886 State Historical and Cultural Park “Ancient Merv” – 1999

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Merv is the oldest and best-preserved of the oasis-cities along the Silk Route in Central . The remains in this vast oasis span 4,000 years of human history. A number of monuments are still visible, particularly from the last two millennia.

Brief synthesis

The is the oldest and most completely preserved of the oasis cities along the Silk Roads in Central . It is located in the territory of Mary velayat of Turkmenistan. It has supported a series of urban centres since the 3rd millennium BC and played an important role in the history of the East connected with the unparalleled existence of cultural landscape and exceptional variety of cultures which existed within the Murgab river oasis being in continually interactions and successive development.  It reached its apogee during the Muslim epoch and became a capital of the Arabic Caliphate at the beginning of 9th century and as a capital of the Great Seljuks Empire at the 11th-12th centuries.

Today “Ancient Merv” is a large archaeological park which includes remains of Bronze Age centres (2500-1200 BC) such as Kelleli, Adji Kui, Taip, Gonur, and Togoluk; Iron Age centres (1200-300 BC) such as Yaz/Gobekli Depes and Takhirbaj Depe; the historic urban centre and the post-medieval city, Abdullah Khan Kala.  The inscribed property covers the area of 353 ha with a buffer zone of 883 ha.

The historic urban centre consists of a series of adjacent walled cities:  Erk Kala, Gyaur Kala and the medieval Sultan Kala or Marv al-Shahijan. Erk Kala (20ha), is a walled and moated polygonal site with walls surviving to some 30 m and an internal citadel. Gyaur Kala, is roughly square in plan, with walls about 2 km long. In the interior are the remains of a number of important structures: the central Beni Makhan mosque and its cistern; the Buddhist stupa and monastery; and the “Oval Building” consisting in a series of rooms around a courtyard on an elevated platform. Medieval Sultan Kala was walled in the 11th century, with its Mausoleum of Sultan Sanjar (1118-57) which originally formed part of a large religious complex; the fine details of the Mausoleum such as the elegant brickwork, the carved stucco, and the surviving mural paintings, make it one of the most outstanding architectural achievements of the Seljuk period.  The walls (12 km) of the medieval city and of the citadel (Shahriyar Ark) are unique and represent two consecutive periods of 11th-13th centuries military architecture, including towers, posterns, stairways, galleries, and in places, crenellation. In addition to these main urban features, there are a number of important medieval monuments in their immediate vicinity such as the Mausoleum of Muhammad ibn Zayd.

The walls of the post medieval city are of exceptional interest, since they continue the remarkable continuous record of the evolution of military architecture from the 5th century BC to the 15th-16th centuries AD.

There are also major monuments from different historical periods in the oasis. Among them it can be mentioned the köshks, one of the most characteristic architectural features of the oasis, fortresses and many fine mosques and mausolea.

Criterion (ii):

The cities of the Merv oasis have exerted considerable influence over the cultures of Central Asia and Iran for four millennia. The Seljuk city in particular influenced architecture and architectural decoration and scientific and cultural development.

Criterion (iii):

The sequence of the cities of the Merv oasis, their fortifications, and their urban lay-outs bear exceptional testimony to the civilizations of Central Asia over several millennia.


All elements necessary to express the values of the are included within the boundaries of the World Heritage property and buffer zone which ensures the complete representation of its significance as an architectural and cultural site.

Ancient Merv represents a system of sites built at different times following the changing course of riverbed of the Murgab river and its gradual shifts from the east to the west. New sites were constructed after old ones were abandoned and never again occupied, thus becoming unique “memory keepers”. Archaeological layers were not covered by the subsequent developments so the ruins of massive earthen buildings retain the characteristics of original structures which did not undergo to reconstruction and alteration.

Conservation actions implemented at the property have centred on addressing current conditions, particularly potential threats such as an anthropogenic change of the landscape and influence of natural factors such as a deflation, underground water levels rising and connected with it a salinisation of earthen constructions. 


It is difficult to generalize about the authenticity of so vast and complex a property as the . The archaeological sites have been relatively untouched and so their authenticity is irreproachable. Restoration and conservation interventions at some of the Islamic religious structures during the 20th century have not been carried out according to existing conservation principles, though they may be defended as essential to stabilize and ensure the continuity of these “living” monuments. They have been well documented and it is possible to reverse them if required. In any case, they represent only a minute proportion of the totality of this ancient landscape and its monuments. Conservation policies for the property will need to consider guidelines that meet current conservation standards so as to prevent potential impacts to the authenticity of the component parts of the property.

Protection and management requirements

The was created by decree in 1987 and has additional protection at the national level granted by the provisions of the 1992 Law on the Protection of Turkmenistan Historical and Cultural Monuments. The Park is the property of the Republic of Turkmenistan and all its components are included in the National Heritage List.

Listing in the National Heritage List implies that any proposed action to be taken inside or outside of boundaries of National Heritage place or a World Heritage property that may have a significant impact on the heritage values is prohibited without the approval of the authorized government body. A protection agreement which secures an inviolability of monuments and maintenance of conditions of economic activities and new constructions within boundaries of the buffer zone has been concluded between administration of the Park and local authorities. Archaeological excavations, within the Park require official permits from the Ministry of Culture.

The overall management system for the property is adequate, involving both government administrative bodies and local communities, although plans for the sustainability of the landscape that respect local farming and agricultural traditions need to be better developed.

The present state of conservation is good. The property is maintained and preserved through regular and rigorous repair and conservation programmes.

The Management Plan of the , currently in place, takes into account a wide range of measures under planning and heritage legislation and policies of the Turkmenistan Government. The Management Plan provides the policy framework for the conservation and management of the “Ancient Merv” and it is scheduled to be updated every 6 years.

In regard to long term management issues, the property requires balanced management of conservation activities and passing both traditional and modern conservation techniques from one generation to the next. Management of high pressure derived from tourism activities and urban growth also will be a long-term concern.

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