Participants of the Ascent Project visited the Ancient Merv State Historical and Cultural Reserve

As part of the Ascent project, the symbol of Asiada–2017 is hoisted up the highest mountains and erected at sightseeing attraction of every province in Turkmenistan.

The patriotic campaign, co-organized by the State News Agency and the Executive Committee on Preparation of the 5th Asian and Martial Arts Games, is dedicated to the Year of Health and Inspiration and aims to promote the upcoming large-scale competitions to be held in Ashgabat with participation of the best athletes from Asia and Oceania.

Participants of the project have already visited Lebap province – the Ayrybaba Peak and Koytendag Mountains, Turkmenistan’s highest point (3139 meters above the sea level). They also undertook the climb to the top of the Dushakerikdag Mountains (2482 m) in Ahal province. In Balkan province, the campaign participants hiked the Hasardag Mountain of the Western Kopetdag that overlooks the affluent Turkmen subtropics.

While deciding on the destination point in Mary province, there was no question that the peak there had to be not geographical, but rather historical, as this land is a treasury of unique evidences and artefacts that are of significance for all humankind. Thus, it was decided to journey to the Ancient Merv State Historical and Cultural Reserve, whose sights have been included in the UNESCO List of World Heritage along with the monuments of Nisa and Kunya-Urgench also situated in Turkmenistan and recognized as treasures of the world civilization.

Organization of the campaign was supported by the administration of Mary province and the Ministry of Railway Transport of the country; the staff of Ancient Merv Reserve also joined the campaign.

The expedition members began their journey on the wide streets of Mary, the provincial center and modern city located along the banks of Murgap. For thousands of years Murgap supplied water to the towns and fields, becoming the river of life for these locations. Moreover, as seen in researches of leading foreign and national scientists, the significance of this river for the humankind civilization is not less than, for instance, Nile, Indus or Euphrates’s.

Three dozens of kilometers east of Mary, there is a city of Bayramali that sits alongside ancient monuments of a city quite grand by the standards of antiquity and Middle Ages, one of the largest in Asia at the time, a true pearl of the Orient! The total area of this core of the Ancient Merv State Historical and Cultural Reserve equals to over fifteen hundred hectares.

Murgap once flowed here, before changing its course and moving westwards. Surrounded with high fort walls with hundreds of towers, the ancient Merv was situated at the important commercial crossroads of the Great Silk road, and roared with crowded bazaars and caravanserais. Numerous caravans rushed here from China, India and Europe. Metal rattling sounds were heard from ordnance and jewelry workshops. Numerous libraries and madrasahs were the state-of-the-art knowledge hubs, renowned scientists worked here.

Today, between the collapsed walls of Sultan Gala – the medieval Merv – the monuments of those times rise high. The Sultan Sanjar Mausoleum was once a part of a great ensemble of magnificent buildings of the city that served as a residence to many great Turkmen rulers. And even centuries later, it still boggles the imagination with the scope of design intent and perfection of forms created by ancient architects over 850 years ago.

Looking at the rising, gigantic yet visually light, almost weightless dome made of burnt bricks, one realizes the level of knowledge reached by Turkmen engineers in those remote years. This knowledge allowed the ancient masters to create such an unparalleled architectural masterpiece. In Europe a similar system of domed structure emerged three hundred years later, in Florence.

The mausoleum is overlooked by the medieval castle, the Big Gyz Gala palace, where the accuracy of forms and stark style was preserved to the date, although it was made of mud-bricks, a material not so durable and not expected to withstand the test of time. Now Gyz Gala is covered with scaffoldings; research and restoration works are underway to discover all secrets of this medieval fortress castle and preserve it for the generations to come.

As a matter of fact, the medieval Merv was not just a city, but rather a huge agglomeration with a center at Sultan Gala; with inhabited suburbs; reinforced residence of Shahriyar Ark; most complicated network of irrigation facilities; ab anbars and snow reservoirs. Written sources state that in the 12th century, before the destructive battle with conquerors, there were 14 blocks, 20 streets, 11 houses of worship, and 160 suburban settlements in Merv.

Later Merv revived again and was revered; this is seen in the Askhab Mausoleums and gigantic domes of snow reservois – buzhanas, built in the 15th century, that served as a community freezer; as well as in the architectural complex of Hoja Yusup Baba and other buildings. The time that followed and the late Middle Ages are reminded of by the castles of Abdullahan Gala and Bayramalihan Gala erected to the southwest of Sultan Gala in the 15th and 18th centuries AD. However the city could not reach its former grandeur, as the Murgap suddenly changed its course, and the waters of this ancient river flowed in a different direction, where the modern city of Mary was founded in the beginning of the 19th century.

The narrations of the leading specialists of the historical and cultural reserve allow looking deeper into the past. On the east, the medieval Merv is adjoined by the ancient Merv – Erk Gala and Gaur Gala. These territories began to be inhabited in the 6-5th centuries BC. And even fifteen hundred years later, the remainders of those times stagger the imagination although everything here was built with mud-bricks. The walls surrounding the city reached 30 meters in height! Their width reached 16 meters, making them one of the most reinforced fortification structures of that time.

The cultural layer that conceals the structures of Gaur Gala is 12 meters wide. Survey of the walls, protected with hundreds of towers, showed that they have been renovated and overbuilt for almost thousand years.

The movement of the expedition carrying the symbol of Asiada–2017 through the space and time continued a hundred kilometers to the north, towards the old delta of the Murgap River. Asphaltic ribbons of roads of the modern oasis carry the travelers over numerous irrigation channels, past fields and villages. Kurgan depes rise among them, each a monument of antiquity, eachy carrying history.

The fortress of Gobekli Depe is one of them. Its upper tier was well-studied thanks to the recent archaeological excavations. Walking the narrow corridors between thick, over a meter-wide walls; peeking into small rooms with niches, where the floors are covered with crocks of ancient ceramics, the researchers try to imagine how people lived back then.

Meanwhile, the history itself leads the members of the expedition beyond the modern oasis, to the vast expanse of the Karakum Desert. Bushes of kandym and juzgun lean over the sandy road; branches of saksaul sway in time with the breeze. In the springtime, the sands look welcoming; they’re covered with fresh grass and tolai hares passes running every once in a while.

The specialists of the State Reserve show here the walls of the ancient city of Gonur, the capital of the great Margush country; its mystical strength attracted the seekers of the cradle of the humankind who felt the irresistible craving to find here the answers to many questions. Thanks to the surveys that had lasted three decades, the sands opened up to reveal to the people the historical treasures that have been buried here before. Block by block, the millennial sands have been cleaned to expose the houses of worship; numerous dwellings of ordinary members of the community; irrigation and drainage systems of ceramic pipes; but most importantly – the palace and temple complex, the residence of a ruler, who could walk around all four (!) palaces through underground galleries.

The expedition members were impressed to hear about the enormous work of Turkmen researches that were lucky to work alongside Victor Sarianidi, the outstanding scientist, who made a tremendous contribution to the actual acquisition of yet another cradle of world civilization by the humankind.

So, the members of the current patriotic campaign, carrying the symbol of Asiada–2017, are at the center of the legendary Margush country, whose history began at the banks of the ancient Murgap almost four thousand years ago! In the Bronze Age, this kingdom was highly developed as a leading cultural oasis of the ancient Orient, and represented the fifth center of the world civilization along with the Ancient Egypt, India, China and Mesopotamia.

The bloom of Margush country peaked in the 22th-16th centuries BC, when it was formed by over a hundred settlements situated along the banks of Murgap. The significance of the monument is visually testified about by the architectural and ceramic arts; the grandeur of the buildings; golden jewelry. Bronze chariots discovered here; burials of fight dogs and horses shed light on the history of the modern breeds of wolfhounds and racehorses. This is yet another crossing point of those distant times with the modern epoch: it is the images of the Alabai dog and the Ahalteke horse that became the main official symbols of the 5th Asian Indoor and Martial Arts Games that will be hosted by Ashgabat in a few months.

Connection of centuries remains uninterrupted… Touching the mud walls that burst upon sight thanks to the archaeologists’ efforts, one feels the sense of belonging to that era when the civilization, in fact, the humankind was born on the planet; when crafts, culture, arts and architecture emerged; and animals were domesticated… and among them – alabais and horses who have since then remained the inseparable friends of Turkmens

Turkmenistan is the only country in the world whose national emblem is decorated with the shape of the Ahalteke horse. This is a unique case in the world state heraldry that highlights the status of a horse in the system of national values.

Therefore, it is logical that these ancient monuments of the great multi-millennial history witnessed the relay of the symbol of Asiada–2017 with the image of a horse that, once saddled, takes the Turkmens to the new horizons of creation to write history.