Bauwerke von Merv, Buildings of Merv, Bâtiments de Merv, Edifici di Merv, Памятники архитектуры города Мерв

Buildings of Merv

Buildings of Merv: a look at the architectural heritage of the ancient oasis city

Merv is known in history as “Merv ash-Shahidjan” and has ancient buildings. It is said that the citadel (kukhendiz) was built by Tahamurt and the ancient city (medina) by Zu’l-Karnein. (The city is located in a flat area far from the mountains, where no mountains can be seen and none are in the immediate vicinity; the land is saline and sandy).

The structures of Merv are built of mud and there are three mosques for Friday prayers. The first mosque where Friday prayers were held is a mosque built inside the (inner) city at the beginning of Islam.

As the number of Muslims increased, a mosque called the ‘old mosque’ was built near the city, where the worshippers performed their prayers.

Al-Shafi’i, Ahmad ibn Hanbal and Ibn Malik, based on the traditions of Muhammad’s (SAV) actions and words (Hadith), in contrast to the fourth, most widespread school of Abu Hanifa, which relies on inferences (Paradise) and analogies. The communal prayers in the first mosque were abandoned and it is known as the “Mosque of Beni Mahan”.

Then a mosque was built which is located on the Madjan. It is said that this mosque, the bazaar and the government building were built by Abu Muslim. Behind this mosque is the table house, and in this house there is a domed building which was built by Abu Muslim and in which he used to sit and in which the rulers of Merv still sit.

It is a domed building of baked bricks, 55 cubits wide and with an exposed roof, with four doors leading to a portico 30 cubits high, with a rectangular floor in front of each portico.

The citadel is the same size as the city centre, but it is deserted; it is on a hill, and although it is on a hill, it has underground water channels that still flow today; sometimes there are melons, vegetable gardens and other things.

As for the bazaars, they used to be at the (inner) city gates, on the side of the “old mosque”, and in the days of Abu Muslim they were moved to Madjan. The bazaars of Merv are among the cleanest.

The place of festival prayer is in the “Ras al-Maydan” neighbourhood in Abu Jahma Square, and this place of prayer is surrounded on all sides by buildings and structures and is located between the Khurmuzfarra Canal (The Khurmuzfarra Canal flowed past the western wall of the city of Sultan Qala.) and the Madjan.

The quarters into which the city is divided have certain boundaries; these quarters have well-known canals. Of these, the canal of Hurmuzfarra, on which many buildings of the city (balad) are situated, is towards Serakhs, the place where one enters from Serakhs.

It has many buildings; al-Husayn ibn Tahir (Al-Husayn ibn Tahir, a member of the Tahirid dynasty), who held Merv for a time (since 877) after the fall of the dynasty’s rule, built these buildings here; and here he wanted to move the bazaar and the house of government.

It is from this canal that the Ras al-Shabai neighbourhood, home to the glorious Sheikh Abu’l-Fadl Muhammad ibn Ubeidallah, draws its water. (Abu’l-Fadl (Abu’l-Fazl) Bal’ami was a Samanid vizier who died in 940).

Then a canal known as al-Majan; on it are the house of the government, a new Juma mosque, a prison, and the house of Abu-i-Nejm, a freedman of the Abu Mu’aith family; it is a domed house.

In it, the Abbasid followers dyed their clothes black; this domed building still exists today. Then the canal known as al-Raziq, which opens at the city gate; from this canal the inhabitants of the (inner) city (Medina) take water and bring it to the hawza (ponds) in it (Medina); on this canal “the old mosque” and in its lower part the palaces of Khalid ibn Ahmed ibn Hammad, who was the ruler of Bukhara.

Finally, there was a canal known as Asadi al-Khorasani (the Asadi or Asadi al-Khorasani canal apparently flowed past the walls of Gjaur-kala on the east side) which supplied water to the neighbourhoods of Bab Sanjan, Beni-Mahan and others; on this canal were the houses of the Merv Marzban.

These are the canals on which the neighbourhoods and buildings are located. These buildings and these canals (the Asadi or Asadi al-Khorasani canal, which apparently flowed past the walls of Gyaur-kala on the east side) are surrounded by a wall; another wall surrounds (the whole of) the city and its villages (rustak); it includes all the urban settlements and is called ar-Rai – traces of this wall are still visible today.

The inner city (Medina) has four gates: the gate called the “City Gate” next to the Juma Mosque, the Saitjan Gate, the Balin Gate and the Mushkan Gate, from which one enters Maverannahr, and near which was the dwelling and camp of al-Ma’mun when he stayed in Merv until the Caliph’s power came into his hands.

Merv has a large river from which all the above-mentioned canals and the canals of the communities (Rustak) branch off; it begins beyond Bamiyan and is known by the name of Margab, i.e. River of Merv. Some say that this river is named after the place from which it flows, which is called “Margab”.

Others say that “marg” means “thicket”. This river flows near Mervarrood, and on it lie their lands, and the boundary of this river in the Merv region is (the village of) Kukin, (it should probably be called Laukar or Levker between Khauzan and al-Qarinein.

Hauzan belongs to Merverrood, al-Qarinein to Merv. The division of this river begins at the village of Zark, where the watershed of the Merv is located. And from this river, for each quarter and street, small channels are made on which wooden boards are placed (the Paris extract adds: “These boards are placed in the village of Bukht Ab, which is half a farsakh from the city).

And when the water increases, each user takes his share of the surplus, and in the same way when the water decreases (receives less). And a separate chief manages this water, and he has more importance than the one in charge of taxes. (Sahib ma’una seems to be the one in charge of taxes and fees other than the Haraj.

And they told me that more than 10,000 people feed on this water – each of them has an office at this water. Merv was a camp of the Muslims in the first period of Islam, and in it the kingdom of Persia came to the Muslims, because Yazdgerd, the king of Persia, was killed in a mill (near the village) by Zarq.

It was from here that Abbasid propaganda began, and it was in the house of Abu-i-Nejma al-Musaiti’s family that the first dresses of the “black-clad” were painted; it was here that Caliphic power passed to al-Ma’mun, and he defeated his brother Muhammad, the son of Zubeida. (I.e. Muhammad al-Amin, the Abbasid caliph (193 – 198 = 809 – 813); Zubeida is the name of his mother).

From him (Merv) came most of the military leaders (qayyid) of the caliphate and its officials (qatib) in Iraq, the rulers of Khorasan and many prominent jurists and famous wordsmiths. If we had not kept to known boundaries in our book and if what we have explained was not known from stories and books, we would have written about different classes of people and other things that we have briefly mentioned.

In the days of the Persians these people were outstanding in talent and learning among all the lands of Iranshahr (i.e. Iran, we read in Manuscript C; in the edition: Abrashahr.), so that the physician known as Barzue surpassed the other Persian physicians and the musician called Barbud surpassed others in song and music.

The bread of Merv is so good that no other bread in Khorasan is finer and tastier, and the dried fruits of Merv – grapes (sultanas) and other things – are preferred to grapes from other places; and Herat is famous for their abundance, many of them being found in other places, but they have a better taste and value (than all) Merv fruits.

The excellence of the fruits of Merv is proved by the fact that the melons are sliced and exported to Iraq. Merv surpasses other cities of Khorasan because of its cleanliness and beauty of location, the arrangement of buildings and quarters between canals and trees, the isolation of the various craftsmen in the bazaars.

In the desert of Merv grows Ushturgaz (a manna-producing plant), which is exported to other countries; silk is also exported, as well as raw silk in large quantities. I was told that the basis for silk production in Jurdshan and Tabaristan was brought from Merv in ancient times, and (nowadays) silkworm seeds are sometimes brought to Tabaristan; the softest “Merv cotton” is collected in Merv and good “Merv textiles” are produced, which are exported to various countries.

In (the district of) Merv there are old and new pulpits (mimbars) (i.e. juma mosques). The district of Merv has pulpits (mimbars) (i.e. Juma mosques), old and new; there are two in the town of Merv, and one each in Kushmaykhan, Khurmuzfarra, Sindj, Jirenj, (Jirenj, or rather Gireng, a large village situated on the Murghab, above Merv ad-Dandankan, al-Karinein, Bashan, Harak, as-Sausakan: these are the pulpits (of the district) of Merv of which I know.

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