(Photos to be added when internet available)
For a time in the past, around 12th century, the city of Marv-i-shah Jahan was at least arguably the capital of the civilised world and was a very important city until 1221, at which point the son of Chinggis Khan destroyed it and killed 300,000 of its inhabitants and it was no more. The city residents had unwisely refused to hand over a tax in grain and their most beautiful women and killed the tax collectors of Chinggis Khan which was one of those things you don’t want to do at that time if you want to keep you head, or in this case city and head
Just to the north of Merv as it is now know is an even older city called Gonur which dates back to 7000BC and was only discovered in 1972, it is believed that this city is even older than the cities in Iraq which until recently were thought to be the birthplace of civilization in the west at least
The history of Civilisation is a book I read when I was 22 or so that has a lot to answer for, it was when reading that book that I came up with the idea for this trip in a round about way. I had the ideas of taking the book and an old series land rover and working my way through the book while driving from Troy to Athens to Rome etc starting in the Euprates valley in Iraq where at that time civilization as we know it was believed to have started with the first laws inscribed on stone for the population who had transitioned from hunter gathers to agricultural basis.
Sadly events of the last 20 years have made that dream impossible to fulfil with the war in Iraq and Syria and the unresolved conflict between the Palestinians and Israel making all that part of the great story inaccessible to my land rover. Now I know more about Turkmenistan and the two cites of Merv and Gonur it seems that my long held dream is a little bit being fulfilled.
This tour which is essentially the Silk Road tour with a side trip to Mongolia for the Naadam festival is the next part of the book when some form of civilization was established in China, India and Greek/Rome then the Silk road was the way these great civilisations traded goods, customs, wars and even religions back and forward between their centres. At times it was the cites of the Silk road from Beijing to Istanbul which were the ossiclating centres of the world and so it was with Merv and Gonur although most people in the west would probably not have heard of either place.
Today these cities are quite unremarkable lumps in the middle of the Turkmenistan desert, as you should be able to see from the pictures included, but when you walk on the crumbling remains of the battlements which enclose an area a mile or more wide, you walk in some of the earlist history on the planet and one of the first places to be called the capital of the known world