After having traveled for five days with our guide and driver - inevitable if you are on a longer visit in Turkmenistan - it felt like a liberation. To be sure, both our driver and guide were friendly, helpful people, who did what they could to make our visit enjoyable and who offered us lots of background information. Still, nothing beats traveling around independently, so when we boarded a local bus at the bus station of Ashgabat, we were both happy. We also noted the difference: we finally found ourselves among locals, who looked at us, some of whom tried to help us, and whom we had to ask where to get off for the ancient ruins of Nisa. And after getting off, we were left to our own devices to find the ruins. Yes, being driven right to the entrance is much easier, but having to find a place yourself, while taking more time, also results in a feeling of satisfaction when you end up in the right spot. After a discussion with the caretaker of the area, we walked the last few hundred metres until we reached what looked like hills with footpaths, but which we figured were the remains of the old city walls. When we walked through an opening, and climbed the stairs of a viewing platform, we knew we had arrived at the ruins of the ancient Parthian settlement of Nisa.
From where we were standing, we saw a plain ahead of us, surrounded by the city wall we had just seen from the other side. In a distance, to the south, the Kopet Dag mountains, which form the natural border with Iran; actually, much of Parthia lied in what currently is Iran. On our side, there was nothing special to see, so we walked the main path to what seemed like serious excavations. One of the interesting features of Nisa is, that it has not been established yet what it actually was: a royal residence, a religious site, or a combination of both? Seeing the quite bare reconstructed buildings did not solve this question to our unknowing eyes either; to complicate things further, the small museum was closed. It was not always easy for us to distinguish between authentic old ruins, and restored ones, and we were happy to arrive at the section on the western side of Nisa where a team of Italian and Turkmen archeologists was busy working.
They appeared all too happy to be able to talk to visitors, and were able to answer some of our questions. They had been working for several years now to excavate what seemed like a palace, and they urged us to visit the national museum in Ashgabat to see some of the finds they had done (and indeed, those turned out to be fantastic!). Among those finds: jars for wine which apparently had been stored in wine cellars in the basement. One of the archeologists told us that while they were working here, all the barren terrain that we had crossed was very likely to contain many more buildings, so there is still a lot of work to be done on Nisa, and uncovering its mysteries. What seems sure, however, is that it was established in the 3rd century BCE as a capital of the Parthians, and the wall surrounding Nisa was guarded by no less than 43 towers. Like so many other places in Central Asia, it was destroyed by the Mongols in the early 13th century, after which it continued to exist on a newer site just outside the ancient city wall. Looking back on the ruins and the excavated parts of Nisa before going back to Ashgabat, we felt attracted to this site that is still waiting to be fully explored.
Around the World in 80 Clicks
Personal travel impressions both in words and images from Nisa (Turkmenistan). Clicking on the pictures enlarges them and enables you to send the picture as a free e-card or download it for personal use, for instance, on your weblog. Or click on the map above to visit more places close to Nisa. Read more about this site.