name we can find on a medallion below the cupola of the mausoleum.
Merw – Mausoleum of Ibn Zaid
Another monument from the time of the Seljuk rule is the mausoleum dedicated to Mohamed ibn Said, with remarkable interior decorations. It remains unclear whose shrine is inside.
Local legends speak about Mohamed Said ibn Zeid ibn Ali Zeinal Abedon ibn al- Husein ibn Ali-Talib, who was a prominent Shia teacher and direct descendant of the Prophet Ali. Although he died four centuries before the mausoleum was built, his name is on the inscription inside the mausoleum.
Merw – Kyz Kala Complex
Two outstanding massive monuments dating back to the Sassanid period are still visible on the territory of Ancient Merw - the Big Kyz Kala and Small Kyz Kala (VI-VII cc).
The Turkic name (in all Turkic languages’ Kyz’ means ‘girl’) probably doesn’t reflect the actual origins or function of the constructions. These rectangular clay castles - ‘Koshks’ have an interesting architecture, decorated from outside with corrugated walls, and various vaults.
Merw – Ice houses
Various Ice houses (approximately XV c., Timurid rule) are visible in agriculture fields surrounding Merw. They are located above the ground, and are different from sordoba, water collection puts.
They are of an extraordinary conical clay construction, built directly on the ground to store tightly packed snow. The original height is hard to determine.
Talkhatan Baba Mosque
Talkhatan Baba, located near the Murgab River near Yolotan town, is the name of an intricately brick decorated mosque, constructed in 1095 in the heydays of Seljuk rule of the region.
The mosque is considered an exquisite example of this style construction and one of the best preserved mosques displaying Seljuk architectural master class. The grave of sheikh-mystic Talkhatan Baba is located here.
Serakhs Baba Mausoleum
Old Serakhs (VI c. B.C. - XIX c. A.D.), one of the largest archaeological monuments of Southern Turkmenistan, is an urban site located at the upper reaches of the Tejen river near Serakhs.
Serakhs was the center of a rich oasis and trade junction between Merw and Nishapur, with a citadel surrounded by a walled shakhristan and a vast rabat. Within the shakhristan is the mausoleum of Abul-Fazl (Serakhs Baba), constructed in 1024, a masterpiece of the Serakhs architectural school.