Bayramaly town borders on the southern edge with the sites of the ancient Merv located just 30km east of Mary on the road to Turkmenabat. The walls of the two youngest cities of the Merv site, the Timurid city of Abdullah Khan Kala and the later Bairam Ali Khan Kala, lie across the road from the town’s main bazaar. The death of Biram Ali Khan led to the decline of Merv during the following decades. Tourists usually see Bayramaly only bypassing the Merv. However, the town is of interest in its own right.
In 1887, some 90,000ha close to the ruins of ancient Merv were designated the Murgab Imperial Estate, and a royal home was built here. A tiny town grew up near the new Bayramaly railway station to serve the estate. Bayramaly holds the best-preserved tsarist-era center of any town in Turkmenistan. During the Soviet time, the former royal lodge served as the center of a sanatorium, based around the reported qualities of the particularly dry and sunny climate here, within dry and sunny Turkmenistan, for the treatment of kidney problems.
The roadside monument greeting visitors to the town features a sun design, in tribute to the source of the town’s 20th-century fame. The tsarist-era single-storey buildings of the quiet, tree-lined center of town fill the streets to the north. Some of the buildings echo the design of the royal lodge with their pavilion forms, geometrical brick-patterned friezes, crenellations and gentle buttresses. One building, almost opposite the north gate of the sanatorium, implies a mosque with a domed roof and brick minaret. It now houses the local tax office.
A block to the northwest, the town’s Russian Orthodox Church is square in layout and bulky in form. There are two main entrances, on the north and west walls, with arched wooden doors protected beneath porches, held up by squat columns resembling halved barrels. Inside, the walls are held by interlocking arches, decorated with medallions of saints and abstract floral designs. The floor, tiled with star motifs is, like the rest of the building, elegant, if battered. The round tower at the center of the building is now topped with fluted iron, rather than the original dome. According to the residents, there is an underground passage was built between the royal lodge and the church, to enable the tsar to attend services without having to come into contact with his subjects.
Central Bazaar stands on the north side of town towards ancient Merv. Food and drink are offered on long brick benches, around set up the stalls under low covers of billowing cotton supported on poles, providing the place a mystical air. Bazaar offers more like carpets and handicraft items from the northeast corner of the bazaar, close to a row of caged ducks and poultry.
The Cottonseed Factory Museum
You notice the mildly unpleasant smell which hangs in the air over Bayramaly, it is a product of the cottonseed oil factory, which sits right in the center of town northern from the church. The Cottonseed Factory Museum just next to the main gate of the factory is well worth a look, as a rare survival in Turkmenistan of a Soviet-era museum extolling the achievements of the town’s main industrial enterprise. The cotton factory dates from 1903, though became specialized in the production of cottonseed oil from 1936. The museum dates from 1931. It has one large room dedicated to the history of the factory.
The walls of this room are covered with evocative paintings on white cotton cloth, the work of one Yuri Artamonov. They represent scenes correlated with the life of the factory, mostly drawn from photographs: the factory’s fire brigade in the 1930s, whose brass bell is also exhibited; a parade led by the local football team, Pishevik (‘Food Industry Worker’), featuring red flags, banners, and a little barrage balloon marked ‘USSR’. There is the shirt of a man named Kulkov, who laid the first brick of the new factory. A wage list from 1903, recording that the highest salary paid was 15 roubles a month. The desk was used by an early factory director. A trophy cabinet, commemorating the factory’s sporting achievements. The imagery of the banners and shields displayed here is heavy with cotton, grapes, carpet designs, hammers and sickles, wheat, Lenin’s head, the sun, the world. There are also photographs of unsmiling children at the kindergarten and a yellowing press article about factory worker Ovezgul Berdieva, elected to the Supreme Soviet of Turkmenistan in 1961. In the center of the room, the cottonseed oil-making equipment is exhibited. Its role seems essential to be to heat and squeeze the seeds until the oil is released.
The Bayramaly Sanatorium today renamed after Saparmurat Turkmenbashy, sits directly to the south of the town center. Built-in the 1930s, the sanatorium became well known across the Soviet Union for the summer treatment of kidney diseases, coupling the hot, dry climate with a diet focused on the consumption of watermelons. The 1970s accommodation blocks nearby look fairly unpleasant. An abandoned concrete open-air cinema building in the grounds imitates the laughing ghosts of Soviet holidaymakers. The treasure of the sanatorium extends in the northern part of the complex. The tsarist royal lodge today used as part of the sanatorium administration, it is a graceful single-storey brick building. On the east side of the building stands the arched main entrance bordered by two small octagonal towers, like mock minarets. Directly to the north of the lodge, the original grandeur of the Murgab Imperial Estate is implied by the conifer-fringed driveway running from the northern entrance of the sanatorium complex. There stands an elegant former entrance, which now ends in a large placard to President Niyazov’s book Ruhnama. There is a nearby symbol from the intervening age too: a Soviet-era silver-painted statue of a healthy mother and beaming daughter.