Ending the time travel to the ancient city of Margush as part of the dazzling theatrical performance at the 5th Asian Indoor and Martial Arts Games opening ceremony, Little and Great Gyzgala and Mausoleum of Sultan Sanjar were reconstructed on the panoramic cylinder-shaped monitor with laser light projections...
6. Ancient Merv – the Soul of Kings
The great Central Asian city, long ago known as Maru-shakhu-jan (Mary – the Soul of Kings), was founded in a fertile oasis of the Murgab River. It includes a system of nearby ancient settlements from different historical epochs, although in other ancient cities new settlements were traditionally built at sites of the old ones. This makes the city totally unique. The settlements of Ancient Merv cover an area of thousands of hectares today!
Erk-kala, Gyaur-kala, Sultan-kala, Abdullakhan-kala – each of these names is associated with the many-thousand-year history that saw the rise and fall of kingdoms and dynasties, wars and constant revival. Today, it is truly an archeological heaven for scientists who come from different countries to carry out excavations and continue the scientific traditions of their predecessors that studied Merv from the late 19th century.
To recognize the enormous significance of the ancient historical monuments located there, “Ancient Merv” State Historical and Cultural Reserve was established by a government decree; the entire complex of invaluable monuments was listed by UNESCO as a World Heritage site in 1999.
Once, Merv, like Bagdad, Cairo or Damascus, was regarded as one of the most important capitals of the Islamic world. In those times, Merv was one of the most beautiful cities of the East. In the early 9th century, the Khorasan ruler of the Arab
Caliphate al-Mamun, the son of the Caliph Harun al-Rashid, came to reside in the city. In 813, al-Mamum became caliph; however he continued to live in Merv for a long time after that.
Historians claim that in that period of time, Merv was in fact the Caliphate’s capital – all orders and appointments in the entire Arab state were made from there. The city saw then the glorious period in its history although during a short time.
Merv reached its zenith in the 11th - 12th centuries under the rule of the Great Turkmen Seljuk sultans, whose empire stretched from the lower Amudarya to the Mediterranean Sea. In the reign of Melik-shah, Merv’s fortification structures were reconstructed. The city grew rapidly. It was at this time that it was nicknamed “The Soul of Kings”. The epoch marked a great cultural revival, when the best scientists of the Muslim world, poets, artists and architects, who bequeathed their undying works to their ancestors, came to Merv.
In 1118, the last Seljuk ruler, Sultan Sanjar, made Merv the capital of his vast empire. The countless treasures, collected there, allowed building castles, mosques and palaces.
Located in what was the center of Sultan-kala, the Seljuk part of the city of Merv, is the biggest ancient structure in Turkmenistan – the Mausoleum of Sultan Sanjar. The earliest mention of the city is in works by medieval authors. The famed Arab traveler, geographer and historian Yaqut-al-Hamawi, who visited Merv in the early 13th century, before the Mongol invasion, wrote about this building: “it was topped by a blue dome that could be seen from a day’s journey away.”
Even after the destruction brought about by the hordes of Genghis Khan, those who saw the Mausoleum of Sultan Sanjar wrote that “it is the tallest building in the world” (Rashid-ad-Din, 14th century) and “one of the greatest buildings in the world; it is so strong that it cannot be damaged” (Isfizari, 15th century).
400 years later – in 1880 – Edmond O’Donovan, a reporter from the ‘The Daily News’ (a newspaper published in London), visited Merv and wrote: “The tomb of Sultan Sanjar is a place of pilgrimage, and no Turkmen goes by without paying tribute to the memory of the diseased ruler”.
The Mausoleum of Sultan Sanjar was built in the middle of the 12th century as a central part of the complex, which also included a palace and a Jami mosque (literally meaning “Friday mosque”). The Mausoleum is the only building in the complex that survived after the destruction of Merv by the Mongols in 1221-22. The inscription on the stone slab reads: “This place is dignified by the remains of the man named Sultan Sanjar, who descended from the Seljuks, the great ones, the late fifth century of the Hegira. He was as fair as Iskander (Alexander the Great), a patron of scientists and poets; under his rule the Islam world enjoyed prosperity and happiness, thanks to sciences and arts”.
Sultan Sanjar was the youngest son of the powerful sultan, Melik-shah. He ascended the throne twenty-five years after his father’s death, when his brothers were unable to retain the centralized power in the vast empire inherited by them. But Sanjar, who had been the long-time ruler of Khorasan, took efficient steps to save the state. Having moved the Empire’s capital from Isfahan to Merv, the cradle of the Seljuk state, where his illustrious ancestors – Chagrybek and Alp-Arslan were buried, Sultan Sanjar began to recapture many of the previously lost territories. The great dynasty regained its past glory. Not only did it manage to rule over the large empire, joining the West and the East, but it succeeded in creating necessary conditions for the empire’s political, economic and cultural prosperity.
The majestic Mausoleum of Sultan Sanjar has retained the evidence of its past grandeur through the centuries. The mausoleum’s architectural concept, lavish ornamental motifs (although not entirely intact), and architectural and structural solutions (bold for those days) stand as eloquent testimony to the long-term evolution of the art of building in this part of the world.
The mausoleum underwent extensive reconstruction fifteen years ago. Every effort was made to preserve the priceless architectural gem.
The name ‘Sanjar’ itself has become a brand name in modern Turkmenistan: statues of Sultan Sanjar have been erected in the cities of Ashgabat and Mary, one of Turkmenistan’s banknotes also bears his iconic image. The name of the great ruler is most frequently heard in his mausoleum, when tourists listen to a guide, and pilgrims praying to Allah, pronounce the name of Sultan Sanjar (who is a distant descendant of the forefather of the Turkmen – Oguzkhan) in their prayers.
7. Oguzkhan – the forefather of the Turkmen
At the Olympic Stadium, “heavenly” horses literally dashed out of the darkness with riders carrying flags. The fast-moving group of equestrians took several laps around the field; a giant image of Oguzkhan came in sight in the center. The forefather of the Turkmen nation had a bow and three arrows in his hands.
Every school student knows today that the glorified history of the Turkmen starts with Oguzkhan. His name is identified with the Oguz, the ethnicon that was first mentioned in written documents in the first millennium BCE. There are many manuscripts telling the stories of the Turkmen nation’s past that have survived into modern days. Among them are old Oguz destans (folk epic poems), the folk epic “Gorkut Ata”, the Orkhon and Yenisei inscriptions, the Dictionary of Turkic Languages (Divan-i lugat at-Turk) compiled by Mahmud Kashgari, The Kutadgu Bilig (The Wisdom which brings happiness) by Yusuf Balasaguni, fundamental works by medieval historians, and writings by travelers. The folk stories, collected in The Oguznama (the greater part of which was written in the Turkmen language and is kept in the world’s biggest collections of manuscripts), reflect the people’s beliefs about Oguzkhan most eloquently.
Legend has it that Oguzkhan had six sons - Gyun (Sun), Ai (Moon), Yyldyz (Star), Geok (Sky), Dag (Mountain), Deniz (Sea), and 24 grandsons, who constituted 24 Turkmen tribes. The Turkmen nation was descended from the grandsons of Oguzkhan.
The legend about the adoption of Islam by the Turkmen’s ancestors is inseparably coupled with the illustrious name of Oguzkhan. Having learnt that his son practiced the new One God faith, his father, Garakhan, started a war against him. However, the Oguzkhan’s wife, who was a devout believer, immediately informed him about it. Garakhan died during the long war, and Oguzkhan took the throne.
Researchers think that Oguzkhan’s legendary image reflects the entire process of the Turkmen nation’s historical formation. Almost all versions of The Oguznama provide identical information about the genealogical tree of the Oguz – the names of Oguzkhan’s sons and grandsons, shapes and meanings of their totemic symbols, and many others.
The folk epic Gorkut Ata is seen as a continuation of The Oguznama and Oguz destans (folk epic poems). Scientists suppose that the epic saga dates back 1,500 years ago.
Two manuscripts of Gorkut Ata have survived into modern days: the one written in the 16th century is stored in the stock of the Dresden Library, the other – in the Vatican Library.
Today, the name of Oguzkhan has been immortalized in the capital of Turkmenistan, in the names of the Palace Complex, the official residence of the head of state Gurbanguly Berdymuhamedov, one of the city’s streets, Turkmenfilm Association, youth hockey team from Ashgabat, and one of the etraps in Mary velayat.
Majestic statues of Oguzkhan can be seen at the Independence Monument in the capital and in the center of the fountain complex nearby Ashgabat International Airport. The banknote in denomination of 100 manats and the commemorative coin bear his image. The octagonal Star of Oguzkhan, which is also the shape of the State Emblem and the Flag of the President of Turkmenistan, has become widespread in the country.
The Star of Oguzkhan is actively used by local architects and designers. The ancient Turkmen symbol has taken on particular importance in practically all facilities of the capital’s Olympic Complex, where the Ashgabat 2017 Games are coming to a close.
Representatives of the Guinness World Records have recognized the huge octagonal Star of Oguzkhan in the center the Television Tower as the world’s largest architectural star.
Another example is the Marriage Palace, Bagt Köşgi with its enormous globe, which is placed in the shape formed by six octagrams. The pattern is also repeated in smaller elements, such as metal street light shades, stylobates, fountain pools and well-tended lawns.
The Star of Oguzkhan has become the most recognizable symbol of Turkmenistan. At the Olympic Stadium, when the rider with the flaming torch astride a beautiful fast-moving Akhalteke horse ascended the Tower of History, the huge Star of Oguzkhan was above it.
The rider made three circles atop of the Fortress of History in accordance with the national traditions and customs, made the horse rear up and touched the Star of Oguzkhan with the torch. The two sparks quickly moved towards the Olympic cauldron above the large horse statue and lit the Ashgabat 2017 Games flame.
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