MERV, Turkmenistan (AP) - Genghis Khan's hordes couldn't wipe the great city at Merv from the earth when they killed thousands here in their bloody wave of conquest. Centuries later, though, modern man's meddling with Mother Nature threatens to obliterate the remains of the metropolis.

Merv enjoyed a golden age during the 11th and 12th centuries, when the Sultan Kala fortress was the eastern capital of the Turkish Seljuk Empire and one of the world's biggest cities. Legend says the blue dome of the Sultan Sanjar mausoleum was visible a day's journey away. Even when Mongolian warriors led by Genghis Khan's son sacked the city in 1221, killing what a 13th century historian claimed were 1.3 million people, the city still stood.

Today, the mausoleum is still Merv's crowning landmark, but the dome's blue tiles disappeared long ago. Well-intentioned Soviet efforts in the 1980s to preserve the structure by capping the dome with concrete did more harm than good, trapping water inside and weighing it down.

Now Merv is a Unesco World Heritage Site, and
...preservationists funded by UNESCO have dug pits across Merv, looking for the right earth to build new bricks to help shore up the buildings' walls. Bendakir said residents had forgotten traditional methods for making high-quality mud bricks, so the preservationists experiment with different proportions of mud and water, sometimes adding straw or lime.

In the 11th century the Seljuk Turks appropriated Merv, an ancient city near Ashgabat, as the center of a dominion that stretched from Afghanistan to Egypt. Merv became one of the most important Muslim cities in the world.

Oldest fortification dating to Alexander the Great

In the autumn of 1220, Genghis Khan captured Termiz on the Oxus River (present-day Amu Darya) and in the early part of the winter was active in the upper reaches of that river in what is today Tajikistan.

OGrand Kyz Kala
(7th century, used until the Seljuks, 11th century)

Small Kyz Kala
At the beginning of 1221 he crossed the Oxus into northern Afghanistan and captured the ancient city of Balkh. Soon after the fall of Samarqand he had dispatched his elder sons north into Khwarizm to lay siege to Muhammad's capital. He now sent his youngest son into eastern Persia to sack and destroy the great and populous cities of Merv (now Mary, Turkmenistan) and Nishapur (now Neyshabur, Iran).

land around the old mausoleums used as modern Muslim grave yard

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