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My father was born in Merv, Turkmenistan.

Merv (Turkmen: Merw, Мерв, مرو; Persian: مرو, Marv), also known as the Merve Oasis, formerly known as Alexandria (Greek: Ἀλεξάνδρεια), Antiochia in Margiana (Greek: Ἀντιόχεια ἡ ἐν τῇ Μαργιανῇ) and Marw al-Shāhijān, was a major Iranian city in Central Asia, on the historical Silk Road, near today's Mary, Turkmenistan. Human settlements on the site of Merv existed from the 3rd millennium BC until the 18th century AD. It changed hands repeatedly throughout history. Under the Achaemenid Empire, it was the centre of the satrapy of Margiana. It was subsequently ruled by the Ancient Macedonians, Parthians, Sasanians, Arabs, Ghaznavids, Seljuqs, Khwarazmians and Timurids among others.

Merv was the capital city of several polities throughout its history. In the beginning of the 9th century, Merv was the seat of the caliph al-Ma'mun and the capital of the entire Islamic caliphate. It served later as the seat of the Tahirid rulers of Khorasan. In the 11th–12th centuries, Merv was the capital of the Great Seljuk Empire and remained so until the latter's ultimate fall. Around this time, Merv turned into a chief centre of Islamic science and culture, attracting as well as producing renowned poets, musicians, physicians, mathematicians and astronomers. Great Persian polymath Omar Khayyam, among others, spent a number of years working at the observatory in Merv. As Persian geographer and traveller al-Istakhri wrote of Merv: "Of all the countries of Iran, these people were noted for their talents and education." Arab geographer Yaqut al-Hamawi counted as many as 10 giant libraries in Merv, including one within a major mosque that contained 12,000 volumes.

Merv was also a popular place for pilgrimage and several religions considered it holy. In Zoroastrianism, Merv (Mouru) was one of 16 perfect lands created by god Ahura Mazda. Between the 5th and 11th centuries, Merv served as the seat of an East Syrian metropolitan province. A descendant of the Islamic prophet Muhammad, 8th Imam of Twelver Shia Islam Ali ar-Ridha (Imam Reza) moved to Merv from Baghdad and resided there for several years. Al-Muqanna, the "Veiled Prophet", who gained many followers by claiming to be an incarnation of God, was born and started his movement in Merv.

During the 12th–13th centuries, Merv may have been the world's largest city, with a population of up to 500,000. During this period, Merv was known as "Marw al-Shāhijān" (Merv the Great), and frequently referred to as the "capital of the eastern Islamic world". According to Yaqut al-Hamawi, the city and its structures were visible from a day's journey away. In 1221, the city opened its gates to an invading Mongol horde, resulting in massive devastation. Historical accounts contend that the entire population (including refugees) were killed; Tolui Khan is reputed to have slaughtered 700,000 people. Though partly rebuilt after the Mongol destruction, the city never regained its former prosperity. Between 1788 and 1789, the city was razed for the last time and its population deported. By the 1800s, Merv was completely deserted.

Today the site is preserved as a state historical and cultural park. It is the oldest and most perfectly preserved of the oasis cities along the historical Silk Road. A few buildings and structures still stand today, especially those constructed in the last two millennia. UNESCO has listed the site of ancient Merv as a World Heritage Site.

In 1037, the Seljuq Turkmens, a clan of Oghuz Turks moving from the steppes east of the Aral Sea, peacefully took over Merv under the leadership of Tughril—the Ghaznavid sultan Mas'ud I was extremely unpopular in the city. Tugril's brother Chaghri stayed in Merv as the Seljuq domains grew to include the rest of Khurasan and Iran, and it subsequently became a favourite city of the Seljuq sultans. Chaghri, his son Alp Arslan (sultan from 1063 to 1072) and great-grandson Ahmad Sanjar (sultan from 1118 to 1157) were buried at Merv, the latter at the Tomb of Ahmad Sanjar.

Nearing the end of the 11th century, Merv became the eastern capital of the split Seljuq state. However, starting from 1118, it served as the capital of the whole empire. During this period, Merv expanded to its greatest size—Arab and Persian geographers termed it "the mother of the world", the "rendezvous of great and small", the "chief city of Khurasan" and the "capital of the eastern Islamic world". Written sources also attest to a large library and madrasa founded by Nizam al-Mulk, vizier of the Seljuq empire, as well as many other major cultural institutions. Perhaps most importantly, Merv had a market described as "the best of the major cities of Iran and Khurasan".

Sanjar's rule, marked by conflict with the Kara-Khitai and Khwarazmians, ended in 1153 when Turkmen nomads from beyond the Amu Darya pillaged the city. Subsequently, Merv changed hands between the Khwarazmians of Khiva, Turkmen nomads, and the Ghurids. According to Tertius Chandler, by 1150 Merv was the world's largest city, with a population of 200,000. By 1210, it may have had as many as 500,000 residents, preceding such medieval metropolises as Constantinople and Baghdad.

The oasis of Merv is situated on the Murghab River that flows down from Afghanistan, on the southern edge of the Karakum Desert, at 37°30’N and 62°E, about 230 miles (370 km) north of Herat, and 280 miles (450 km) south of Khiva. Its area is about 1,900 square miles (4,900 km2). The great chain of mountains which, under the names of Paropamisade and Hindu Kush, extends from the Caspian Sea to the Pamir Mountains is interrupted some 180 miles (290 km) south of Merv. Through or near this gap flow northwards in parallel courses the Tejen and Murgab rivers, until they lose themselves in the Karakum Desert. Thus, they make Merv a sort of watch tower over the entrance into Afghanistan on the north-west and at the same time create a stepping-stone or étape between north-east Persia and the states of Bukhara and Samarqand.

Merv is advantageously situated in the inland delta of the Murghab River, which flows from its source in the Hindu Kush northwards through the Garagum desert. The Murghab delta region, known to the Greeks as Margiana, gives Merv two distinct advantages: first, it provides an easy southeast–northwest route from the Afghan highlands towards the lowlands of Karakum, the Amu Darya valley and Khwarezm. Second, the Murgab delta, being a large well-watered zone in the midst of the dry Karakum, serves as a natural stopping-point for the routes from northwest Iran towards Transoxiana—the Silk Roads. The delta, and thus Merv, lies at the junction of these two routes: the northwest–southeast route to Herat and Balkh (to the Indus and beyond) and the southwest–northeast route from Tus and Nishapur to Bukhara and Samarkand.

This place was a stop on the Silk Road during the time of the Han dynasty. Here merchants could trade for fresh horses or camels at this oasis city.

Merv is dry and hot in summer and cold in winter. The heat of summer is oppressive. The wind raises clouds of fine dust which fill the air, rendering it opaque, almost obscuring the noonday sun. These clouds make breathing difficult. In winter the climate is pleasant. Snow falls rarely, and when it does, it melts at once. The annual rainfall rarely exceeds 125 mm (4.9 in), and there is often no rain from June until October. In summer temperatures can reach 45 °C (113 °F), while in winter they can be as low as −7 °C (19 °F). The average yearly temperature is 16 °C (61 °F).




 
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