Mary & Merv

Mary is an important city in the southeast of Turkmenistan, an oasis in the desert with a long and fascinating history. Named for the mother of Jesus because in Kerait tradition, she is buried here. However, originally named Merv, it was historically a popular stop on the Silk Road; later it was occupied by Russia until Turkmenistan established independence, after which it became the capital of Mary province.

The modern city of Mary is the base from which to discover the nearby ancient sites of wonder. The city's museum contains exhibitions and displays to give visitors a good foundation for exploring the surrounding area. Each city (or "kala") within the vast complex of historic Merv tells its own story of a slice of Turkmenistan's amazing history from the 7th century BC until well past the Medieval period. And, even further back, the excavation site at Gonur Depe marks central Turkmenistan as one of the earliest seats of civilization in the world.


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Abdulla-Khan Kala

The Abdulla-Khan Kala marks the area of Merv developed after the Medieval period. Founded in 1409, it’s the smallest of Merv’s cities; the rectangular walls enclose some 44 towers including the citadel - home of the city’s ruler.

Bayram-Ali-Khan Kala

Another and slightly larger post-medieval city of Merv, Bayram-Ali-Khan Kala features a collection of crumbling-but-stunning architectural wonders, fortress walls, towers and citadels, well-preserved given the area’s checkered history.

Erk Kala

Erk Kala marks the location of the earliest civilisation on the site. As far back as the 7th century BC, the Persian empire had a fortress here. The modern ruins show signs of it being later used as an acropolis and a sacred Islamic place of safety.

Gonur Depe

A worthwhile three-hour journey from Mary is the archeological site of Gonur Depe, the location of the first agricultural settlement in the oasis by the Murgab River - one of the five oldest civilizations on the planet. Here, a vast dig was undertaken to discover monumental temples and castles dating back millennia.

Gyaur Kala

When Alexander the Great conquered Merv in the 4th century BC, it was incorporated into the city of Antiochia. The remains of the city fortress walls are known today as Gyaur Kala and includes ancient places of worship for Buddhists and Christians.

Mary History Museum

One of the two most important museums in the country, Mary Museum was opened in 1984 in an old Russian brick factory. Extended in 1998, the museum’s halls house collections featuring ancient Turkmen ethnography, indigenous flora and fauna and information on the country’s fascinating history.


The original site of the ancient city of Merv is located nearby modern-day Mary. Designated a UNESCO World Heritage Site, Merv is a collection of cities (kalas) that are home to numerous ancient remains and ruins spanning its 4,000 year history.

Sultan Kala

The largest of Merv’s cities, Sultan Kala became the central core of medieval Merv. In this Kala, archaeologists have discovered building types unique to central Asia including mausoleums and citadels bearing centuries of occupation and history.

The Forts of Big and Little Kyz-Kalas

Built over three centuries, from 600 to 900 AD, the large and small kalas of Kyz are characteristic of the pre-Arabian era and feature rectangular wall structures enclosing the ruins of the interconnecting rooms.

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