Sultan Palace Merv

Mithridatkirt (Mithradatkert) – Old Nisa. The detailed report of excavations works

Old NisaThe Parthian archeological mission of the Institute of History of Academy of Sciences of Turkmeniya has been working at the Old and new Nisa and in its neighborhood since early 1960s. The expedition revealed many important details and was the continuation of works done by YuTAKE (South Turkmenistan Archaeological Complex Expedition 1946-1991).

The revealed monumental complex is result of the works at Old Nisa site: Round Hall, Square Ceremonial Hall, Tower Temple Complex, Square Treasury House, the network of the inner and exterior corridors, columned porticoes.

Further excavations can be referred to the Italian archaeological Missions 2000- 2010 seasons (University of Turin) added to the Topographical map of Old Nisa and revealed new details on the sites. Here are some details:

The Round Hall, the west and northern corridors of the Round Hall (the western part revealed in 1996 and later removed in 2002 - a face in clay representing a head of Mithridates I – now, it is in the museum of history of Turkmenistan).

Northwest area of the Round Hall revealed older constructions than the Round Hall and Tower Temple and found the Parthian and Sasanian walls and pottery.

The northern part of the Round Hall revealed the medieval structure (35 X 35 meters) of Islamic period and the found ceramics proved that it was occupied this period. Construction composed of a central court with three iwans; at the north, at west and at south. East of the court had rooms and corridor. This based on construction that is more ancient.

Nisa planThe Red Building to the north of the Round Hall. Part of the eastern sector of the building – three rooms in a row, has been excavated down to the floor level. In one of the rooms were revealed: gypsum votive balls, arrow heads, slingshots, a hundred of iron plaques– may belong to armature. Fragments of architectural decorations (metopes, merlons, baked bricks) and traces of rooftrees also revealed there. In the northern sector, the excavations revealed the presence of a wall of facade articulated by niches and pilasters. The remains of a colored plaster show that the facade of the building was partially painted in red. The excavations in the big central area. The soundings undertaken nearby the northern and southern entrances . The discovery of colored plaster of blue, red, black and white colors, small fragments of golden sheets and remains of architectural decorations.

The monumental facade, at northern side, decorated to the base with a stone socle with ovuli and grooves colored in red and yellow on green stone. The walls of the facade articulated in niches and pillars, part of which appear to have been closed during a second phase of the complex's use. In the central part of the facade's wall was an opening, which functioned as the main entry of the Square Building. The building was preceded from a terrace whose anterior side (80-90 cm high) decorated by slabs of stone with the same motifs as the fa?ade. In the middle of the terrace, in its anterior part, there was a stairway of three steps to access the existing level (around 1 meter) among the floor level of the inner rooms of building and that of the central courtyard of the citadel (that on which based out all the buildings of the central complex). On the terrace, about 8 meters from the line of fa?ade of the building, are the bases of 4 columns which had a base and the convex molding (torus). The columns 75-80 cm in diameter had to be wooden and they probably supported a portico in front of the fa?ade. The sides of the fa?ade constituted the side scenes of the terrace, two rooms projected from the line of the facade, accessible only from the terrace of facade; inside walls plastered in white and red.

Entry of facade led through corridor to main entry of the main square hall of the complex. Square hall over 13 m per side (inside courtyard), has revealed the bases of four columns that supported the roof. Used for particular ceremonies. The western wall of the hall articulated in three niches. At southern side, a passage allowed access from the external corridor of the building, through corridor coming from the Round Hall.

The northern side opened onto a room whose walls plastered in white and red. Western wall opened a fanlight niche that perhaps contained a cult image, led to the specific room, the only room communicating with the Square hall (besides the entrance- corridor). To west and east of the room, two rows of three rooms communicate only with the external corridors of the building.

Some revealed traces of decoration, consisting in color plaster – red, black, white, yellow and green. The building had the important decorative organization – the friezes in stone, the colored plaster of the environment, the stone base and torus of the columns, the decoration of the wooden parts with gold leaf and colors, the decorative elements of terracotta or clay.

Old NisaThe substantial independence of the Square building complex, from the Round Hall and Tower, provided by outside access to the southern corridor through the opening in the middle, leading directly into central columned hall. The western and eastern corridors connected to the southern corridor, were even accessible from the portico facade and from the courtyard in the front of the building, from the north. Side corridors connected to the different size rooms, surrounding the central columned hall without access inside. One of these rooms along western corridor, quadrangular in plan, revealed the traces of a painted decorative plaster on the walls and white and red vertical colored bands on the door jambs of its entrance from the corridor, puzzled the archeologists what the special purpose it had.

The existing material from the corridors and floor level corresponds to the material found inside of the room, suggest the different phases of use (two or three) of a certain importance. The later connected to the revealed gypsum spheroids, placed as offering or ex voto, against the wall or in the corner of the room. The carried excavations make the Italian archaeologists suggest this complex is one of ancient monumental activities in Old Nisa; the employment of wood for the shaft of the columns and stone in decorative friezes date this building as the most ancient construction phase.

Italian archeologists undertook a 7X5 m sounding in the northeastern corner of the main facade of the building to understand its connection to the Tower building. The side walls of the facade and the corridors are perfectly lined up with the outer stone slab-frieze line of the central portico and aligned with the fa?ade of the northwestern projection of the Tower Building to the east. Also revealed – the ancient restoration works of the facade.

On the opposite northwestern side of the building, a 2X 9.5 m trench opened – it is likely that a wide space passageway, 6 m in width, was between the Red Building and the external walls of the citadel, later in Islamic times. This was partly filled up to a height of 1.6- 2 m above the ancient floor with beaten clay, straw and pebbles to strengthen the defense.

The another sector 4X6 m opened on the eastern wall of the building, where it joins the external wall of the Tower Building – the large opening was a passageway to the Tower Building, closed in the latest Arsacid period. Masonry preserved to considerable height, but there is still difficulty to establish chronological relationship between Red and Tower buildings. It is interesting to observe that the western wall of the Towere projection is set against that of the Red Building with brick rows posed vertically and not on the usual horizontal courses.

Excavation of a large area 6 X 17 m, opened on the south facade to locate the main entrance from this side. The doorway, was closed in the late phase with bricks and earth, opened slightly displaced to the west, not axially with the entrance of the central hall. The fragments of red plaster on the external floor, allow thinking that this side of the building was also painted in red. However, the soundings in its central and eastern parts revealed well-preserved lower courses of bricks, finished in white plaster. In central part of the corridor found – a gypsum ball and a mud bullet for a slingshot. The level of the ancient floor of the corridor has a slight descent, following the natural slope of the ground.

Further excavations in the western corridor of the building confirmed four occupational levels: two of them close to each other – Parthian period, a third level dates to the late Parthian period, and upper level is probably Islamic. A few pottery sherds and fragments of baked brick or terracotta pipelines found on Arsacid levels, while burnt traces and ashes come from the upper layers, surely to be related to the Islamic occupation of Old Nisa. The opening of the whole corridor allowed to ascertain the presence of passageways on the western and eastern wall, giving access to the inner rooms of the building or on the western side to the fortification wall area.

The northern main facade of the building knew different restoration and consolidation works during the Arsacid period. A series of pole holes, in front of the external wall of the eastern projecting room of the fa?ade, goes to the first phase of the building, and are sealed by the ancient floor.

Some medieval layers recognized immediately above two beaten clay floors along the northern fa?ade. Common and glazed pottery date from XII to XVI century A.D found at the site, in front of the western projection of the old facade building.

In front of the southern facade, excavations opened a large uncovered area, from the fortification walls of the citadel to the west and the neighboring Round Hall to the east. The only two masonries, revealed in previous campaigns, are structures in beaten clay to the west and east sides of the area.

The excavations did not reveal the presence of significant Islamic building, even though Islamic pottery shards are quite common in the upper layers. Islamic layers cover a thick deposit of fine clay lying on the two floors in beaten clay with straw, dated to Arsacid times. From here, it comes an ostracon inscribed in Pahlavi and some stucco fragments of an eagle that probably belonged to the inner decoration of the Red Building. The area has also returned a notable quantity of fragments of architectural decoration in terracotta – acanthus leaves, metope, merlons, baked bricks.

Old NisaAnother survey opened in the area between the Red and Tower Buildings, where the Tower seems to set against the eastern wall of red Building. The structural relation and inner characteristics between the mud bricks of the walls seem to evidence that the two structures are of Parthian period.

Invernizzi, Lippolis in 2008, gives the description of the Red Building as made off of a facade portico between projecting wings and a quanrangular tetrastyle hall in the middle, surrounded by rooms and U-shape corridors on three sides. The corridors were planned to divide the central block and, at the same time, to connect all the sectors of the building with internal and external areas. The tetrasyle square hall layout is not exclusive of the religious architecture, but it could be found also in the residential and palatial architectonical tradition of Iran and Central Asia.

A similar scheme, although varied and different in size, is known in the Tower Building. A portico facade between lateral wings and corridors with openings on each side that served likely as a processional way, connecting the interior and the exterior of the building and at the same time isolating its inner sacral core (the inner block may be containing funerary chambers???). Although different in their very purpose and destination, or in size and decorative details, the Red Building and the Tower Building show similar principles of planning.

In 2007, Italo - Turkmen team conducted the excavations in the southern part of the Old Nisa. In the southeast area, two soundings opened. In the first one, near the eastern fortification wall, the excavations revealed an area in which food commodities were stored, attested by 20 large fragmented jars (khums) on the ground. The entire area had been prepared by leveling the natural soil and depositing of prepasred earth, gypsum and stones that served as a base for the compacted clay floor. Apart from very small piece of wall in rammed earth (pakhsa), no traces of masonry structures discovered in this area.

Old NisaFurther to the west (near the old trench, left by YuTAKE expedition in 1966), an area 20X13 meters opened: Four, 1.4-2 m thick cultural layers opened. The upper layer have seven fragmented jars (khums) for storage. To the earlier layers belong badly preserved structures with walls of rammed earth or walls made with a thick stratum of mortar and a filling of clay, pottery shards, pebbles and fragments of mud bricks. These constructions used long time and undertook the various restorations. These walls could not bear a heavy roof, perhaps these structures just delimited open spaces (whose purpose not clear).

At the southwestern corner of the citadel, 40 m from the Round Hall, new sounding 70X70 m was open (2007-2010). The excavations revealed wall masonries of a domestic- residential building!?; the plan of building is irregular with a double row of small rooms, oriented north- south; to the west and east other rooms and courtyards identified but the room walls are very poor preserved. At least three phases confirmed; two  are Arsacid period and late one probably come to the Islamic period. The walls done of standard mud brick of the Parthian period, 40-42 cm each side and 12 cm thick. The terrain here is quite irregular, sloping towards the north where the walls preserved only for two – three courses of bricks on the original floor level.

This natural slope of the soil was generally maintained without relevant leveling works, while Arsacid floors and walls were usually founded directly on it. The further plan of the building may reach the fortification walls to the south and to the west; it reaches the area immediately before the southern facade of the Round Hall; to the east, the terrain slopes down and the walls preserved only for the minimal height. Further excavations are difficult due to the precarious state of preservation of the building.

Old trench discovered at its northwestern part what had not been published before. The details of building plan: from south to north run two parallel walls of considerable thickness, beyond 2 meters, made of Parthian mud bricks. Beside them, open rooms of different size, some of them narrowed by building intermediate walls of bricks or pakhsa, in late Arsacid phase of occupation.

Inside the rooms, some devices suggest their purpose during the last two periods of functioning of the building – fireplaces, ovens, benches discovered on the second and third floor of the rooms. The courtyard and uncovered areas were probably opened to the east and to the west. Two courtyards recognized on the western side of the excavated structures. In the northern one, some jars were sunken in the ancient floor level during the second phase of utilization. At least, two Parthian phases of use are recognizable and were probably close chronologically. A third phase, only some rooms may be perhaps dated to a late Arsacid phase in Old Nisa. Islamic levels partially cut the ancient levels – these structures generally made in beaten clay and are too fragmentary, not possible to predict the precise character of this occupation. The archeologists still need more data to confirm the specific identification of the southwestern building: military, handicraft or residential.

Further excavations (up to 2009) revealed six main walls, disposed two by two parallels, at right angles on the southern, western and eastern borders, two similar may be supposed to run on the northern border, thus closing a big square open court. Between the southern walls, two long and narrow rooms opened. Seven big jars (khums) found in the rooms, most of it lying on the two superimposed floors of Parthian period, while two jars sunk directly into the virgin soil bellow. Found also around khums - 60 clay sealing objects bearing the impressions of coins and seals, only limited part can be recognizable.

In 2008, the excavations continued in all directions, except westward. Sector F in the middle of the southern part of Old Nisa, revealed two buildings.

Building A consists at least of 11 rooms and extends northeastward. Two different building techniques recognized. The perimeter walls made in rammed earth Pakhsa, the inner walls built with mixture of loose earth, pottery shards, rubble and fragments of mud bricks or baked bricks, covered by a thick layer of mortar. No binding material added for compacting the mixture. The building plan composed by rectangular rooms of about 4,5X2,5 m; 2,5X 3 m; 4X6 m; 2X6 m. Pottery shards found in the building date to the Islamic period 9-12th centuries A.D.

Building B located to the south of Building A, composed by one rectangular room 8,5 X 6 m, built in rammed earth pakhsa.

In 2009, the done deep sounding in the middle of the major basin, and a stratigraphic sequence reaching the virgin ground, 10 meters below the topsoil, has been reached. Still, there is not clear understanding of the nature and function of this and the other depressions that appear to be aligned on an approximately south-north axis.

A typical decoration on the monumental buildings of Old Nisa is the terracotta metope (borrowing the Greek term). Nisa metopes represent a hybrid both in form and decoration, include design elements of western origin such as a lion head image, club of Hercules, anchor (a dynastic symbol of the Seleucids) and the typically local gorytos (quiver).

In 2010 archeological season focused on the Southwestern corner and basins (depressions) area in the Old Nisa. Four new rooms excavated in the southwestern building. Every room showed two or three phases of occupation, proved by superimposed floors in beaten clay.

The north- south wall made in mud bricks – pebbles and clay bricks type, poor quality. The west – east walls in rammed earth pakhsa erected in the second period of the buildings occupation. The rooms used for storage, as prove the remains of several jars khums inside. In one of the rooms, revealed 25 ostraca.

The citadel fortification walls to the west had been repaired many times in antiquity as show the superimposed layers of rammed earth pakhsa and plaster. The works at this place show that there was long corridor between the wall and the southwestern building. The northern wall is badly preserved, cut in with medieval walls in pakhsa and some old trenches made earlier. This side composed of two main parallel rows of rooms of different size, ancient floors lie on the different layers, following the natural down slope of the terrain to the north. Two levels are dated to the Parthian period, some were cut later by deep holes, 40 cm and filled with fragments of metopes and other architectural details.

Second north row of rooms, walls preserved only for 30-40 cm. The excavations of the eastern side of the building revealed that it continues to the east. Revealed a long north-south wall in mud brick, together with two orthogonal wall with east- west orientation.

The fortification walls at the south from the building; composed of the three main levels, preserved for 6 meters in height. Inside is made of pakhsa and exterior part was of mud brick, at the top, a thick layer of plaster spread several times. The long corridor separated the walls of the citadel from the building. At some point accessible from the rooms of the building, where some clay sealing found. Later in the Parthian times, four rectangular trenches and circular pit dug in the corridor, what cut through a terracotta drain lying under the most ancient floor, running west to east.

The excavations of the basins (depressions) of the Old Nisa; the original trench 10 X 5 meters inside, a deep sounding 5 X 5 meters opened up to 5 meters in depth from the top soil surface. Results: no significant cultural levels nor structures have been recognized in the zone. The circular depressions seems to be natural and no anthropic interventions recognized there.