Turkmenistan travel maps above are based on frequent questions, travellers have before a trip or during their stay in country.
Maps can help to make idea of history and natural sites in Turkmen land. Discover its relief and geography. Have first look at its climate, zoogeography and administrative borders, towns, villages.
It can help to visialize the sites when reading a tour program and make choice as per you travel idea. Here, we kindly offer a few examples of tours to Turkmenistan. Tour titles with possibility to read full text (day per day program & range of travel budget idea):
To make the picture full, here for your kind attention short description of main history sites/ UNESCO sites in Turkmenistan:
Gonur/ Margiana (where the history of Merv starts)
The present day of the east of Turkmenistan (Margiana), the north of Afghanistan (Bactria), the south of Uzbekistan, the west of Tajikistan contain a group of archeological sites dated to Bronze Age period (from 2200 to 1700 B.C), those sites centered, and connected with upper stream of Amu Darya river, referenced as “Bactria- Margiana Archeological Complex” and Oxus (Amu Daria) civilization. The archeological expeditions started to work in the area, from the beginning of 20th century. First in Bactria archeological sites (Afghanistan) and then crossed the river and entered into Kara Kum desert to discover Margiana sites, in present day Turkmenistan. Starting from 1972 one of the archeologists was Viktor Sarianidi, who worked in different sites of the complex: Togolok 21, Kelleli, Dashly and Gonur.
Gonur site impresses with its monumental architecture and planning. It had three circles of fortification walls dividing the cities’ buildings, temples (of water, fire, sacrifices), hearth rooms to play the roles it had been designed for. There are the buildings and constructions of religious, funeral, royal power functions. Necropolises have been found inside of Gonur and outside of its walls. The number of tombs, the difference in rituals, locations and findings astonishes the archeologists. The monumental temple “Temenos” can be seen outside of the site. Gonur wasn’t only the centre of royal power but also the religious centre. Inside of royal complex two brick constructions are found, presumably the first observatories of ancient world. It had also underground ceramic water supply and sewage system for different applications. Mr. Sarianidi (Russian-Greek archeologist) tries to prove that this state to be one of the center of ancient civilization (writing not yet found) and the place where Zoroastrism was based.
The site is around 2 hours drive from Mary. Usually 4 WD car is advised for last 30 km in the desert but with a good driver and period it can be done without it.
One of the famous cities on the ancient Silk Road, more 2500 years of history, declared a World heritage site from 1999. It is located 26 km to the east from Mary, the first ruins appeared on the outskirts of Bayram Ali town. Its immense domain enclose five main sites (Erk Kala, Gyaur Kala, Sultan Kala, Abdullah Khan Kala, Bayram Ali Khan Kala) and numerous remains of caravanserais, fortresses, fortified castles and small towns or estates now seen in the forms of mounds, total surface is around 70 sq. km. As Gonur, the Merv in its turn had appeared, thanks to the Murgab river, flowing in the area in ancient times. Silk Road important city, Merv opened four directions of trade caravan routes: Kunya Urgench to the north, Bukhara and Samarkand (Sogdiana) to the east, Herat (Bactria) to the south, to Mashad (Iran) to the west.
Merv main sites:
Erk Kala(also named Alexandria Margiana)
The immense and high tell of Erk Kala can be seen from the entrance of Merv historical park. It was built by Achaemenians from 6th century B.C., as outpost to protect the borders of the empire and later enforced by the troops of Alexander the Great. It is around 500 m in diameter and high slopes of former fortification walls completely hide the interior view. You need to be ready to climb up to the top, to see inside: the remains of former palace, garden, estate, garrison barracks.
If you are curious, come to the middle of western wall and see the archeological cut hewing the former fortification through outside. This site still safes a lot under 17 meters of cultural layers and we can only guess the secrets it covers or wait new archeological team eager to open a mystery. There is a good view to see all main sites of Merv at top of Erk Kala and feel a wind of the desert.
Gyaur Kala(also named Antiochia Margiana)
After Alexander the Great, the new dynasty of Seleucids took the power of the lands. The son of Seleucus I, the Antiochus I (280-261 B.C) extended the city of Merv to the south of Erk Kala, each side more one kilometer walls formed the second city “Antiochia of Margiana”, 340 h. Erk Kala became its citadel. Another works the Antiochus ordered to built, at Merv, were more impressive: it is the wall around the area of his new city, enclosing the region around 6000 hectares, to protect the lands against the mobile sands of the desert and incursions of the nomads.
This city saw a lot of dynasties come and vanished, the Seleucid empire was defeated by Parthians (250 B.C). The Parthians disappeared and Sassanians (226 A.D) come, who in their turn defeated by Arabs (649 A.D)
After 660 A.D. Merv become the capital of Khurasan region (Persian: “where the Sun comes from”). The site contains the remains: Christian community house (north – estern part), Buddhist stupa (south-estern corner), the ruins of first mosque built in Merv “Banu Makhan” (centre of the site), and the bastion protecting the flow of the canal inside of city (south-eastern corner of the city wall).Other treasuries disappeared due to the time, destructions and weather or still covered by 12 meters cultural layers.
Sultan Kala(also named Marv al- Shahijan “city of kings”)
In the beginning of 8th century the administrative suburbs and bazaars of Gyaur Kala started to form a new city of Merv, called now Sultan Kala. The new defense walls were appeared to be more decorative and only in 11th century the real fortifications been materialized.
Sultan Kala become the acme of Merv’s development, as a city and source of power, it was equal between Baghdad, Nishapur or Bukhara. It had importance under Abbasids and Tahirids rules but later lost its power till arrival of Seljuks in 11th century, who done Merv their eastern capital and called city Marv al- Shahijan “city of kings”. Inside, in north-eastern part there are still remains of royal fortress “Shakhriyar Ark” (fortress fortification, palace, treasury, “pigeon house” building). The important crossroad point of caravan routes, it became a scientific centre of the epoch, twelve libraries and one observatory was built there, but locations are not certain due to total destruction of the site in 1221 by Mongol army. Only one building of that time survived: the mausoleum of Sultan Ahmad Sanjar (1118-1157) and can be visited in the centre of the site. Other parts of Sultan Kala are completely covered by ceramic and brick debris of pre- Mongol period.
Other sites around this city: pilgrimage and mosque of Hoja Usuf Hamadany, the founder of “Sufi school” in central Asia, beyond Sultan Kala north walls. From another side, behind its south-eastern and south walls it can be seen the Askhabs tombs (or Timurids ivans), “Ice house“ 12th century, Gyz Kala castles, 7th century A.D. (impressive by its corrugated walls).
The mausoleum of Mohammed ibn Zaid 12th century, hidden to the left from historical park entrance (around 200 m)
Sultan Ahmad Sanjar mausoleum: In the middle of XII century, expansion of ancient Merv continues and in center of Sultan Kala has been constructed the mausoleum of Sultan Sanjar, adding to the earlier built architectural ensemble of Cathedral mosque and Sultan’s palace.
Ancient written source description of Sultan burial place: “Sultan’s sepulchre is inside of dome-shaped building divided from Cathedral mosque only by latticed window. The turquoise dome soars above the building, and caravans can see it one day before they come to Merv” (within 30 km).
The most numerous ancient sources describing Sultan Sanjar mausoleum are dated back to XIII century but first archeological researches started in 1894 by Russian archeologist Mr. Zhukovsky “ Ruins of ancient Merv”, in 1937 by Mr. Zasypkin and Mr. Bachinski, and finally from 1947 by ‘South Turkestan Unified Archeological expedition’.
The name of ancient architect who realized the mausoleum of Sultan Sanjar, had been written in its inside. Russian archeologists Mr. Masson and Mr. Vyatkin translated it as: “one of creations of Mohammed ibn Atsyz as- Serakhsi”.
The mausoleum had the square structure, inside 17,2 X17,2 m and outside 27 X 27 m., and above - the centric arrangement of double dome, flat inside and pointed dome soaring above. It is unique ancient constriction in Southern Turkmenistan in form of big building, with extensive bay covered by dome. The square of the walls at 14,2 m height is transformed in octahedron platform of dome, walls at this height are 5 m wide. Next level has architectural invention in form of elegant arcade along the perimeter of the construction and open outside. Arcade adds good view to the building and makes walls 1.5 m wide at this level. Arcade as architectural structural element of a building appears in XI-XII centuries and it gives to the mausoleum new quality and become architectural accent in overall composition of the work. It is, with its spatial quality, makes the passage of massif cube of the building to its octahedron and then to dome, more elegant and graceful. The inner dome pierced with reinforcing ribs ‘sails’, removing weight from its brickwork and making it more stable.
In ancient architecture of northern Khorassan, the leading development in monumental constructions was the research of new and more spatial compositions. The mausoleums in Mekhna (20 m high) and in Serakhs (15 m high) are vivid examples of this work. The Sultan Sanjar mausoleum, after century long research and development of techniques, become 36 m high. The unique example of its time and Islamic architecture, in central Asia.
Abdullah Khan Kala
After 1221 Mongol massacre in Merv remains fantom of itself, in ruins and disrupted from caravan routes. Only in 14th century it joined to Timiruds empire. In 15th century, Timurid ruler Shahrukh (1405-1447) ordered a new planned settlement near Sultan Kala, now known as Abdullah Khan Kala. Total area 46 h, with newly built buildings, irrigation network, it got fortification walls only in 16th century, under Shaybanis period (1500-1598). Having citadel in its northern corner, it had also mosque, madrasa, water reservoir, well reputed by its strong fortification at the time. Now only remains of the fortifications survived, mainly it is empty inside, surface covered by ceramic debris and high bushes in spring period.
Bairam Ali Khan Kala
In 18th century it was built as extension of Abdullah Khan Kala and probably in use till 19th century. After 1884 this region has been integrated into Russian empire, the residence was built in new Bairam Ali and old dismantled bricks used for later constructions. Only the traces of former ramparts can be seen, just across the modern Bairam Ali bazaar.
Today Kunya Urgench (Old Urgench) is the small town, of 28000 inhabitants, standing not far the border with Uzbekistan (Khodjeili, Nukus). Northern part of Turkmenistan, 560 km from Ashgabat to the north or 85 km to the west from Dashoguz. Historical site “Kunya Urgench” contains the survived monuments: mausoleums of Il Arslan 12th century, Sultan Tekesh 12th century, Turebeck Khanym 14th century, Najm addin Cubra 14th and Sultan Ali 16th century, minaret of Kutluk Timur 14th century (probably started in 11th ) 62 meters high, the tallest old brick construction in central Asia. The capital of Khwarezm had the most power in 11th – 13th centuries, overcoming in population and fame other Silk Road cities of central Asia. In 1221 it was razed by Genghis Khan army on its way in central Asia. After the revival in 14th century, the city was left forever due to Amudarya river course change and new destruction this time by Timur in 1370 and new town of Urgench was built in present day Uzbekistan.
Today Khwarezm (also named Chorasmia), can be discovered in Dashoguz region of Turkmenistan & Karakalpakstan, Khoresm regions of Uzbekistan.
The main towns of Khwarezm are: Kunya Urgench, Izmukshir, Toprak Kala, Dzanbas Kala
To the north from Kwarezm it was stretched the steppes of Kazakhstan, Aral sea and Syr Darya river, to the west Ustyurt Plateau and Caspian sea, to the east Kyzyl Kum desert and Sogdiana, to the south Karakum desert, Merv and Bactria. In 2005, Kunya Urgench become a world heritage site protected by UNESCO.
Mausoleum of Turebeck Khanym is the famous monument in Kunya Urgench (old Urgench). Its period is connected to the local dynasty of Kungrad Sufids. The mausoleum is designed as monumental construction and named after Turebeck Khanym, the wife of local governor Kutluk Timur. The period of construction is dated to the second quarter of XIV century. The monument is talented realization of scientific knowledge, high culture and experience of ancient architects, accumulated by previous epochs. Instead of traditional cubiform volume of a building on a steady square platform, we see the polyhedron with three-part division on the major axis of construction. The deep entrance niche designed above by lancet arch and divided from chief hall (100 sq m Zirayat Khany) with use of intermediary small rectangular space broadside directional to its opening. From one side, the intermediary space has offshoot to monastic cell and to stairs from opposite side, leading to the flat balcony of mausoleum. The square annex is seen behind the main hall. Probably, it had built in later, as archeological excavations revealed the burial crypt underneath the hall. In ancient architecture of the region, there are combinations of mausoleum with funeral hall but the three-chambered mausoleum placed to accurate axial construction it is unique example of ancient Islamic architecture in central Asia.
Inside planning of the mausoleum offers to view the hexahedron, one side to the main entrance and second to the annex, the rest of it form the deep arched niches with full aperture outside. Outside planning of the mausoleum has dodecahedral form with placed in niches. Inside niches structure are rectangular in form and from outside there is combination of rectangular shallow niches and others are deep, close to semicircle form. The sharp geometric building plan of mausoleum has fine sculptural view. All elements have rich pilaster sides differ in deepness and form, inside and outside of the building. Rich combination of forms and its geometry subject to standards elements and its rhythmical layout of the surface plan and volume structure of facades and interior of building. It is almost rectangle of golden section, framed by deep arch niche, put under certain angle to each other, with small turn. Small deviation of the arch niche opens good perspective for perception of interior space, underlined by numerous facets of pilaster sides. Unlike to the interior arch niches, the rectangular in form lancet arches-niches of facades have shallow deepness and almost flat facets. They have view in form of panel, drawing up separate borders on dodecahedron of building, directed accordingly to the cardinal points. Brightness of different borders depends on position of sun, what creates different perception of the mausoleum during a day.
Dodecahedron of building with flat roof holds up the icositetrahedron of cylinder. It has honeycomb design and framed with twelve lancet arches. The cylindrical drum, holding up the dome, finished with ornamental frieze and stalactitic cornice where it starts the smooth curve into turquoise cupola.
The south side of building has high and graceful portal. The deep and high arched niche, above the main entrance, finished with stalactitic semidome. The light-ochreous color bricks have been used for arch of portal and its rectangular frame, what perfectly been combined with embellished stripes along its perimeter. At north side of mausoleum, small domed construction was built in.
The structural spatial concept of the mausoleum can be seen in the interior where hexagon of walls gets smoothly to stalactitic sails, forming dodecahedron, what it is its turn comes to the icositetrahedron base of the dome. It is arranged with 24 like small lancet arches, twelve of them blind and twelve have window opening. Feeling the interior dimensions are more spacious than its natural size. It was reached with specific architectural scale order of the elements: higher elements are smaller in size, lower elements are bigger.
Highly artistic décor of dome filled in with rich composition of ten- point and five-point stars, underlined by white strips on blue background, different in size and forms, naturally descending to the center. The peak of the mosaic composition is twelve petals flower inscribed in twenty four- point star.
Building of the mausoleum put on high socle and has deep burnt brick foundation. Three layers of block stones compose the socle along perimeter. It is thoroughly fixed together and form reliable dampproofing system of structural elements.
The above written witnesses the unique example of XIV century Islamic architecture of Mongol period in central Asia.
The archeological sites Old and New Nisa form two mounds to west and north- west from modern village “Bagyr”, 12 km to the west from Turkmen capital - Ashgabat. The site is representing the earliest and important period of Parthian empire (3rd century B.C – 3rd century A.D.)
The ruins have mud brick fortifications and palaces, temples, ceremony hall, treasury building. It covers the remains of Parthian civilization, what combined the traditional art and culture with Hellenistic and Roman elements. The richly decorated architecture of religious, royal power and ordinary domestic functions had been revealed as the result of archeological excavations, starting from beginning of 20th century and continue in our days. Nisa or Parthaunisa presumed to be the first capital of Parthians, its ancient people lived along Kopet Dag mountain range (modern Turkmenistan and Iran). Accordingly to UNESCO description, Nisa played important role of a barrier to Roman empire expansion to the west, while playing the communication and trading centre between east and west, between central Asia and Mediterranean cultures.
The archeologically found artifacts contain the collection of ivory drinking cups, decorated with mythological scenes and themes, can be seen now in National museum of history of ethnography, in Ashgabat. Nisa was declared a World Heritage Site by UNESCO in 2007.