Karakum desert in Turkmenistan
Karakum desert in Turkmenistan

Turkmenistan is a country in Central Asia bordered by the Caspian Sea and largely covered by the Karakum Desert. It’s known for amazing archaeological ruins, including those at Nisa and Merv, major stops along the ancient trade route know as the Silk Road. Ashgabat, the capital, was rebuilt in the Soviet style in the mid-20th century and is filled with grand monuments honouring former president Saparmurat Niyazov. Turkmenistan remains one of the least-visited countries in the world, counting only 8,900 visitors in 2012.

Although Turkmenistan’s Silk Road sights form a thread of the fascinating story about the region’s role as a trading centre along the Silk Road between the 8th to 13th centuries.

With approximately one million people in 11th-12th centuries, Merv was the largest of the Silk Road urban centres. This oasis city was also the capital of the Great Seljuk state until this was stopped by Genghis Khan and his Mongol army in 1221.

Kunya-Urgench, a Silk Road City on the border with Uzbekistan and also a UNESCO Site, was a hub of culture, learning and prominence during the 11th and 12th centuries. It was rebuilt in the 13th century after it rebelled against and was destroyed by the Mongols, only to be destroyed again by Tamerlane in the 14th century, as he feared it as a competitor to Samarkand. Today, the ruins and remains of these two cities are a tiny fraction of what once existed hundreds of years ago and they are currently under excavation. This is an archaeological hidden treasure and is a must visit on any archaeology enthusiasts bucket list.

 

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