Mary is the third-largest city in Turkmenistan and serves as the regional capital. It has inherited the status of the ancient city of Merv, which is located 30 km to the east and served as the administrative capital of the oasis for centuries. Mary has a distinct Soviet-era architecture, characterized by large administrative buildings and expansive gardens that seem disproportionate compared to the city’s size. Mary is situated in a major cotton-growing belt, which contributes to the city’s overall prosperity.
With a population of approximately 120 000, Mary offers opportunities to stroll along the Murgab River, explore the regional museum and savor the local cuisine. The city boasts good transportation connections and a range of accommodation options. Although there are few notable attractions within Mary, visitors can travel to nearby ancient cities such as Gonur and Merv to experience their historical significance.
Mary’s history goes back to the 1820s, when the Tekke Turkmen constructed a fortress on the banks of the Murgab, in preference to the ancient city of Merv. Russians captured Merv without resistance in 1884, with the help of a soldier named Alikhanov, who convinced the local Tekke Turkmen leaders to accept the rule of the tsar, rather than risk losing their city and lives.
The Russians established a new administrative center, constructed buildings, and the city was named Mary in the 1930s. The production of cotton rapidly increased and the city’s prosperity was secured when vast natural gas reserves were discovered 20 km west of the city in 1968.
Mollanepes Street is the main street in Mary and features the dilapidated seven-story Hotel Sanjar and the central train station, which are situated in the heart of the Soviet built town. Southeast of Mollanepes, is the modern town, which is characterized by large, white marble buildings. There, visitors can explore the Zelyony Bazaar (Green Market) and the Murgab River. As you head towards Merv, you’ll see the enormous Turkmenbashi Hajji mosque and the new Mary Regional Museum building, which are located on the other side of the river.
Niyazov Central Park is situated on the eastern side of the Mary Regional Museum. A statue of Major General Yaqub Kulievich Kuliev, who died at Stalingrad, is located here. Beyond the statue is an amusement park with a rather shabby-looking Ferris wheel and a riverside pavilion filled with arcade games. A few meters away, is the October Cinema, which is one of the most prominent Soviet-era monuments still standing in Turkmenistan.
The War Memorial is a somber monument dedicated to those who died in World War II. It features a stylized stone flower with an eternal flame at its base, and male and female figures standing in front of it.
Mary Regional Museum of History
Mary Regional Museum perhaps the highlight of the city, holding an excellent collection. Previously the museum building was a 100-year-old mansion built by a Russian brick baron next to the river. However, a new white-marble palace was recently completed to house the museum next to the Hotel Margush. It is possibly Turkmenistan’s best museum outside Ashgabat, whose ground-floor archaeological displays present an excellent introduction to both Ancient Merv and the Bronze Age sites of the northern part of the oasis. A tour is included in the ticket price with some English-speaking guides also available.
There’s a large ethnography section, including a vast collection of Turkmen jewelry, carpets, stuffed animals, a fully decorated yurt and pottery from the time of the Mongol occupation. But the best of all is the archaeological section, drawing together artifacts found at both Merv and Margush, including pottery, weapons, household implements and jewelry.
The excellent quality and design of household items from Margiana is striking and rivals the collection of the National Museum in Ashgabat. A skeleton of a Margiana priestess was once also on display, but a series of deaths and misfortunes among museum staff, persuaded them to have the original returned to where it was found.
Orthodox Pokrovskaya Church
Russian Orthodox Pokrovskaya Church at the end of Seydi Kochesi (street) is a couple of blocks further east from the museum. It is a redbrick Russian Orthodox church, founded in 1900.
Inside, every possible spot of wall is covered by framed icons and other religious works. The church is surrounded by pleasant parkland. The part of town through which you have been walking, contains some nice single-story brick buildings dating from the tsarist era.
Travel to Mary
Mary by Plane
From Ashgabat, there are two flights daily to Mary and the flight time is 40 minutes. Since one flight makes the round trip in the early morning, the second in the early evening so you can visit Mary on a day trip from Ashgabat.
The Mary airport is 8 km east of the center of town, off the road to Bayramaly. You can get to the city center by taxi that awaits the incoming flights.
Mary by Train
The railway station is a white-tiled building in the center of town. There trains head west to Ashgabat (7h – 8h the slow one 12h) daily. Two trains go east, through Turkmenabat (one to Atamurat, the other to Dashoguz(17h) and one south, to Serhetabat on the Afghan border. There is a further train to Turkmenabat (14h and slow train 17h), on Tuesdays only.
Mary by Bus / Taxi
There are three rides a day to/from Ashgabat, two to Serhetabat and two to Tejen, and much more regular service to Bayramaly (the first departing at 06.30, the last at 18.10). There is more activity open area immediately to the west of the bus terminal. There are various private vehicles departing from here and frequent departures of both minibusses and taxis for Ashgabat, Turkmenabat and Tejen, and options for most towns in the region.
The bus terminal is located next to a deserted-looking building from which the public buses depart.
Other sights and Destinations near Mary
Page updated 20.3.2023