Mary & Merv

Ancient & Modern Turkmenistan Cities

No this isn’t the name of a US sitcom or Australian talk show hosts, but modern & ancient cities a few kilometres apart in Turkmenistan.

We arrived in Mary, one of the largest cities in the Central Asian country, by slow train from capital Ashgabat at around 1 in the morning and made straight for the unimaginatively named Hotel Mary, where we would be spending 2 nights.

After breakfast we were off to Mary’s far older cousin Merv, once a stronghold for Alexander the Great and his Greek legions.

The Ruins of Ancient Merv

We were soon in amongst the ruins. First up a large mud castle with semi-circular walls and it’s smaller brother some 100 metres away. The complex is known as the Shahriyar Ark.

Shahriyar Ark

Shahriyar Ark

Legend has it that fair maidens occupied the grander site, whilst young stallions gawped longingly from their outbuilding. The tale further stated than in order for a chap to win his bride, he had to throw an apple from one building to the next and have it caught by his intended.

Shahriyar Ark.

A Long Throw!

Our guide did not know the outcome if an unintended girl bagged the catch!

Next up an ancient ice-house, a conical mud construction that would be packed with snow and ice to preserve meat, fruit & vegetables throughout the year.

Ancient Merv Icehouse, Turkmenistan

Ancient Merv Icehouse, Turkmenistan

We then visited our first mausoleums of the day, the Mausoleums of Two Askhab. These are actually one of the most important pilgrimage sites in Turkmenistan which were built for two Islamic askhab (companions of the Prophet), Al-Hakim ibn Amr al-Jafari and Buraida ibn al-Huseib al-Islami.

Mausoleums of Al-Hakim ibn Amr al-Jafari and Buraida ibn al-Huseib al-Islami

It was then time to stride up a large dry mud mound to centuries old fortifications once inhabited by Greek armies, from which you could see for miles around and make out the old earthen walls that had sheltered the desert town over 20 millennia before.

Our final stops were the Mausoleum of Sultan Sanjar………..

and the Mosque of Yusuf Hamadani……

Mosque of Yusuf Hamadani, Ancient Merv, Turkmenistan

Mosque of Yusuf Hamadani

That’s if you don’t count me insisting we stop to capture the amazing camel procession shown below seen traversing a path front of some of the sites we had viewed earlier.

Camel Train, Ancient Merv, Turkmenistan

Camel Train, Ancient Merv, Turkmenistan

In the mosque complex there was a tomb of an unknown 12th Century dervish. As we had witnessed elsewhere on the trip, this tomb was a place the ladies made a pilgrimage to. The ritual is that the ladies walk round and round the epitaph asking for good luck for perhaps a sick loved one or to be blessed with children.

tomb of an unknown 12th Century dervish

The picture below is of such a group looking resplendent in their brightly coloured outfits.

Pilgrims Merv, tomb of an unknown 12th Century dervish

Ancient Merv does take quite a lot of imagination if I am honest, but we thoroughly enjoyed our few hours in the desert.

Mary City

Back in Mary we took in the mosque and main bazaar, got lambasted by officialdom for taking photos inside Mary Train Station and shot a few pictures of some of the grander buildings.

The mosque was as ever exquisite inside with a beautifully decorated dome.

A tiring day put us in bed by 9. Next day we would be headed for neighbouring Uzbekistan.


  1. Loving the contrasts between the two towns and the mosque is incredible. I did laugh about the Australian tv hosts but that would have been Merv and Mavis 😀

    1. Haha. I am sure couples call Merv & Mary who have paid a visit.

  2. I love the names Mary and Merv. I thought at first they were people you met. My favorite photo is the camel procession. I’ve never seen anything like that!

    1. I bet a couple called Mary and Merv have visited!

  3. I always figured the ruins at Merv were too ruinous to be really interesting and took them off the list. Not so? I take it the mausoleums are more recent?

    1. Certainly renovated! Worth a look if you happen to be in the country.

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