At the height of its power in the 12th century, Merv was the largest city in the world. Located in modern-day Turkmenistan, this Central Asian city was built on an oasis; prominently located on the Silk Road—putting it on one of the biggest trade routes of historic times. The origins of the city go back into the prehistoric ages, with some traces of habitation as far back as 3000 BC. While control of the city switched between the various empires of the region over its long history (it was even renamed Alexandria for a time after Alexander’s armies went through), it remained a jewel in the crown of Central Asia until its downward slide began.
Did you know?
- Merv was referred to as the “Queen of Cities”. It is estimated that in 1150 Merv was the largest city in the world.
- Merv was an advanced metropolis known for crucible steel, libraries, markets, and architectural wonders (they even had year-round “ice houses” to store fresh ice).
- Over its lifetime, Merv was a noted center of learning for Buddhists and Muslims, and it welcomed a mixed population of immigrants from all over Central Asia.
- In Zoroastrianism, the god Ahura Mazda is said to have created Merv (referred to as Mouru) as one of sixteen perfect lands.
- In 1221 a Genghis Khan-led Mongol army captured the city after a six-day siege. Accounts from the time report that 400 craftspeople were taken prisoner, and between 700,000 and 1.3 million people were slain in one of the bloodiest massacres of the age.
- The sacking of Merv involved about 0.33% of the world’s population dying (it is estimated that the world population was about 360 million at the time).
- While Merv was rebuilt and re-populated after being pillaged by the Mongol army, it never again reached the same prominence as it had before 1221. It was finally abandoned in 1785.
- Due to its long and rich history, Merv was made a UNESCO World Heritage Site in 1999.
- Knowing the accomplishments of Merv, one can only wonder how different our world might be if the Mongols had never stopped by on those fateful days nearly 800 years ago.
- Merv, Turkmenistan
- The destruction of Merv
- Lost cities #5: how the magnificent city of Merv was razed – and never recovered
- Merv – Encyclopedia Britannica
- The desolation of Merv
- New World Encyclopedia: Merv
- Ancient Merv
- A short history of Merv
- Turkmenistan on the Silk Road
- Merv, Turkmenistan
- 11 percent world population killed in Mongol conquests of 13th century
- Ancient Merv Project
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