Sultan Palace Merv

Sultan Kala city / Marv-ash-Shahijan and its monuments

A new suburb grew up to the west from Gyaur Kala, along the banks of Majan canal. In the 8th century, it started to play important role in trade and gradually developed into the new city. The main occupation moved there, leaving Gyaur Kala what turned into industrial zone, such as production of steel. During the Seljuk period, the suburb transformed into new metropolis of Merv, known as Marv-ash- Shahijan / Royal Merv. This city became the capital of the Seljuk state and one of the most important cultural centres of the eastern Muslim world. The start of the greatest Merv's glory, only finished by the arrival of Mongols in 1221. It was in Merv that the Seljuk  sultans Toghril  (1040-1063), Alp Arslan (1063- 1072), Malik Shah (1072-1092) and Sultan Sanjar (1118-1157)buried in.Only the mausoleum of Sultan Sanjar survives above ground today.

Merv was also the home of a number of outstanding medieval scholars, astronomers, philosophers, historians and poets, including the astronomer and poet Omar Khayyam 11th century, the geographer Yaqut al-Khamavi 13th century, who were attracted by Merv's famous libraries and observatory.

At the start, the main city was the same size as Gyaur Kala, around 400 ha. The walls were less regular, reflecting its organic pattern of growth. By the 10th century the "great Majan suburb lay round the Maydan (public square), on which stood the New Mosque, the Government house and the prison; all these having been built by Abu Muslim, the great partisan of the Abbasids". The city was not walled until the 11th century, like many Islamic cities. Sultan Malik-shah is credited with building the great wall round the city 12,300 paces in circuit.

With the extensive suburban areas to north and south enclosed by Sultan Sanjar, the city occupied some 630 ha, and was one of the largest in the medieval world. Sultan Sanjar was also probably responsible for walling an irregular area in the north-east corner of the city, the Shahriyar Ark/ Royal Citadel. The city's defenses are impressive with massive, multi-phase walls, reinforced by towers and deep moats.

The creation of the Shahriyar Citadel caused major changes to the plan of the city centre. The royal residences, administrative buildings and the mint were moved to the citadel, while the centre was turned over to religious buildings, including the great Friday Mosque and the mausolea of the Seljuk sultans.

Monuments of Merv:

Shahriyar Ark

The royal citadel is located in the north-east corner of Sultan Kala, is roughly triangular in form. A number of structures survived within the enclosure. They include an unusual and small versio of a keshk, consisting of a single, long, vaulted room divided into three, with the remains of niches on surviving internal sections of the walls. This may have been the kepter khana (pigeon house).

Next, the parts of a surprisingly small four-iwan palace no larger than domestic structures elsewhere in the citadel have been identified as that of the Seljuk Sultans. The combination of its size and height above present ground level, as well as the presence of balkhi vaults, suggested that the proposed date could be too early (International Merv Program Excavations).

Most of the house was sub-surface, although some walls survive at the eastern end. In its final phase the house 35X25 m probably consisted of two parts, a principal courtyard with four iwans, visible as shallow depressions, at the better preserved eastern side and a secondary courtyard to the west surroundedby further range of rooms. Excavations in the north-west corner and the adjacent courtyard 45X35 m, have distinguished three phases. The latest, a squatter occupation, was characterized by small hearths cut into fallen mud brick. The second phase, probably dating to the Timurid period, had plastered gypsum floors cut with a number of features, the most impressive of which was a large circular oven lined with fired bricks. This phase is some 2 m below surface. The third level is unearthed a little bit but it is also post-Seljuk. This suggests that the standing walls in the Seljuk citadel may also be post-Seljuk.

According to the written sources, Merv (Sultan Kala) was laid waste by three successive invasions of Mongol forces in 1221- 1222, the population was slaughtered or driven out, the wealth and treasures of the city plundered, and the dam on the Murghab river destroyed. Ibn al- Asir refers to the invasion as a great disaster, the like of which neither day nor night had brought forth before. Dzhuveini wrote that the city, which had been embellished by great men of the world, became the haunt of hyenas and beasts of prey. More than a hundred years later, in the early fourteen century it was still in ruin.

Sultan Akhmad Sanjar mausoleum

Previously, it is suggested that the creation of the Shahriyar Citadel caused major changes to the plan of Sultan Kala city centre. The royal residences, administrative buildings and the mint were moved to the citadel, while the centre was turned over to religious buildings, including the great Friday Mosque and the mausolea of the Seljuk sultans.

Turkmen excavations beside the mausoleum of Sultan Sanjar have revealed the buildings of the earlier, pre- Sanjar phase. To the left is a small house with elegant arched shelved niches and to the right a fine bathhouse. Only the mausoleum of Sultan Sanjar survived and stands alone in the center of the empty space. From the air, the outlines of the courtyard of the Friday Mosque, once the mausoleum formed a part, can be still clearly visible.

The mausoleum had the high dome, originally covered with gleaming turquoise tiles. It could be seen three days' march away. The outer dome has not survived although the impressive inner dome of this spectacular building can still be appreciated. The inner dome is carried on the four giant squinches, alternating with blind arches, both pierced with windows. The transition from the cotogon to the circular base of the drum is made by eight stalactite pendentives, from which rise four radiating ribs forming an interlacing pattern of an eight-pointed star. Traces of painting remain on the ribs and walls. The mausoleum was built by the Serrakhs architect; Muhammed ibn Atsiz al-Sarakhsi, whose modest signature in a panel beneath the dome was hidden by plaster. It was only revealed in the 1950s by Masson team YuTAKE expedition.

Exterior dimensions 27 X 27 m, height 38 meters. Built of fired bricks of two sizes. 275x275x65-70mm in the socle and walls and 250x250x50 mm used in half or multiples in the squinches, galleries and upper parts. The building foundations 4.2 meters deep. The walls were lightened with galleries and a system of hidden grooved vaults. Squinches in an octagonal zone of transition, concealed on the exterior by a gallery, supported a sixteen- sided zone and the dome, made of two thin brick shells. The outer walls were covered with carved plaster and gilding, the gallery arcade faced with carved brick and the dome covered with blue glazed tiles. The interior walls were painted with geometric, vegetal and epigraphic motifs in red and blue on a white ground with gold highlights. The construction work was begun in 1140 and must have been finished before the invasion by the Ghuzz (Oguz) in 1153.

In addition to being one of the most important buildings of the Saljuq dynasty, it is one of the architectural masterpieces of Iran and Central Asia, and it became a model for such structures as the mausoleum of the Ilkhanid ruler Uljaytu at Sultani-YYA in Iran. After 17th- 18th centuries, the site became a place of pilgrimage for local Turkmen tribesmen.

Mausoleum of Muhammad ibn Zayd

The mausoleum of Muhammad ibn Zayd is a fine example of Seljuk period architecture. Constructed outside of the walls of Sultan Kala and survived until now. This mausoleum was commissioned by Sharaf al-Din Abu- Tahir, Sultan's vizier, and was constructed in 1112-1113 in commemoration of the fifth descendant of Ali, Muhammed ibn Zayd, murdered in Merv in the eighth century. It forms the heart of a delightful complex within a sacred grove of saxaul trees, equipped with cistern, kitchen and guardian's house (all relatively late in date). Although the exterior is much restored, the unusual shell shaped mihrab still preserves traces of painting and a superb inscription in cut brickwork written in floriated Kufic runs round all four walls.