The Desolation that was Merv

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Asia » Turkmenistan
October 4th 2014
Published: June 21st 2017
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Geo: 37.6229, 62.0837

Known in its heyday as Marv-i-shah-jahan (Merv- Queen of the World) it stood alongside Damascus, Baghdad and Cairo as one of the great cities of the Islamic world. Though it's history goes back much further - the most ancient walled enclosure dates back to 5th or 6th century BC, in Alexander the Great's time it was known as Margiana It hosted Zoroastrianism, Buddhism, Christianity and Islam. One complex of buildings house the mausoleums of two askhab (companions of the Prophet). The Seljuk Turks made it their capital, it may even have been the inspiration for the tales of Thousand and One Nights.

It was attacked many times and after each attack a new city was constructed slightly to the west - so the entire site now occupies over 1500 hectares though substantial buildings, as opposed to walls, are rather spread out.

It all came to an end in 1221. Ghengis Khan had demanded a substantial tithe of grain and the pick of the town's young women. The Seljuq's unwisely declined to comply. Ghengis sent his son Tolui at the head of an army. The citizens surrendered immediately but the Mongols proceeded to butcher them. They rode off and the survivors, once they were sure thdy were gone, came out of hiding to take stock - at which point the Mongols galloped back vdr the horizon and finished off the survivors. 300,000 people dead in total.

The site is so large you have to go round it by car - and it is hard to match what is on the ground with the map. But I'll upload some photos of the substantial buildings and walls that are left to give you a feeling.

Tomorrow - to Iran!

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4th October 2014

A sad story. Such brutality

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